Icebreakers and Dealbreakers

Most people come to conferences with one goal: to get published. While some of you are conference veterans, others will be attending a conference for the first time. Conferences are great places to meet other writers, connect with industry professionals, and learn how to become a better writer. But it’s vital that you know what’s expected of you and how to handle yourself. It can be a little intimidating to sit at the dinner table with a famous author or deal-making agent. And do editors ‘edit’ everything a person says in their heads?

It’s also important to respect other writers—no matter where they are in their publishing path. Even if you’d never read their book, it’s not cool to bash them. The manner in which you conduct yourself at a conference can follow you—for better or worse—for years in this business.

So, here’s my advice: Treat everyone with respect and diginity. Don’t assume you are a better writer than anyone else. And remember, agents, editors, and publishers make their living in this industry. It’s not a hobby for them. So be professsional. Always.

Here are some ideas for ICEBREAKERS:
1. To a writer: “How did you decide to become a writer?”
2. To a writer: “What writers inspire you most?”
3. To a writer: “What other conferences have you attended?”
4. To an agent: “What interesting trends are you seeing in the market?”
5. To an agent: “I just read a book you sold. What hooked you on it?”
6. To an agent: “What’s your biggest pet peeve when it comes to submissions?”
7. To an editor: “What sells you on a book?”
8. To an editor: “What do you read for pleasure?”
9. To an editor: “How many authors do you typically work with at a time?”
10. To a publisher:”How did you become a publisher?”

It’s always okay to just chat, too. Not everything has to be about books. Try asking about the flight to the conference or who they’re rooting for in the World Series (which will take place the weekend after the conference). They’re people too, you know.

On the flip side, there are some things you NEVER, EVER, EVER want to utter at a conference.

Here are some of the dreaded DEALBREAKERS:
1. To a writer: “He’ll never rep you. You’re wasting your time sending him a query.”
2. To a writer: “Show me your synopsis and I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it.”
3. To a writer: “You’re wasting your time on that story. No one would ever buy it.”
4. To an agent: “If you don’t represent me, you’ll regret it someday.”
5. To an agent: “You’re a nice guy, but you’re not important enough to represent me.”
6. To an agent: “I’ll call your room later and we can discuss my book further.”
7. To an editor: “How much did Ima Great Author get as an advance for her last bestseller?”
8. To an editor: “Can I have your cell phone number so I can call you when I finish my book?”
9. To an editor: “How horrible were the critique submissions you got for this conference?”
10. To a publisher: “Did you bring your checkbook with you? You’re going to love this.”

And as usual, stay away from politics, religion, or anything else that’s likely to offend or upset others. Keep away from personal questions. Unless you know the person you’re speaking to, don’t delve into their personal lives. Business is business. You’re attending the conference to become a better writer, not to solve the world’s problems.

It’s also a great idea to check out your favorite agent or editor’s blog, website or interview. Usually they give great insight into potential conversation starters.

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