Volunteer’s Eye View of a Writer’s Conference

I’ve spent the last four days volunteering at the San Francisco Writers Conference. It was an amazing experience that came with many perks along with lots of responsibilities.

First, I want to answer why I decided to volunteer. I attended SFWC in 2012 and 2013 and felt like I’d already done the conference as an attendee. I wanted to participate as someone who soaks in the creative atmosphere and knowledge without having the pressure that I will make the right connection that leads to a book deal. I was interested in being part of the team, an insider who helps make SFWC a really fabulous event.

I got all that and more. As part of my responsibilities, either as timekeeper or host, I was able to sit in on some great workshops. I also worked as a wrangler who kept the crowds moving during the Speed Dating with Agents sessions. These are the sessions where writers have 3 minutes to pitch their work to agents. That was really exhausting for everyone involved: writers, agents and volunteers. It was also fascinating to witness all the different personal styles and the reactions of the agents.

I can tell you what made the best impression: being personable, prepared, and ready to listen. Steamrolling the agent with a 3-minute ramble was a waste of time and energy. You should be able to recite your pitch in under a minute and spend the rest of the time answering the agent’s questions.

I was a timekeeper during the freelance editor sessions, where writers could seek 8-minute consultations with freelance editors. This was actually an okay place to ramble a bit if you just wanted to approach someone with your idea, but it was still really important to listen. The people who got the most out of it were the ones who came prepared with their pitch and the first few pages of their manuscript.

When you are pitching to an agent or editor, you are making a valuable first impression. You want to be someone they want to work with. It’s okay to be nervous. They expect that. Along with being nervous, you can also bring your A game. That’s what makes the best impression.

Keep in mind that the most important people at the conference are the attendees. It’s funny, but that’s what I learned as a volunteer. The agents, editors and presenters are there for you, the attendee, not for themselves. They really want to impart information and make connections.

Most of the agents, editors, presenters, organizers and volunteers are writers as well. During the conference, there was a strong sense that we are all in this together. Presenters also attended sessions and keynote speeches, eager to learn.

Speaking of the sessions, you may be interested to know that the SFWC has generously made the session handouts available online. While it’s not the same as attending, you can still glean a lot of valuable information from these handouts.

You can download the handouts here: Presenters Handouts: 2014 List of Presenters Handouts for Download.

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