A lot of my writer friends right now are talking about conferences that they have selected to attend in 2010. Some are brand new to the conference circuit; others are veterans. However you might classify yourself, it never hurts to take time to prepare. Here are a few steps you’ll want to take beforehand:

1. Research the publishers, editors, and authors who will be present. If you have a finished manuscript or proposal you want to talk with an editor or publisher about, make sure that the people you will meet at the conference are the right ones for you to talk with and that the publisher is looking for what you have to offer. Spending a few minutes browsing the publishers’ websites will help you determine if that house is right for you.

If you know that your book will be perfect for a particular publisher, but the only editor represented by that publisher works with a different line of books (fiction vs. nonfiction, for instance), talk to that person anyway. Editors will typically know enough to say whether your manuscript should be forwarded to another department within their house.

Take advantage of authors who are there as well. Authors who are on faculty will have enough experience with writing and publishing to help tweak your work and offer good advice.

2. Don’t bring your entire manuscript or proposal. No one will have the time at the conference to read through a lengthy manuscript. Instead bring a sample of that work and a one-sheet proposal to give an editor an idea of what your book is about.

3. Prepare your conference schedule. As the conference draws near, the conference director will typically have a workshop schedule finalized. Take time to review the schedule, deciding on which workshops you want to attend and which editors you want to meet with. Often, if you can’t get an appointment with the editor you need to see, that person may be teaching a class you can attend. You may be able to schedule an informal time to meet with him then.

With conferences, a little preparation goes  a long way to help you feel confident when approaching editors. For information on how to enjoy your conference experience, please see my recent article at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference blog.  For other general information on attending writers’ conferences, you can view a previous post here.

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I’m gearing up to teach at the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference in early March. Doing so made me think that a lot of writers are also getting ready for the busy writing conference season ahead and are preparing to put their best foot forward when they meet with editors and publishers.

With that in mind, I’d like to address one aspect of preparation: the one-sheet proposal. The one sheet is just that–one sheet geared to a specific book idea. This is obviously quite different than a full proposal, which can be upwards of fifty pages or so.

The idea behind the one sheet is to present your idea, not your actual writing. One sheets are great for conferences or anytime you only have a few minutes to present your book idea to a prospective buyer. Most publishers discourage bringing an entire proposal to a conference because (1) it’s rather cumbersome to carry everywhere; and (2) they won’t have adequate time to read it anyway.

An effective one sheet, however, can serve the purpose of getting an editor interested enough in your idea that he or she requests a proposal from you. So let’s take a look at what a one sheet looks like…

Add the working title of your book front and center toward the top of the page, just below your contact info. Keep in mind that eventually your title will more than likely get changed by the publisher, so don’t get too attached to it!

Next, write two or three sentences maximum for your book’s concept. What you write could also be referred to as your “elevator speech”: What would you say to an editor if you met one in an elevator and wanted to pitch your book idea? If you can’t summarize your book in two or three sentences, it probably isn’t clear enough in your own mind yet.

You’ll also want to include a brief (one paragraph) synopsis of your book. Here, you’ll expound on your concept and offer specifics on what your book is about and what purpose you intend for it to have: How will it affect your audience? Why is it important? If you’re writing a novel, give a basic overview of your plot line, the main characters, and the book’s theme.

Your next section will be market potential, where you define your target audience, offer statistics and research on the size of your market and why your book is important to this market, and how you plan on reaching your audience. You can also include your platform in this section–what will you do to help market your book? If you have an extensive platform that you know will be a huge selling point for you, you’ll want to create a separate section just for that.

After market potential, add a section on comparative titles or the marketing edge your book has over other similar books on the market already. Do your homework and list a few titles that are like yours, yet give specifics on how your book will differ from what’s already out there.

Final sections include a short bio of your writing experience, especially as it relates to your book, along with any other relevant experience you may have; the proposed length of the book; and the completed time frame of when you can finish writing the book if you were offered a contract (most publishers would expect the book to be completed in 6-9 months).

This seems like a lot to fit on one page, but it can be done. Make sure every word counts and that you’re only including information that is absolutely necessary to help sell your book idea. A well-written one sheet should be very readable so that it can be quickly scanned by an editor, with all the important aspects easy to find.

I realize this was a quick overview of a lengthy topic, so if you have any questions on constructing a one sheet, please share your comment!

Just wanted to add a quick post about writers’ conferences before continuing with my Writing Life posts.

If you’ve never attended a writers’ conference, perhaps this could be your year! Whether you’re a total novice or advanced writer, you’re sure to come back with some nugget or connection that will make attending a conference worth your while.

Nowadays, there are so many conferences to choose from, you will most likely find one that caters to your specific writing niche or genre. Often, writers who don’t currently have a manuscript in the works will hesitate attending a conference because they feel they aren’t prepared. My advice is, even if you aren’t currently working on anything, if you find a conference that’s a good fit for your genre, there are several reasons you should still attend:

Networking, networking, networking! That’s really what’s it’s all about in this business anyway, right? You never know who you’ll end up meeting at conferences. I’ve heard stories about writers meeting others writers and becoming co-authors, writers meeting editors and selling their ideas for further review (even without manuscript in hand), and writers meeting publishers who they later submitted–and sold to.

Advancing your craft. As a writer, you should always be learning something new about your craft. Conferences offer hands-on writing experiences as well as workshops to help you stay on top of new publishing trends–something we all need to know about.

Writing time. If you’re like most writers, one of the toughest things is actually finding quality time to write. Although writers’ conferences are typically jam packed with activities, there’s still time to be found for writing. Usually, conferences are held in picturesque, resort-like locations, which are perfect for finding peace and solitude to ignite your creativity.

Ideas. If I get nothing else out of a conference, I always seem to come back with a boatload of new ideas. Ideas about new markets, ideas about new ways of approaching editors and submitting work, or ideas about writing itself. And we can never have too many ideas!

One of the hardest parts about attending a conference is knowing which one to go to. A good start is to find those that are specific to your genre and have a wide variety of faculty to meet with– editors, other writers, publishing staff, agents, marketing experts, etc.

I have compiled a list of various 2010 conferences throughout the U.S. on my Writers’ Resources page. You might also want to check out the Florida Christian Writers’ Conference where I will be teaching March 4-6. Take a look at their blog to read faculty posts for ideas of what to expect at the conference as well as some helpful tips if you do plan on attending.

Happy conferencing!