Tips for First-Time Backspacers

As you all know, the May 2012 NYC Backspace conference was the first writers’ conference I’ve ever attended.

It was awesome! The next few days of blogging will be dedicated to Backspace- some of the notes I took, experiences I had, and people I met.

So first up? Tips for first-timers. Let’s do this!

The Agent/Author Day is totally worth it. The query/two pages workshops were definitely the most helpful things I attended. It was wonderful to get individualized attention and to watch other people get individualized attention.

* Wear comfortable shoes. Yes, they should look cute, but make sure you can walk comfortably in them. It’s the city, after all- no car waiting in the parking lot for you.

* Know what you want out of lunch. What I wanted was a quiet place to eat and be able to pick the brains of the other participants. The cafeteria-style restaurant across the street was perfect for that. I saved the cool “New York-y” places for dinner, and I’m glad I did.

* Put your pitch or your photo on your business card. I am notoriously terrible with names and now that I’m home, I have no idea who most of these cards belong to!

* Make your business card stand out.  The best business card advice I got was to make it look like your book. For example, mine is black and white- a grungy inkblot with my name on the front and my pitch on the back. It was the only one of its kind. I have a ton of plain (pastel) business cards with writing and a ton of (pastel) business cards with cute clip art.

* Bring something little to snack on. I don’t know about you, but I get kind of like The Hulk when I’m hungry. I can’t tell you how many times a little bag of granola saved my life! (Backspace did provide coffee and soda throughout the day, and that was awesome!)

* Here’s an important one: As soon as you see an agent you like, talk to him or her! I know this sounds like, “Duh! Of course I will!” but here’s the kicker- you won’t want to. I practiced my pitch up and down, backwards and forwards, to friends and strangers, and I was still scared. And I’m an actor, for crying out loud! If I could change one thing that I did, it would be to talk to more agents.

* Here’s the other kicker: Most of these agents live or work in NYC, so they are not there for the whole conference! They are there for their panel or their workshop and then they go back to work! Face time is the most important time. It is the reason you are spending hundreds of dollars to be there. So don’t ever think, “Oh, I’ll just catch them later.” You won’t. (Found that one out the hard way…)

* I didn’t do 10 Minutes, 10 Pages. At first, I felt left out and sad when all of my friends started leaving the panels or speeches in order to have their very important meetings. Some even had two appointments! They all came back and compared notes and more self-pitying followed. However, as the weekend wore on, people got more and more stressed. One agent told them that they loved the 10 pages, another agent said they hated them. One agent said they loved the premise, another said they didn’t. What I learned from watching my friends is (and I know you’ve heard this) that agents’ tastes vary. I’m glad I didn’t stress myself out in order to learn that.

* Format your entire manuscript correctly before going. You never know when somebody is going to ask for it and you want to have it ready. Oh yeah, and for your query workshop, make sure you put your contact info on your query letter *hits self on head.*

* If there are people from your Agent/Author Day group that attend a different Track, exchange notes! It’s like being in two places at once!

* Last bit of general wisdom: Remember, these people are not your competition- they are bolstering your market. Imagine if JK Rowling had never written Harry Potter… Now after you’re done crying, think about this: the YA market would not be the same without Harry Potter. The number of adults reading YA would be miniscule, and the market could be relatively stagnant. The fact is- good books create readers and readers buy your book.  So don’t freak out if someone’s book could be “better” than yours! Nobody ever reads a good book and says, “Wow! That was great! I never want to read again.”

Good luck, newbie Backspacers! More Backspace blogs will follow.

PS- Fellow Backspacers- feel free to add your own things in the comments!


8 thoughts on “Tips for First-Time Backspacers

  1. Patricia miller says:

    Hi Laura,
    As someone who also attended the Backspace conference with you, I would agree with most all of what u said except that the 10 minutes, 10 pages was the most helpful to me. I saw what didn’t work in my opening pages workshop, re-printed them using an alternate opening I had prepared and found at my 1-1 session that not only was plan B better, but she gave me a referral to an associate in her office that represented my genre telling me to tell her she recommended me. Invaluable!
    You are soooo right about making yourself talk to the agents, I did and 2 additional agents requested chapters. 3 agents total! Great experience!
    Most importantly, agents tastes do vary. If one shoots u down, don’t walk out and give up. The next might get your work. I’m living proof of that!
    All writers: get out there and soak in all as experience!

  2. mysticcooking says:

    Great advice! This was also my first conference, and while I kind of wish I’d done the 10 pages/10 minutes thing, it’s nice to hear your take on it – makes me feel less disappointed. Also, so true about the business cards; we put ours together right before leaving, and didn’t get around to adding our pitch or really personalizing it (it’s one of the pastel cards you have with cute clip art… 😉 ). We’ll definitely have a better one next conference.


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