Jim Rubart

Since 1994, Jim Rubart has worked with clients such as AT&T/Cingular, RE/MAX, ABC and Clear Channel radio though his company Jr2 Marketing, but his passion is writing fiction. He's also a photographer, guitarist, professional speaker, golfer, and semi-pro magician. He lives in the Northwest with the world's most perfect wife and his two almost-perfect sons. No, he doesn't sleep much. You can reach him at jlrudini[at]comcast.net

How to Market Yourself at Writers Conferences

Ah, spring. Conference season is upon us. You want to stand out? Make a lasting impact on editors, agents, and other architects of fiction? Use these six techniques when you want to make an impression badly:

1. Make sure your one sheets say the same thing as other authors’ one sheets. Study them. Make your copy as close as possible to what you find without plagiarizing.

2. When you meet agents and editors, use language and phrases you’re sure they’ve heard before, such as, “It’s just so nice, just such a pleasure to meet you, “ or “I hope you’re having a good conference and are meeting a lot of interesting writers.” This will give them a feeling of comfort and familiarity with you.

3. When developing your marketing material—cards, one sheets, query letters, thank-you notes, etc.—make all of them look a bit different from one another. It allows each to stand on its own and prevents your materials from blurring together. For example use one font for your name on a one sheet and a different font on your business cards.

4. If you put a picture on your card or one sheets, make sure it’s your best, even if the photo is four or five years old. First impressions are critical.

5. Find a creative gimmick to hand out, like a wrist band, to everyone you meet. Some might resist your offer, but press in. These kinds of things will be remembered long after the conference is over.

6. In your editor and/or agent appointments—and even with other writers—ask a few questions, but make sure you do most of the talking. It’s the only way for them to get to know you and understand fully what you have to offer.

After applying these six techniques, I guarantee you’ll succeed in making an “impression badly.” Excruciatingly bad.

Most of you probably figured out my little joke long before we reached technique 6. But since I’ve seen all of the above in heaping doses, it’s probably worth a quick moment of self-reflection to make sure we’re doing the exact opposite of the above points.

1. One sheets: Yes, study one sheets to see what’s being done. Then do something different. You’re a writer. Get creative. For example, instead of your picture on your one sheet, what if you made the background a light watermark of your photo? If done subtly, an editor or agent might even say, “Interesting. Never seen that before.” Without saying a word you’ve told them you’re unique and creative. And they’ll take a closer look at your writing.

2. Opening lines: Every editor and agent I’ve met at writing conferences is kind and approachable. But they’re human. They get tired of hearing the same phrases. It’s not original to say,

“Read any good books lately?” They might give you a courtesy laugh, but inside, they’re probably cringing. It’s not original to say, “I really believe God has called me to write and I just really believe he’s given me this book to share with you.” Best thing to say? Describe your writing or project in as few words as possible, then let them guide the conversation. If they don’t ask a question, ask them a question (see number 6 below). I realize when nervous, many people are afflicted with verbal vomiting. Resist this deadly affliction.

3. Marketing material: You must be consistent. There isn’t time to describe the scientific study that confirms this, but trust me, continuity between your cards, one sheets, Web site, query letter, follow-up thank-you notes, and everything else you present is critical.

4. Your photo: I met a talented writer recently who e-mailed me, asking for marketing help. After pulling up her Web site I thought I had the wrong URL. Her site photo must be from around 1985. I didn’t recognize her. At a recent conference three people said, “Hey, Jim, you look just like your photo.” This is unusual? I think you get the point. Keep your photo updated. Do you think editors, agents, and other authors will remember you more easily if the photo on your marketing materials actually looks like the person they met at the conference? 5. Handing out a gimmick: Don’t. At one conference a guy forced everyone to take a cheesy rubber wristband. He somehow missed the coerced look on the face of everyone he handed them to. (I did remember this individual long after the conference was over, but I doubt it was in the way he wanted.)

6. Editor and agent appointments: In February I was on the faculty of the Florida Christian Writers Conference. Conferees consistently used twelve to fourteen of their fifteen minutes to talk about themselves. Then they wanted a few bits of wisdom in the remaining one to two minutes. Doesn’t work.

Give the editors and agents time to first consider your project, then share their wisdom. You’d be shocked to learn how fast editors and agents can tell if your project is right for them or their house.

In spring of ’07 I had a fifteen-minute appointment with the acquisitions editor for a devotional magazine. After a quick greeting, I handed him a sample of my devotional writing. After forty-five seconds he turned and said, “You can write for us.” He handed me his card and said he’d be in touch. The whole exchange was over in two minutes. The point is good editors and agents know what they’re doing. They have years of insight and wisdom. So tell them briefly what your writing is about; ask a question. Then shut up and listen. Repeat.

Want more ideas? Head over to my article Go for Broca in the July 2008 issue of CFOM.

Final thought: Be yourself. Not the pretend self. The real one. It’s the easiest way to stand out.