Five Things NOT To Do at a Writing Conference

brought to you by personal experience

Note to self, never start a blog when your daughter gets cast in a play that demands your nightly attention for four months. Once you loose your rhythm, it’s hard to get it back.

Now, ten months after my last blog, life is busier than it has ever been. The myth that things settle down when your youngest starts kindergarten is a lie! Now we have two kids with homework and busy schedules. It is so easy to push my writing goals off to the sidelines.

Trouble is — I love writing. I want to write; I need to write. So come what may, welcome to my weekly blog! Dishes will just have to wait.

When last I left you, I was headed to a local writer’s conference. Everything I learned about what to do to prepare was very helpful and I used much of the advice. The info from that blog can be found here —

However, I also learned several things that should be avoided at all costs. I learned them because I actually did them. I’m going to share my knowledge and embarrassment with you so hopefully, you can avoid my pitfalls.

#1 — Don’t panic when you can’t get out of a bathroom stall.

This may seem ridiculous, but when I got the the conference, I was early. I wanted to scope out the area, find the prime seating, check out the bookstore, etc. I was determined to be ready for the conference when it started.

When the conference was about to start I used the bathroom, and the door jammed on me.

So, there I was, stuck in a stall in my navy slacks, heels and silky blouse contemplating the consequences of crawling under the door. It was getting closer to conference time and other writers were waiting in a line that was beginning to wrap down the hall. A meet and greet with local writers while sliding across a bathroom floor on my belly wasn’t the first impression I wanted to make, but I didn’t want to miss any of the conference either.

It took a moment for me to realize that the locks were backwards, instead of righty tighty-lefty loosy, they were flipped. I turned the knob the opposite way and was freed.

It may have only been a few seconds, but my writing weekend flashed before my eyes. The potential of becoming the conference joke was all too real if I hadn’t stopped to work the problem.

Chances are, you won’t get locked in a bathroom, but it’s easy to walk in on the wrong class, call an agent the wrong name, find out you hate the food and have to deal with a mouth full of it, there are so many moments where you need to stop and work the problem and avoid panic at all costs.

#2 — Don’t turn down a pitching opportunity with an agent because you believe you have an appointment with them later only to find out your appointment is with a different agent.

I loved this conference because I was able to eat and mingle with authors and agents. Every table at meal time had someone to talk with at it. I enjoyed sitting and eating with each agent throughout the conference. It was enlightening to hear what they were looking for, what they never wanted to see in print, and what their personalities were.

My problem? I got it in my head that I had an appointment to pitch my book with the wrong editor. When she asked me what my book was about at lunch, I told her I was pitching it to her the following day and that I’d love to talk then. At the time, I wanted to be considerate of other authors at the table as everyone didn’t get a pitching session.

I’d made a terrible mistake. I never pitched it to her. I was signed up to pitch with an entirely different agent. I felt I really hit it off with this agent, but she is not open to accept queries — She meets authors at conferences or by referral only. I missed my chance with her and am still kicking myself ten months later.

I won’t deny trying to cyber stalk her in an attempt to figure out which conference she is attending next. Maybe I can fit that conference into my budget.

#3 — Don’t ask an author if the books they are selling in the conference bookstore are examples of good or bad writing.

In my defense, I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. In a previous session, the author was using examples of her own early work as examples of bad writing. Then she showed examples of her current work to exemplify crisp, clean writing. I made the mistake of asking which category she would place the books that she was selling in the conference bookstore. It seemed like a good question at the time since she had said some of her previous books were not well written and she hoped to revise them.

It didn’t occur to me that I had said anything offending until she asked me if I was asking if she was trying to sell badly written books.


For future reference, I will never assume anything but stellar work is being sold in the conference bookstore. It may not always be the case, but never will I I ask an author such a stupid ‘foot in mouth’ type question — at least I hope and pray that doesn’t happen again.

#4 — Don’t assume if an agent requests for you to send her your first three chapters that you’ve made it big.

This is a tricky one. I can’t tell you the exhilaration that I felt when the agent that I did pitch my book to told me she could sell the story. It worked in today’s market — yes!

I had made it! Surely a contract was just around the corner.

She asked for my first three chapters — it all came down to my writing. No pressure.

I was on cloud nine! It was a group pitch session and I was the only one in my group she was interested in hearing from after the conference. I came home that night and slaved over my three chapters. I thought they were good before, but after I had heard several tips, and especially this agent’s pet peeves in novels (she hated the words like and that), I knew I had to make some changes — quickly.

I sent off what she requested within three days, excited about my good fortune. I waited six long months. She never replied. It was a long time to wait when I was told she wanted to hear from me. I sent a quick email at that point letting her know that I had changed my novel considerably since I first sent it to her, and if interested, I could resend it when it was completed.

I never heard from her again. It was hard for me to grasp that the agent asked for my work at the conference but never sent an email saying she’d pass on the project. I guess that’s normal in this industry, but I had assumed that if they request something, then they’ll actually respond — silly me.

I struggle with the fact that I had drastically changed my novel since I sent my first request to her. Truth is, I discovered what I sent to her was more of a first draft than a final novel. Today, two of the three chapters I sent aren’t even in the book any more. I’m almost finished and think the agent would really like it, but it looks like I lost my chance with her, too.

In the future, I’ll make sure my novel is 110% ready before I send it out into the world. Unless of course, you are an agent and want to read it now — just checking.

#5 — Remember to bring dental floss if you plan on eating ANYTHING!

This one wasn’t one of my mistakes, but I mention it because the food at the conference isn’t always known ahead of time. I got a ton stuck in my teeth — dental floss to the rescue! There were several ladies that borrowed some from me. I was thankful I didn’t have to talk with green stuff front and center on my teeth.

When all is said and done, what I love as a new writer, is that I have the freedom to make these mistakes.

There are lots of agents to choose from when I’m ready — at least one of them will respond back to me, right? If I ever do get published, chances are the author I offended won’t remember the rude writer that asked if she was trying to sell sub-par books.

So, my dreams of becoming an overnight success with a half written book didn’t quite pan out. Now I move on to Plan B — finish the book, find an agent that I click with and try my best. Mistakes will come. I say — bring it on! Each mistake I make is one step closer to success. At least, I hope it is.

For now, I look back at my experiences at the conference with more confidence in my writing and more insider knowledge. But, I’ll save those tidbits for another day…

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