by Tamela Hancock Murray
Because there so many excellent conferences, we all miss out on a few. I like to joke that if I didn’t love my husband, I could arrange to be away from home 80% of the time just by going to conferences!
But when you’re missing out on what you think is an especially good conference, you might wonder if you’ve blown your career — or at least a major opportunity. I submit that while conferences are wonderful for many reasons, including networking and fellowship, a conference shouldn’t make or break your progress and missing one won’t end your career. Why? Because before signing authors to partner with us, agents and editors perform due diligence.
When I was a newly-minted literary agent, I attended my first conference and proceeded to sign an author on the spot. Well, I didn’t have the contract in hand, but I promised one. The author was charming and presented herself well in appearance and speech. Even better, I loved her nonfiction book idea and agreed with the book’s mission. I thought her material was well organized and the writing held up. However, later I came to realize the book had been written years before and the author’s situation had changed so that the information wasn’t as accurate and up to date as it should have been. The book never sold, and we parted ways amicably.
Because of my inexperience at that time, I fell into the trap of becoming caught up in the author’s personality and my own enthusiasm and emotion in a highly-charged atmosphere. Anyone who’s been a part of a conference understands how the energy can bring on almost a sense of euphoria so it’s not the best time to make any decisions about a long-term business relationship. From that point on, I have made a practice of performing due diligence before signing an author. In the quiet of my office, I study the proposal and book itself, go online to learn more about the author, and otherwise do everything I can to be sure this is an author whose work I can reasonably expect to sell to a publisher. Granted, no amount of due diligence guarantees every project will find a publisher.
So while it may be hard to stay home while your friends are away at a great conference, consider that your ultimate audience — the reader — receives no benefit from an author’s high-powered lunches with editors and agents. All the reader cares about is your book’s benefit to her. So your project, not how well you can charm an editor or agent, will determine your success.
What is your biggest obstacle to attending a conference?
What was your best conference experience?
Have you become a published author without ever attending a conference?