In about a week, I’ll be heading back to the University of Wisconsin, Madison for their annual Writers’ Institute conference. And while logic might frown on leaving California for the Midwest in early spring, I’m excited to revisit what has become one of my favorite events. Over the past few years, I’ve watched it grow from a small, local gathering to a top-tier conference with some amazing faculty, which this year includes Fuse phenom and author of the wildly successful FALLING INTO PLACE (and two forthcoming novels), Amy Zhang. Amy and I will be discussing YA and the author/agent relationship, among other things, and I hope to see you there.

I always say that if you plan to go to a conference, plan to go to a conference. You’ll get a lot more out of it that way. Otherwise, and especially if it’s your first time, you’re likely to miss out on a lot. WI-Madison is one of the few that provides clearly established tracks–go to these sessions if you need help with marketing, go to these if you’re writing YA, etc. Again, very few of them do that, but almost all of them put their schedule online for you to peruse before the conference begins. Take full advantage of that. With that page open in one window and your calendar open in another, map out your time at the conference, right down to your meals and cigarette breaks, etc. Give yourself a little time to go from session to session, and give yourself first and second choices in case that “how to find an agent” workshop ends up being too remedial for you.

Also research the faculty. You’ll save yourself and the agents a lot of time. I’ve literally had people sit down in front of me and say, “I don’t know anything about you, but I like your face, so I’m going to pitch you my book.” Spoiler alert: I didn’t sign them. And they were way outside of my genre interests. But I’ve also had people tell me their rationale behind pitching me by quoting something from our agency’s website or an interview I gave. That gets my attention because I know they don’t just want an agent, they want the right agent, and they have reason to believe that it could be me. Do your research, and take notes regarding which agents, editors, and authors you want to meet. And use that while planning your schedule, too.

Practice your pitch before the conference, even if you aren’t that confident in those skills. Yes, they’ll usually have pitching or query workshops, and those are always a good idea, but don’t go in 0% ready if you can go in at 50% ready. You’ll be able to pick up on more (and more advanced) tips, and you’ll also be prepared should you find yourself in one of the many less formal opportunities to talk to an agent about your work.

Also come prepared with granola bars or coffee snacks (and mints) or whatever you need to get through a long day of workshops, pitches, readings, signings, and such. And go to all of those readings and “extra” events. You’ll make some great connections there.

I hope to see you all at the signing for Amy Zhang’s FALLING INTO PLACE on the 28th. If you haven’t read it, you can get it from your local, indie bookstore here. They should also have copies at the conference, but they might not last long.

And if you have read it and think you’re writing in a similar space, submit to her brilliant agent, Emily Keyes, here 🙂