Posted by: Vanessa Barneveld | August 13, 2009

Conference Confidential

Romance Writers of Australia’s annual conference (a sell-out this time!) is about to begin in Brisbane. I won’t be attending, since I exhausted my poor old piggy bank at the Washington conference. Ironically, this post is about why you should hot-foot it to these events if you’re an aspiring writer.

You could:
1. Meet the editor and/or agent and/or critique partner of your dreams at the cocktail bar.
2. Get a request for your manuscript.
3. Hear all sorts of opinions on how to get and stay published – some conflicting, some confusing, some enlightening, some you might’ve heard before. But this is a great opportunity to ask questions of people who’ve been there, done that.
4. Come away with lots of material to fill those daily blog posts.
5. Learn more about your craft.
6. Find like-minded people who understand the plight of having heroes and heroines clamouring for attention inside your head.
7. Get free books.
8. Buy books.

Do’s and Don’ts:
1. Don’t bail up an editor/agent when they’re technically off-duty and talk their ears off about your work. If you find yourself in the vicinity of one, just be friendly and polite. Trust me, they’re only human beings. I sat next to agent Donald Maass on a flight from a Melbourne conference (sheer coincidence, I swear) and we didn’t even talk about publishing. I’d already pitched to him at conference; didn’t need to do it twice. But if the editor/agent asks you about your ms, by all means talk as much as you like – or until they start crab-walking away from you.

2. Do go to as many workshops, parties, dinners, gatherings as possible even if you’re the most introverted person ever. Stay up late, get up early. This is the time to let loose after spending all those days and nights canoodling with your keyboard.

3. If you’re shy, find another shy-looking person and make small talk like, “So what do you write?” or “Are you pitching this year?” or “What did you think of that workshop?” It’ll take your mind off your own nervousness and maybe help the other person feel at ease.

4. Do go up to your favourite author and tell them what you enjoy about their books. Ask them to sign one of their novels for you. Authors live for that kind of stuff.

5. Do take loads of pictures. (This is actually a note to self. I carried my camera everywhere in Washington but ended up with more photos from the Smithsonian Zoo than I did from the actual conference. The animals were cute, though.)

6. Do volunteer. Sure, you paid to be there, but being a vollie can be rewarding. Last year I volunteered at the registration desk in San Fran. I worked alongside Nora Roberts’s publicist and she invited me to the Harlequin ball, where she introduced me to la Nora herself.

7. I can’t think of any more reasons. I’ll turn it over to you now. What are your do’s, don’ts and reasons for conferring with others?

Otters networking at the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, DC

Otters networking at the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington, DC


  1. I think you covered all the bases, Vanessa.

    I, too, carried a camera. Took no pics. So much going on, I just forgot about it. Some other nice folks took a couple for me, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

  2. I second the ‘tell an author you enjoyed her book’ LOL I love hearing that but on the flip side I am hopeless at going up to authors I don’t know and telling them that! Great idea to voluteer, V. I have met some great women that way.

  3. Hi, Pat. Yes, I think I was too busy jabbering to take photos. The camera was more of an accessory hanging off my wrist. Actually, I prefer taking photos of people when they’re relaxed and not posing. Next time…

    Fiona, there’s a fine line when approaching authors, isn’t there? You don’t want to come off looking like a stalker or a sycophant. But if I were the author, I reckon it’d be pretty cool having total strangers say gush about much they enjoyed my book. You’ll hear a little more about that on my post at next week!

  4. the only problem with taking candid photos (which I mostly do) is you often end up with people with eyes closed and strange, unflattering expressions.

    My advice — if you spot a a book you want to buy at the bookstore, buy it early. They have limited stock. Especially if you want an overseas author to sign it.

    And don’t be shy. Jump in and talk to people. You may only get the one opportunity. Or they may also be feeling shy.

    Great post, Vanessa.

  5. Hey, excellent advice about the bookstore, Diane. Totally with you on jumping in to talk to people. I used to be such a wallflower at these sorts of things, but I snapped out of it once I realised I was missing out on getting to know some wonderful writers.

  6. Hey Vanessa, I decided to go to Brisbane at the last minute and am now looking forward to what our friend Anna Campbell calls running with our pack. Being with other like-minded people who “get” what we do is to me one of the most valuable benefits of going to a writers conference.

  7. Hi, Kandy! I love Anna’s running with the pack expression, and it’s especially appropriate since your wonderful millionaire mutt has just been unleashed. Have a fantastic time in Brisbane. I’m tempted to fly up there now!

  8. I loved conference, just got off the plane this morning, and am sooo tired. I will post tomorrow about some of the wonderful things I was able to learn. So many light bulb moments!

  9. Looking forward to hearing all about all those light bulb moments, Nat! I should’ve added “Do schedule at least a week of veg out time immediately after the conference” to my post.

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