Wednesday, September 12, 2012

10 Tips for Meal Times at Conference

I've been to many large writing conferences and have worked freelance for agents and editors, but I still remember my first meal time at an editor's table. I thought I'd forgotten everything my mama taught me about eating with "important" people. Is this napkin for me or the person beside me? What if I panic and can't remember my pen name??

Many times first time conference attendees are baffled when it comes to the lunch and dinner times at editors' and agents' tables or at least a little intimidated, especially introverts. (And face it--most writers are introverts.)

At the ACFW conference during lunch and dinner, you will be given the option of sitting at a table with an agent or editor of your choice.Yes, you will probably give a short blurb about what you write (wait for it--they'll ask.) Yes, it will be noisy,and there will be others at your table who also are interested in the host of the table. The agent or editor may be distracted by any number of things. There will be announcements and wonderful things going on.

Here are a few tips when you get to the table. Don't be nervous, eat the really good food. Just be prepared. If you pray before, God can grant you peace and assurance. Really!

1.Often breakfast is reserved for faculty to have a break from conferees. Please respect the parameters given at the conference.It's ok to say hi if your eyes meet, just don't stop at the table or sit down or for that matter, even slow down. (Break the eye contact as soon as you can--wave to that new person you have yet to meet.)

2. Don't wear fragrances, but do smell pleasant. I don't know how you accomplish this, nor do I want to know.

3. Have your business cards available without fumbling for them for others at your table.(You can put them in your name tag.) You'll also want to chat with those at your table because these people can become your good friends.(And really, you just never know how they will be bridges for you.) Ask the person beside you about her writing. Chances are, you'll relax while listening to her.

4. Have your business card(no papers) with you to give to the editor/agent at your table, if the opportunity arises. Jot briefly your book title and a line on the back of the card (and genre.)  Make sure you have address/phone/email on that card. If you are uncomfortable having that info for just anyone, have the full contact info ones for only the editor/agents or good friends.
5. Have your 30 second pitch ready (they will probably ask you) and do not hog the table talk time with the agent/editor. Answer questions, but do speak with others at your table, too. Sometimes it is difficult to hear if you are across the table, too, so be aware and be willing to help others at your table communicate. Think of always being gracious.

6. It may be sooo important to contact that editor/agent because you've spent so much money for this conference, but I've seen rudeness occur when people will "save" chairs at a table, and even rushing to take the chair ahead of someone else. This isn’t junior high. Be polite and trust that there will be God-incidences happening. Some editors and agents have noticed if you're chair-grabbing and they have good memories.

7. You never know who “works”for/influences the agent/editor. Be nice to everyone! (You'll be happier if you are, too. It's fun. Try it. It will confuse some people.) I've introduced myself to someone at a conference, and the person said to me, "Are you anyone? Oh. You're nobody. Ok. Bye." (Yes, I'm nobody. Seriously?)

8. No matter how friendly you have become with an agent or editor, be courteous and respect her/him. I saw a whole table "tease" an editor about something this editor "seemed" to be comfortable about, but behind the scenes this editor went back to the room to fume/be hurt--and let organizers know about it. Be sensitive. Don't tease or talk about volatile/sensitive issues. Try to put yourself in that person's shoes.

9. There will also be author tables. Don't be disappointed if you get at an author's table. They are "scouts" for publishers and have agents, too. They're also wonderful mentors, and have much to share.

10. Do be aware that the conference is jam-packed and an overload for everyone. Presenters, editors, agents, authors may need a minute to collect thoughts or just need nourishment. Give the host a chance to sit down (do save a chair for the host!) eat a little and maybe even sample the dessert. Each one has an individual personality and will try to lead the table. He may want to know what you've been reading, what book impacted you this year, or even ask you what you think about green tea.

10 B. Oh, one more thing--lose 5 pounds before you go as food at these things are usually great and you will WANT to eat! (Not to mention the chocolate parties.)
I have found that the ACFW conference has the nicest, most helpful people.  My special times were when someone stopped me from being a deer in the headlights as she quickly prayed for me on the way to her own appointments or encouraged me to come sit with her at lunch. Don't sit in your room and order room service--get out and be with others who are just as passionate as you are. When you go into the "cafeteria," even if you are the new kid in school, you'll find a place and it will be the right place, the right time.

For those who have been to conference, do you have tips to add for first timers? What's your most memorable table talk at a conference?


  1. What an excellent post, Crystal! Thanks so much for the encouraging and terrific advice. As I was reading it, I was nodding and thinking, "Yep. True. True. All true..." and so on. Going to an ACFW conference is such a great experience if you can relax enough to enjoy it and know everything is in His hands. I'm going to post this link on Facebook later today, as well. And love this photo of you! Many blessings and thanks again.

  2. Great tips, Crystal! Meals at ACFW conferences can generate major frustration or positive encounters, largely dependent on our attitudes.

    So helpful for those of us who need to shut up or speak up. Which one am I? Um...

    And, as you say, all of us need to pray up!

  3. Nice post, Crystal. Even though I'm not going to conference, these tips can come in handy at any conference.

    I love, "This isn’t junior high. Be polite and trust that there will be God-incidences happening." We would all do well to remember this in most social situations.

    And frankly, I work every week w/jr. high students and have seen some of them act more mature than the adults around them! Just another opportunity for us to trust God and His perfect plan for us.

  4. I agree with everything here. Very good advice for newbies and old-bees alike. Pray for divine appointments. God is up to something good for you -- go with it! And don't sweat it if you don't get to sit by or talk to an agent or editor. Just relax, enjoy, learn.

  5. Great points! And all so true! I would add one more: don't forget to eat so your stomach doesn't growl and embarrass you later when you have an appointment with an editor or agent you met at a meal. . . :-)

  6. Someone had the gall to ask, "Are you anyone?" Outrageous.

    Okay, let's all be ready for such rudeness with the following response: [Furtively glance left and right.] "Shhh. I'm trying to look like a regular conferee, and I don't want anyone to realize who I really am. Don't blow my cover!" [Then quickly stroll away.]

  7. Oh, Crystal, you have always been Someone, to me!

  8. I hope (and I'm praying for you all) that you have a great conference! I can't go this year :( but I feel that ACFW has one of the best conferences--may be the BEST conference--ever.

    And LOL, Rick, I actually had that happen to me a couple times. Secret Life of Walter Mitty--that's me!They were very Nervous Nellies. But for the most part, almost everyone is very nice. And you, I believe, could very well be undercover. You've done some mighty things!

    I probably haven't always come across as perfect, either. I forgot dear Mary Allen one evening at conference! :( And I'm such an introvert that it's taken a lot of observation and pushing myself outside my comfort zones to reach out, even when I worry that I'm overstepping.

    Love you, too, Sharon! I'm glad I'm Somebody to such a Wonderful Friend. :D

    Millie, that is so true! :D Great tip! Eating is difficult when you're nervous, but no one wants to have a growling tummy during an agent/editor meeting later.

    Karla, you always seem so calm. I think hanging out with you would be a good way to chill-lax. :)

    Nikki, I taught junior high kids, too, and they can be really sweet--I was playing off the usual insecurities that come with that age. :) You are so sweet and I bet the kids love you. I love seeing our world through your eyes on Facebook, by the way.

    Rachael, when you talk you are able to make a person feel at ease, so talk it up! And sing it loud! :O

    JoAnn, you are right--if we just allow God to guide our experiences, not panic, all will work out in God's time, left in God's hands. And thank you for the sweet words to me. :)I do appreciate that.

  9. Helpful hints. I won't be at this year's conference, but hoping to next year.


  10. Crystal-

    I, too, have experienced that "Are you somebody? No? OK, bye" reaction from people at conferences. One of the worst/funniest instances of it was at my first RT convention, when my first book had come out, and I'm sitting at a publisher table with a fellow author. At the same conference, a cookbook had come out with recipes from some *major* "name" romance all these people would buy the cookbook and then walk through the whole book signing looking for the nameplates that corresponded to the people whose autographs they REALLY wanted. I actually had people hold up the book and say, "You're not one of these people, are you?"

    I remembered thinking, "Honey, if you have to ask..."

    I like Rick's approach. In fact, I'd be tempted to take it even further... (heh heh)


  11. Maybe, Janny, you should have said, "Yes." Then, signed it with your own name and book title...LOL. I'm just feeling pesky....