Four Keys for Writers Conference Success

by Marita Littauer

Today, the role of writers conferences becomes even more valuable as publishers routinely refuse unsolicited manuscripts. At the major writers conferences, you have the opportunity to meet with editors face-to-face and present your ideas for books and magazine articles.

The best case scenario has attendees leaving the conference encouraged about future publishing success and seeing their work in print. For others, the experience is closer to the death of a dream. Both ends of the spectrum are a reality--as is everything in between. If you plan to attend a writers conference, wouldn't you want to be one of the success stories? Are there secrets that set some people up for success while others struggle?

Yes, there are some steps that you can take to move you closer to success! While no one can promise you'll be published, there are things that will give you a better chance.

I have been teaching at writers conferences for over ten years. As a part of the faculty, I have observed that at each conference there are certain people who are the stars, the ones that the editors get excited about, the ones editors want to help and are willing to go out of their way to guide that novice writer. On the other end of the spectrum, there are attendees whose names, when mentioned, generates a rolling of the editors' eyes. Seeing this happen over and over again, I queried the editors to find the common denominators of each group.

They can be summed up in the following four "P"s.


Before you pack up to attend the conference, do your homework. Have you studied style manuals? There are standard formats for proposals and manuscripts. While good writing can be done in poor form, editors typically find that when a writer doesn’t know how to present a project, it indicates that they don't care or don't have the necessary skills--both of which will be reflected in their writing. One magazine editor shared that she was very impressed with the writer who had all of her available articles arranged in a three-ring notebook in clear plastic sleeves. As the author presented each idea, she could easily flip through the notebook and move on to the ideas that interested the editor the most.

Study up on the publishing needs and styles of the editorial staff who will be present at the conference you plan to attend. Check the writers guides and visit the websites of the publishing houses or magazines for their guidelines. As soon as the editors' schedules are opened up, make appointments with the editors for whom your research shows your project is right. One editor said, "If you make an appointment to see me, come prepared, don't waste my time." Doing your research and being prepared will help you maximize your meetings.

At the conference, editors often have the opportunity to share their needs and interests with the general group. Once you hear the specific editors' comments, cancel your appointment if you realize that, after all, your material is not a good fit for them. Likewise, if you hear someone who sounds right for you and you have not yet made an appointment to meet with them, try to get on to their schedule.


Next look at how you present yourself. We have all heard the cliché, "You never have a second chance to make a good first impression," and this is especially true of your meeting with the editors.

Look in the mirror. Your meeting with the editor is like a job interview. Even though most writers conferences are held in casual settings, you can still look professional--not sloppy.

Appearance is important because you are the one who will be out there promoting the book. While book editors focus more on the appearance of the author than magazine staff does, it can't hurt to look your best.

If you have any hesitation regarding the appropriateness of your appearance, seek some help. While there are many books and magazines available on the subject, one of the easiest ways to get personal guidance is to look around your place of work, your neighborhood or your church for people whose clothing and grooming selections you would like to emulate.

Dressed as you plan to be at the conference, go to one of those people, explain your goals and ask for an honest critique of your physical presentation. Is your clothing clean, neat, up-to-date and appropriate? Is your hair clean and in a style flattering to your features? Is your cologne or after-shave too strong or do you have offensive body odor or bad breath?

Listen carefully to their advice and do not be defensive. Adjust your image accordingly and keep breath mints handy for those one-on-one meetings.

Another aspect of looking professional is having business cards available to leave with the editor. One writers conference attendee met with an editor who liked her work, but the specific article she was offering did not meet his needs. The editor took her card and later contacted her to ask her to write for them "on assignment." Places like OfficeMax or Office Depot can make you professional, basic business cards in a matter of days for less than twenty dollars.

Business cards help give the impression that this IS what you do, rather than that it is a passing fancy. When it is this easy and cost effective to look professional, there is no reason to have tacky, crooked computer generated cards that scream "beginner"--or none at all.


There is a fine line between the person who is eager and enthusiastic about their project and the person who is obnoxious. It is good to believe in your ideas, but be open and teachable.

When an editor offers a suggestion that will make your writing better, receive it without argument--better yet, ask for additional thoughts for improvement.

On the flip side, be confident in your work. If you have prepared by researching the needs of the publishing house and you have tailored your presentation for each specific meeting, you can enter the session from a position of strength not nervousness. Have your focused twenty-five word to thirty-second book idea ready. Start the meeting by sharing your idea, then allow the editor to ask for more. Maintain a conversational tone and be willing to end the conversation if there is no visible interest. Do not feel that you have to use up the entire time just because you have a fifteen-minute appointment. Even when there is enthusiasm for your project on the part of the editor, be conscious of time constraints and leave them wanting more.

Editors like to help people, especially people who are open to guidance and direction, people who are likeable.


The actual writing, the project, is where most writers start. Yet, ignoring the previous "P"s, may prevent you from receiving a fair hearing from the editor. If you head to the writers conference well prepared, with a presentation that is well packaged and present your ideas with enthusiasm--while being teachable--the editor will be anxious to hear about your project. Your project must fit the needs of the publisher or magazine. It should to have a fresh approach or meet the publishers need. It needs to be well written!

Once you meet with the editors, be sure to follow-up with them. If they suggested some changes that will make your project work for them, make the changes and send it back to them within a few weeks--when they will hopefully still remember meeting with you! To help them remember, bring a camera with you to the conference and have someone take a picture with you and the editor. Include that photo in any additional correspondence with that editor. When the package is opened, perhaps by an assistant, who did not meet you, the photo shows that you did meet and talk with this editor--therefore moving your submission to the top of the pile instead of the slush pile.

Editors report that one of the reasons they seldom take manuscripts home from a conference with them is that the author's follow-up is one of their screening processes. Only those who are serious and interested in working with that house will actually get the requested materials sent in. Those who do not follow through, screen themselves out.

Pay attention to these "P"s and you will find that your next writers conference experience will leave you encouraged, successful and ultimately--published: the final "P" of your writers conference success!


Marita Littauer is the author of 10 books Including Love Extravagantly, You've Got What It Takes, Personality Puzzle, & Talking So People Will Listen, and is the President of CLASServices Inc., an organization that provides resources, training and promotion for speakers and authors. She can be reached through her website:

Keys for Writing Conference Success


Organize proposals and project packaging.
Do research and be prepared to maximize your meetings.


Critique personal appearance.
Get business cards.


Be excited, but not overbearing.
Be teachable.


Create fresh, well-written material to meet publishers needs.
Follow-up by sending requested materials.