More on Writers’ Conferences

I know a lot of you will be attending writers’ conferences, so I wanted to mention a few more things here.

First, I can’t overstress the importance of having a verbal pitch ready. There are numerous opportunities at conferences to give a brief pitch of your book, sixty seconds. This can be at a meal (where the person hosting the table often asks writers to share what they’re writing) or any number of other occasions. You’ve heard about the “elevator pitch,” right? Well, this last conference I took a bonafide elevator pitch, in an elevator. (I’ve received plenty of hallway pitches, bathroom pitches, dinner-table pitches, etc.) It was fun! Anyway, I was proud of this woman who pitched me because she had her elevator pitch polished and ready to go. I enjoyed it… and that’s the reaction you want agents and editors to have. So, polish those pitches!

Second, rather than toting along your proposals and manuscripts, consider bringing One-Sheets of your books. (Just Google one sheets and you’ll have plenty of examples.) However, many agents and editors will take a look at your proposal or the first few pages of your manuscript if you bring it.

Here are a few questions I’ve been asked, and some answers.

If I have an agent, can I still meet with editors at a conference?
Definitely, YES! Hopefully you are talking this over with your agent, too. But this is a relationship business, and the more you can get yourself in front of editors, the better. Your agent may have already submitted your manuscript to an editor… and once that editor meets you, they might be impressed enough to go back to the office and take another look at your proposal. (Be sure you tell the editors that you’re represented.)

If I have an agent AND I’m contracted with a publisher, can I still meet with editors at a conference?
Probably not. You don’t want your publisher seeing you meeting with other publishers. You are free to talk with them at meals, etc., but no one-on-one meetings unless you and your agent have worked it out ahead of time.

What if my work is under consideration with one or more agents and/or editors?
If nobody has committed to you, i.e. offered representation or a book contract, you are completely free to continue pitching yourself and your work to whomever you like.

What about meeting agents who have already rejected my work?
Once, I was at a conference and spent some time with Kristen Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency. It seemed like every writer who came up introduced themselves and immediately said to Kristen, “You rejected me.” It was always said with a kind of half joking smirk, that came off like, “I’m mad at you but I’ll say hi to you anyway.”

When someone says, “Hi, I’m Susie, I sent you a query and you rejected me,” there’s really no good response. I don’t recommend it! If you get into a conversation and you want to bring it up, it’s fine, but there’s no sense opening with it. First, the agent may not remember your project or your name, which is understandable because of the volume agents deal with. Second, it sounds combative, or defensive, or something. And it puts the agent on the defensive, like they have to rationalize why they were unable to represent your project. Third, since agents have to pass on much of what they receive, you’re certainly not alone and you don’t need to feel bad.

Should I worry about how I look or what I wear?
This question has caused a lot of controversy in certain circles lately. Appropriate conference-wear is business casual. Woodsy or camp-type settings are more casual while the ones taking place in nice hotels tend to be a bit more business-y. Just remember to present a professional look that says “I am serious about being a writer. And if you want me to be out in public at a book signing or do a television appearance, I will make you proud.”

This can be accomplished in many, many ways. It’s obviously an individual thing. But please don’t make the mistake of thinking, “All that matters is what’s on the page.” It’s just like a job interview. Sure, it’s your skills that count, but the image you present has an effect on people’s opinion of you. It’s not about designer clothes. It’s about making your outside accurately reflect to the world who you are on the inside. Smart, professional, funny… whatever image you want to convey, make sure your exterior helps you instead of hindering you. (If you are already recoiling at the fact that I brought up clothes here, please remember how people’s outer image has a huge impact on how they present themselves to the world—their confidence, their professionalism, sometimes their entire demeanor.)

Photo credit:

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. […] Writers’ conferences can provide information and networking for authors. If you’re considering attending one, Rachelle Gardner offers more on writers’ conferences. […]

  2. Neurotic Workaholic on November 3, 2018 at 8:52 PM

    I haven’t been to a writer’s conference before, but this is all very useful information. That’s interesting that people will tell agents that the agents rejected them. I wonder what kind of response they’re expecting to get from that.

  3. Writer on November 2, 2018 at 8:55 AM

    Wow, this is a very interesting article! I have been dreaming of becoming a writer for a long time and I would be very interested to attend a conference for writers. I think that these conferences discuss very interesting issues, and here many writers are inspired to write something new. I’m very interested so you can advise me as an aspiring writer? What do I need to do to improve my writing skills? I would be very grateful for your answer! Thank you for sharing such an interesting and rare type of content!

  4. Jabbertype on December 11, 2011 at 1:52 AM


    Great blog post, saw on…

  5. Yvonne on May 9, 2008 at 6:02 AM

    >I’d love to go to the CWG conference in Colorado Springs. Do you attend that one?

  6. Jan Parrish on May 9, 2008 at 12:35 AM


    Thanks for the helpful information. I’m going to CCWC next week. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

  7. Kim Kasch on May 8, 2008 at 11:18 PM

    >Had to double post today: On Nathan Bransford’s blog, which I read only after reading this blog, he included a post about the wannabe writer’s former guru, Miss Snark. A tribute will be paid on May 20th. Check out this site:

  8. Linda Harris on May 8, 2008 at 10:09 PM

    >I recently read that a writer shouldn’t pitch to an editor or agent at meals unless the tables are set up with an editor or agent assigned to each table. I completely understand that editors and agents don’t want to be pitched to in the bathroom (ugh!) but I would think mealtimes would be acceptable. How do you feel about it?

  9. Richard Mabry on May 8, 2008 at 8:47 PM

    >Speaking of conferences, could you let us know which ones you’ll be attending for the rest of this year? We might want to look you up and bring you chocolate.

  10. Kim Kasch on May 8, 2008 at 8:46 PM

    >I miss the snarkiness. It added a little oomph to the chat.

  11. Rachelle on May 8, 2008 at 8:43 PM

    >Tanja, always a good idea to have a photo of you on the one-sheet. Also, another photo or graphic that enhances the design and captures the feel of your book is a nice touch.

    I wouldn’t recommend pitching six novels at at time to anyone, anywhere. Agents and editors are in a constant state of being overwhelmed and that just makes it worse. They want you to pick your best and go for it. This is to your advantage; it’s your only chance for them to remember you. They’ll remember a powerful story. They won’t remember snippets of six stories.

    Then you may say something like, “I also have five other novels completed…” to let them know this isn’t a one shot deal.

    If it’s a series, you can pitch the series as a whole, but concentrate mostly on the first book.

  12. Tanja on May 8, 2008 at 4:07 PM

    Thank you, this was invaluable! I’m headed to the BEA Conf. in a few weeks. I was thinking of doing a one sheet but touching on all six of my novels. Would that work as well? Also I followed the link for the one sheet, and she suggested a small photo of yourself printed near the bottom with your contact info, just wondered what you thought of that.
    Thank you!

  13. MelanieWrites on May 8, 2008 at 1:48 PM

    >So do you fall firmly into the camp of pitching whether you’re a “freshman” or “junior” on the conference scene. I can’t remember where I saw those terms, but it indicated that newbies should just use their one-on-one time to get to know an agent/editor. I’m new, but I’ll have at least the second-draft of a manuscript by September. If I have something to pitch, should I pitch it, or learn more about the process?

    Rambling, I know. Sorry. I get confused by conflicting advice.

  14. Rachelle on May 8, 2008 at 8:41 AM

    >Karen, you need to work it out with your agent. Unless your publisher has contractual options on your next books, it’s usually not a contractual thing, but a courtesy thing, that you give your current publisher the opportunity to look at your future works before shopping it around. Even if your next book doesn’t “fit their line,” you’d probably want to give them the opportunity to tell you that. But this will vary from case to case and you need to have open communication with your agent.

    Katy, yes you’re exactly right, before going to a conference you work out a plan or strategy with your agent, and that can include working on your pitch, your one-sheet, and figuring out which editors to meet with.

  15. Pam Halter on May 8, 2008 at 8:04 AM

    >Thank you for bringing up what to wear. First impressions are lasting and hard to change.

    I’d also like to advise everyone to please, please DO NOT wear heavy perfume/cologne. Many people have allergies and even those who don’t can be overcome by the fumes. If an editor or agent has trouble breathing because you have doused yourself, how will they be able to pay attention to your pitch?

  16. Katy McKenna on May 8, 2008 at 8:00 AM

    >I’m thinking when conference registration opens (or whenever in the process the conferee signs up for editor meetings…), the agented writer might want to consult with her agent about which editors to meet with?

  17. Karen on May 8, 2008 at 7:36 AM

    >Rachelle, could you expand a bit on “If I have an agent AND am contracted with a publisher. . .”? I can understand not talking about the book that’s contracted but what if you have something else that doesn’t fit that publisher’s line?