Can you feel the excitement in the air? The furious writing of pitches? The late-night research and notes on agents and editors. That growing bit of nervousness in the pit of your stomach?
It must be that time of year again-- time for the Rutgers Council on Children's Literature One-on-One Conference!
The 46th Annual RUCCL One-on-One conference will be held this Saturday, October 17th on the campus of Rutgers University.
Those of you that are going are well aware of the conference and all it offers. But for those of you that are not, here's a brief introduction:
(taken directly from the RUCCL website)
For over forty years the Rutgers University Council on Children's Literature has helped aspiring writers and illustrators of children's and young adult books, both fiction and nonfiction, to grow in craft and professionalism.
Each fall RUCCL sponsors the One-on-One Plus Conference. One-on-One brings together the largest number of professionals of any conference of its kind. The unique one-on-one format gives writers and illustrators a rare opportunity to share their work with an assigned mentor. The conference also offers a chance to meet and exchange information and ideas with experienced editors, agents, art directors, authors, and illustrators, who have generously volunteered their time.
Why is this so exciting?
As an attendee you get to interact with over 60 + agents and editors from trade houses throughout the day. You will have 5-on-5 groups, listen to fabulous speakers and also 1-on-1 time with a fabulous mentor -- to talk about your own piece. You will also have time to pitch to agents and editors throughout the day. Basically, it's a fantastic way to get your work in front of the very people who could snap it right up!
Are you nervous just reading about all this? I have to admit, I am. This is a pretty big thing for all authors, whether you are agented or not and the number of success stories coming out of the conference proves it.
Okay, so HOW do you prepare for this?
I have been to this conference once before and have spoken to many friends who've attended over the years. These are some of the tips that I have put together.
BEFORE you go:
1. Bring a copy of the piece that you submitted. This makes it easier for you to follow along as your mentor is going over your piece.
2. Have questions to ask about your piece ready.
Suggested ones to consider: How your manuscript will fit in the market?
Is the voice/tone appropriate for the age level?
Any questions you may have about your plot or characters.
If nonfiction, perhaps ask about if the form is appropriate -- narrative vs. informational
How can I improve it?
3. Bring a list of pitches (3-4 lines ) of other manuscripts that you may want to discuss.
I recommend pitches because it can take too much time to have them read something else and comment on it. But pitches can show them your style, the types of books you write (your overall body of work) , and give you an idea of marketability of your pieces.
4. Be prepared with other questions
Do you want to ask about how to handle your career. (Agent or no agent?)
How much marketing should you do for your piece?
Do you need to have a website, etc?
While this may not seem like the time, if you run out of things to ask, pick their brains for any question you have about the business. These people are in it and are knowledgeable. They will know or tell you how to find out!
5. Do your Research!
Prepare a list of agents and/or editors who are interested in what you write. These are the ones that you want to approach. Be reasonable, keep the list below 10. Let's face it you probably won't get to all, but I always *star* the ones that are really important to me.
Good websites to check for research include:
Query Tracker/Agent Query
Other SCBWI conferences (where they will list bios)
Casey McCormick's Literary Rambles blog (for agents)
The Publisher's pages ( sometimes the publisher will list all of their editors and their interests. For example, Simon & Schuster's info here
Okay, so this seems easy, but LOOK UP the directions! The first year, I had the hardest time finding the actualy building on the Rutgers campus. I drove around for almost an hour and just made it five minutes before. Be aware -- GPS is not great on the campus (at least it wasn't a few years ago), so go to the website and download the paper directions just in case. This is not a place to be late!
Listen and participate with everyone. Keep your answers on point and short to allow everyone to talk. Don't hog the conversation. Be a natural part of it
Listen to what your mentor is saying.-- Stay focused. It's easy to be so nervous about what you want to ask next that you don't even listen to the comments they are saying.
Take notes-- Write down everything they say. Although many will have notes on your piece, it's always good to have back up.
Ask questions -- Be sure you get your questions about your piece asked. But try not to interrupt them too often.
If they indicate interest -- Ask if they would be interested in seeing more of your manuscript. OR if they say that it needs work, ask if you revise, if they'd be interested in seeing it again.
If they don't indicate interest-- Ask if they would be willing to take a look at your pitches for other projects. If they indicate interest in any of these, ask if they'd be interested in seeing more.
The most important thing: ASK FOR THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION!!!
While Rutgers may provide a list of contact information, don't plan on that. I have been to many conferences where writers were so excited that an agent or editor asked to see more that they forgot to ask for contact information and had no way of sending the manuscript. Nothing is more frustrating.
This is the scariest part of this conference. At the RUCCL conference they allow and even encourage attendees to pitch to actively pitch to agents and editors. There is no set time to do it, you just walk right up to them and pitch. Talk about cold calling! Yikes!
Here are a few tips that may help.
1. Identify the agents and editors you want to meet. When you check in you will find out your mentor and also typically get a list of where editors and agents will be eating lunch. (at least you did in the past). Quickly go through and figure out where the *starred* people on your list can be found.
2. Have a SHORT 3-4 line pitch prepared for your book. Make it energetic and exciting. Capture their attention with it.
3. If possible, figure out a way to approach them, ie. did you find a particular book they produced that is similar to yours in genre, characters, plot. You may say something like "I see from your list that you really like action-adventure MG, well I have one that you might find interesting..." or some such. You need a tiny opening instead of just coming up and blurting out your pitch.
4. Consider partnering up. Sometimes if there are two of you, it's easier to approach the agent or editor. That way you can take turns with the dreaded opening line. It's less scary because it's not just you and them.
5. Take a deep breath and focus. While your pulse will be racing, you need to be sure that what you are saying makes sense and doesn't come out in a rush. You want to sound professional, not like a person who is so nervous they can barely put two words together and stand upright. (even if that's what you are). :)
6. If they show interest, again, ASK FOR THEIR CONTACT INFORMATION! Ask if they have a card or if they will write down their email address for you. You have worked very hard to get this, so don't forget to walk away with your "prize" -- how to send your ms to them.
7. If they say they aren't interested, thank them for their time and move on. Do not get discouraged. You have others on your list.
Finally, at the end of the day, Reward Yourself! You did it! You made it through. This is a very exciting conference that requires a lot of focus, attention, and probably ALL of your energy. Whew! Be proud of yourself and remember the fact that you are even there means that the RUCCL team thought your writing is awesome!
Good LUCK this weekend! Can't wait to see you all there. YOU CAN DO IT!!!
Jennifer is the award- winning author of over twenty nonfiction and fiction books. Her books include BRAIN GAMES by National Geographic Kids (2015) , Forces and Motion by Nomad Press (2016) , and SUPER GEAR: Nanotechnology and Sports Team Up by Charlesbridge Publishing (2016). She is an instructor at the Children's Book Academy and a two-time workshop presenter at the Highlights Foundation. She is now proudly represented by agent Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management .
You can find Jennifer at www.JenniferSwansonBooks.com
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