How to Be a Writing Conference Darling

I jokingly noted yesterday that I should do a blog post about how to get blacklisted from a conference. And the people of Facebook said, “YES DO THAT.”

Ha. That would be a short blog post, but I’ll give you the answer at the end. THIS IS A BLOG POST ABOUT HOW TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE EVERYONE’S CONFERENCE DARLING AND ALWAYS GET INVITED BACK.


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So let’s focus on how to be a conference pro:

  1. Be responsive. Answer emails from organizers and comply with requests in a timely manner.
  2. Be gracious. You’re working with volunteers or poorly paid organizers who are putting these things together because they are passionate about helping people grow as writers.
  3. Bring your presentation “A” game. Attendees know when you’re phoning it in. Showing effort and preparation honors your listeners. Our best pros knock it out of the park with every single presentation and don’t say stuff like, “I was putting this together late last night.” They really organize their thoughts and it’s impressive every time.

Doing these things will make a positive impression on conference organizers. But if you really want to be a conference darling? Well….this is what our favorite pros do, and this is truest of all the biggest names who come to our conference:

  1. They make themselves available to attendees. Brandon Sanderson will plop down at a table of strangers at lunch and ask what people are working on. Jennifer Nielsen will look at you with real and honest delight when you tell her you love her books. James Dashner will smile and tell you with total sincerity to just stick with it, man. Dan Wells will engage in discussions on all-things-geeky over taco salad.
  2. They ask us to put them to work. They want to be busy all day long. Every class, every panel, every talk, every signing we can give them makes them happy. We don’t ask them. THEY ASK US. “Hey, put me to work.”
  3. They’re humble. Their demeanor is generally just sheer delight that we get to write as a job and isn’t it cool that we all love this?
  4. They so clearly care and want to give back. I don’t know if I can explain this one, exactly, but they just come across as so interested in each individual, so invested in trying to help people figure out how to reach their own level of success, how to tell really great stories and find some joy in it. But in a totally sincere, not-greeting-card-or-motivational-poster kind of way.
  5. They’re funny. (Not essential, but it sticks in people’s memory.)

As for how to get blacklisted . . . Fine. I’ll spill. As someone who has worked with visiting agents, keynote speakers, and faculty for several years, I can tell you there is only one thing that will absolutely insure I never bring someone back, and only one thing that will probably insure I don’t bring someone back.

The one person sure to end up on my “NEVER AGAIN” list is someone with a significant role who cancels their participation with relatively short notice for anything short of a medical emergency or death in the family. I will not—CAN NOT—risk including a known flake on my schedule.

The second thing that will probably keep you from getting asked back: being a diva. Interesting fact: our highest profile writers are the easiest to work with. They are gracious, accommodating, and responsive. How to avoid being high maintenance: just be gracious and flexible. That’s really it.

To sum up, be professional and prepared. And funny doesn’t hurt.

Melanie Bennett Jacobson is an avid reader, amateur cook, and shoe addict. She consumes astonishing amounts of chocolate, chick flicks, and novels. She lives in Southern California with her husband and three kids and a series of doomed houseplants. Her seventh novel, Southern Charmed, released in October. Melanie is pursuing a Masters degree in creative writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her contemporary YA novels are represented by Alyssa Henkin..