How to make the most of an agents’ conference – from a real-life WLTCon success story

By Matthew Schulz

Writers’ conferences are overrun with people with a manuscript and a dream. But how can you use these meet-ups to help turn that dream into reality?

For clues, I spoke with a friend of mine who did just that at the 2009 Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference.

I met Thom Reese at the conference, the first either of us had attended. At the time, Thom was just a writer with a dream. Today, he has a published novel — a supernatural thriller called “The Demon Baqash” — and more on the way.

We corresponded recently about the role the conference had in his success, and what advice he would have for those hoping to use the conference to get their big break.

Matthew Schulz: How did writers’ conferences fit in to your plans to get your book sold and marketed?

Thom Reese: I feel the benefit to a writer’s conference is both in the knowledge gained from the sessions and the people met. I’m still in contact with people that I met at the Writers’ League of Texas conference, and networking is a big part of the contemporary author’s life.

I also learned a lot about social networking from the conference, went back home and started Facebooking and blogging. It was through these that I found my publisher – or, rather, he found me.

Kurt from Speaking Volumes saw my blog through Facebook. At the time, they were primarily an audio book publisher, and in my bio on the blog, I’d indicated that I had written and produced a weekly audio drama radio program. Kurt contacted me through Facebook because he was interested in hearing a sample of the audio dramas. He has since published 14 of these, and then when Speaking Volumes expanded into print and eBooks, I submitted The Demon Baqash, which was accepted, along with contracts to write a short story collection and two novels based on my audio drama series, the first of which will be out this summer.

MS: How did you prepare for the conference?

TR: I was shopping my novel, “The Empty,” which has since been picked up by L & L Dreamspell Publishing. I did scramble to get the manuscript ready on time – and it really wasn’t. I ended up doing an additional three or four drafts after the conference. Eventually, L & L Dreamspell showed some interest and asked for some specific revisions. I did as requested, resubmitted the manuscript and it was accepted. “The Empty” will be released in the fourth quarter of this year.

I also spent a lot of time working on my “elevator pitch,” that short pitch a writer gives to agents and publishers when they encounter them at these events. This is important for anyone attending a conference. Writers must come off as professional and prepared if they are to be taken seriously.

MS: Can you share a few insights that you gained from the conference?

TR: Making contacts both with other writers as well as industry professionals was very big for me. Writing can be so solitary, and it’s good to get out there and meet people with similar goals and aspirations. Meeting industry professionals face-to-face is a huge plus. I have submitted additional manuscripts to agents that I met at the conference, and though these have not been picked up by the agents, I’m certain that our having met prompted them to request the manuscript instead of turning my query aside with a form rejection.

By the way, both “The Demon Baqash” and “The Empty” were rejected by these agents and went on to be published. So, don’t be discouraged by rejections. They’re part of the process. Just keep at it.

MS: What advice would you give to someone attending WLTCon for the very first time?

TR: Be prepared. Make sure your manuscript is ready to shop. That means proper form and that it has gone through a few drafts. No matter how good you are, a first draft is a first draft and anyone in the industry will recognize it as such. If it’s a first draft, don’t shop it. That could do you more harm than good.

Rehearse your elevator pitch. And, don’t be afraid to approach industry personnel such as agents and publishers. It’s a conference. That’s why they’re there. They want to meet new talent. Be professional and outgoing, but also respectful of their time.

Meet fellow writers. Take down names and email addresses. Those connections could help you later.

And in the end, have fun with it. Don’t allow the pressure to override the experience.

Matthew Schulz has written for the Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, Associated Press and American Banker. He is currently writing his second novel and aspiring toward his lifelong dream of becoming a published author of fiction. His day job has him working as a Managing Editor at CreditCards.com, where he helps lead an award-winning news team and has even helped coordinate a video town hall with the White House. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewschulz and learn more about him at MattSchulz.com.

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