It's the impression that they get.
Conferences are a great place to network with writers, agents and editors. Who you know can play a big part in the publishing industry and conferences are your opportunity to mingle, mix and make an impression.
Another great part about conferences is sometimes they have pitch sessions. These can be with agents and/or editors. I went to my first conference last year and signed up for a pitch session with an editor. It went really well. The editor and I got on like a house on fire--she liked my pitch (and my laptop bag).
- Choose who you want to pitch to: There will likely be a variety of people you can pitch to. But get in early as spaces go fast! Research them, who best matches what you have to offer. When I pitched there were mainly editors of small press, plus one large press editor and an agent. I was lucky that a space opened up with the large press editor, as she was well and truly the best person for me to pitch to. Make sure you know what your editor/agent looks like to.
- Prepare your pitch materials: Treat this like you would a query email. The editor/agent gets this before your session. Pay attention to detail, especially spelling and grammar. Make sure you submit everything they request.
- Dress for success. I treated it like a job interview and wore corporate clothes. You don't have to go that far, but first impressions are lasting. Put your best foot forward, where nice clothes, have your hair neat and be friendly. This is their chance to see how you might go at book launches and interviews.
- Know your content. I used my session as a sales pitch. Of course you know your story inside and out. Here's your chance to sell it! You might even get a partial or full MS request from the agent/editor. You don't need to memorise it word for word, just know the key points you want to make.
- Try to stay calm. I know that is hard. I'm pretty outgoing and can talk underwater, but not everyone is like that. Try going to some public speaking lessons. Even if your shy, you can do it! Editors and agents are people too.
- Make a good final impression. Be sure to thank the agent for his/her time. If you have sweaty palms, wipe them discretely before you shake hands.
- Have fun at the rest of the conference!