Conferences? Love 'em! (Though sometimes ... )
September 17, 2009

Have been polishing up two talks this morning (creating Power Point slides for them—thank you for the kick in the pants, Martha Bee), and so have also been musing about the national SCBWI conference in Los Angeles. It was about six weeks ago that it wrapped. I didn't get to attend this year, and I really missed it. It is grand in every way—thousands of people, speakers who inspire and entertain, children's books celebrities hobnobbing at the lobby bar, and a huge costume party/dance on Saturday. Being surrounded by like-minded people is inspiring, narcotizing, energizing. There's nothing else like it.I love attending and speaking at conferences. No, not just because I am a complete ham; and no, not just because of an obsessive need for endless attention, thank you very much. Rather, it is because I get to talk to people about what I love—books and writing and books and writing—and I get to find exciting new writers. (It does happen, that whole writers-being-"discovered"-at-conferences thing. For example, I signed up Ysabeau Wilce after reading her stuff at an SCBWI retreat in Prescott, Arizona, and I had the fabulous Deb Lund as a one-on-one critique at the Whidbey Island Writer's Conference years ago.)But occasionally these conferences can be utterly draining, too. Why? Because the attending agent or editor or writer must always be "on," and that can be a wee tiny bit overwhelmingly taxing. I've seen people literally block access to the bathroom in order to give someone a pitch; have seen crowds mob speakers after a talk, pressing manuscripts into their already-full hands; have heard stories of manuscripts slid under hotel doors, between bathroom cubicles, and other such things that might be amusing if they didn't happen to be true.And you know what? I understand the impulse of those eager writers. There is a sense, as a new writer, that you had better make a strong impression, because this one fleeting contact with an agent or editor is the author's one and only chance to be discovered.But I'm here to tell you that it's not. Honestly, agents and editors like meeting new talent—really, we do!—but we'll be more receptive to your manuscript when we're at our desk, in the work headspace. No one wants to carry manuscripts around at a conference. We're just as receptive to getting submissions after the conference. In fact, we're probably more receptive. Certainly come up and say hello. If you heard us speak, say something nice that shows you were listening. ("I can live for two months on a good compliment," Mark Twain said, and his ego was larger than most anyone in publishing.)And then? Let us get to the bathroom.There must be other conference etiquette tips I don't know that people should bear in mind. What are they? What sorts of interactions at conferences have proven especially fruitful for you? And why?