Thursday, March 21, 2013

Guest Post: Linda J. Parisi

Welcome to the Pearls of Wisdom Tour! 

Today's post is titled Conference Virgins: Another Bowl of Cherries by my client Linda J. Parisi. Linda is the author of The Joining, Noble Blood and others writing as Erika Sands. 

Linda's Post:
All right, I’ll admit it.  There isn’t a thing I can think of on my person that’s virgin.  Then again when you get to be my age, well, perhaps that’s best left for another conversation.  The point of the matter is that each and every one of us has been a virgin at one time or another about something in our lives.  So the first thing to do is define virgin.  “Preceded by a noun, a person who has never used or experienced that which is denoted by the noun.”
So what is a conference virgin? Someone who has never attended or experienced a conference before. Do not, I repeat, do not be afraid of this condition. Contrary to popular opinion, when you pop your cherry, it will definitely not hurt!! You should even enjoy it!!

Of course, anything that is new can instill fear in even the most stalwart heart.  So I am here to guide you through your initiation into conference adulthood.

On the most basic level, whatever conference you are attending, think professional and meeting.  For the purposes of the rest of this discussion, think writing, professional, and meeting.
Hmm, writing, professional, and meeting.  Some kind of mix, eh?  But easily navigable with the right directions.

First, dress for success. Business casual during the day (no ragged jeans, no tank tops, no flip flops that you’d wear on the beach). If you’re meeting with an editor or an agent, wear what you’d wear to a job interview (a business suit or smart outfit—something sharp).  Depending on how you’re spending your evening, casual or smart casual is always correct (unless you have an appointment for dinner-then the restaurant will dictate a dress code).

Second, behave professionally. You have no idea how many times I’ve managed to pitch a manuscript while waiting in line for a cup of coffee. And by the way, buying an editor or agent a cup of java will ensure they remember you…they love that kind of stuff.  No joke, two bucks can get you everywhere, and don’t be ashamed to remind them of it when you send them your query or whatever they requested.  Just remember, they have good memories. They’ll remember the gum-cracking, loud- mouthed bozo that elbowed his/her way in line ahead of them without so much as an excuse-me, just as much as they will the polite, friendly, very nice person who bought them a cup of joe and told them about their manuscript while they waited on line.

Third, watch what you say.  Editors and agents don’t always wear their name tags.  Crowded elevators and concession lines might seem like a good place to talk.  They aren’t.  Telling tales and gossip will catch up with you sooner than later.  And copious amounts of alcohol do not make you friendlier; they simply loosen your tongue. So rather than find out you were rejected because you made a fool of yourself, or worse made a fool of someone else, be careful.  Again, act professionally.  Impress people with your grace, your polish, and your style. 
Fourth, don’t be scared.  One of the best ways to get over feeling alone and lost at a conference is to volunteer.  When you do, you feel like you belong, and once you feel that you belong, you won’t feel alone anymore. If you can’t volunteer, hang out for a while at the registration desk.  Ask one of the registration volunteers if there’s a first timer’s meeting or a place where you might meet other cherries.
Again, the bar is a great place to meet people.  Just remember a little caution goes a long way.
Now, for the conference itself. 
Should you bring your manuscript with you?  No.  But if you have an appointment with an editor or agent, you need to write a blurb (think the back cover of a book). I’ve been running Editor/Agent appointments for years. If you’re too nervous to speak, hand them the blurb. Don’t forget, they want to know about your work. They’ll ask questions so they can understand what you’re trying to sell them. And don’t forget, editors and agents are people too.  An opening line about the weather or something innocuous will break the ice and make you both more comfortable.

Should you stalk editors, agents, or very important big named authors? No. And believe me; all that will get you is arrested. And don’t think that hasn’t happened either.  In bathrooms, in private hotel rooms, lots of places.  If you’d like to speak to an agent or an editor, and you can’t get an appointment with them, try to see if they’re available after their respective workshop panels. Or if they’re speaking individually, go to the workshop.  After the workshop, ask if you might have a moment of their time. If they say no, walk away. No means no. Sometimes they have other commitments. No stalking allowed!!
Best case, it takes about twenty seconds to ask an editor or an agent if you can query them. If they say yes, you get to put REQUESTED MATERIAL in your subject line.  You still might not get an answer for a while, but it will probably be longer without the permission.

Conferences should be fun.  I can’t tell you how relaxing and how rewarding it is to talk to other writers.  Especially about writing.  And if someone asks you about your work, be polite and considerate. Give them your blurb. Let it be up to them to ask for more.  And don’t forget to return the favor.  The rest of the conversation could turn out to be hours long.

Conferences should generate friendships.  We are such a reclusive group. We sit alone in front of computer screen s all day.  Conferences are for human contact. Get out there.  Meet people. Talk about writing. Again, not just your writing.  You’ll be surprised at the number of friends you make.     Conferences are about networking.  Publishing is a business and this is where you can learn about the publishing business. When in doubt, ask questions. In my last pitch session to a new publishing group, I didn’t start off talking about my manuscript; I asked the editor about her company and what her goals were. She was only too happy to tell me.  And I learned that it was a place I’d like my manuscript to be published. The discussion about my book lasted about three minutes. The rest of the time was hers.  In the end, we both appreciated meeting each other. I learned a lot and so did she.
 Professional, professional, professional. 

So if you’re a Conference Virgin, attending your first should be one of the best experiences of your life the same as---all right, I won’t go there.  Just remember, be professional, have fun, and learn as much as you can.  And if you see me at a conference, please say hello.  I love helping people pop their cherries. 

Professional, professional, professional. 

About Linda:

Linda J. Parisi aka Erika Sands found her calling when as a scientist, she discovered romance. Her idea of the perfect hero is a cross between Frank Langella’s Dracula and his Zorro; tall, dark, handsome, and untamable. Her heroines will never give up or give in, so the sparks continue to fly through her books until her characters reach their happy ending. The road might not be easy but the fun is in the travel. She’s been a member of New Jersey Romance Writers and Romance Writers of America since 1993 and is now a member of Liberty States Fiction Writers. During the day she’s a research scientist and project manager for a diagnostic technologies company. But at night? At night, she gets to play with vampires.

Lets give Linda J. Parisi a warm thank you for her pearls of wisdom! Well said! :)

Happy writing my friends!


  1. Where were you when I had MY first conference?? I was so nervous I spent the better part of it in the ba...well, THAT wouldn't help my glamourous reputation, now would it? ANYWAY, terrific advice to all those newbies out there!

    1. So sorry to hear that Trudy. But as I said, conferences are supposed to be fun. So for all you first timers out there, take a deep breath and enjoy!

  2. Brilliant and extremely accurate, Linda! Anyone going to RWA in July for the first time had better read this and follow your advice.