How to Market Yourself at Writers Conferences

by James L. Rubart

Unless you have a multi-book contract (I’m talking 4+ books) you need to be constantly marketing yourself to publishers. 

Even if you do have a long term contract you need to be marketing yourself because someday that contract will end and (let’s speak this quietly) they might not offer you another contract.  

If you’re newer to the publishing world and want to go the traditional route, and are looking for an agent or that first publishing house to partner with, you need these tips to an even greater degree.

So you’re desperate to stand out. You’re looking to make a lasting impact on editors, agents, and other architects of fiction. Use these six techniques when you want to make that impression badly: 

1. Make sure your one sheets say the same thing as other author’s one sheets. Study other author’s one sheets. Write your copy so it’s as close as possible to what your competitors are saying without blatant 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 and just such a pleasure to meet you,” or “Thank you so much for meeting with me, I really think you’ll like my manuscript” or “I hope you’re having a wonderful 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 and don’t take no for an answer. 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 number six. 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 (so far) 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 six 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, website, 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 who wanted to hire me for a consultation. After pulling up her website I thought I had the wrong URL. Her site photo must be from around 1995. I didn’t recognize her. 

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 unless it’s well done. At one conference I attended a guy forced everyone to take a cheesy rubber wristband. He somehow missed the pained 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: When I work with writers during 15 minute consulting sessions at conferences I’m surprised how often the writers do most of the talking. 

Conferees consistently use twelve to fourteen of their fifteen minutes to talk about themselves. Then they want 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 ask for 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. 

Years ago—when I was first breaking in—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, we’ll get you a job.” 

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. 

Final Thought 

Be yourself. Not the pretend self. Not the one you think you should be. Not the one everyone expects you to be. Be the real, quirky, interesting, fascinating person that (trust me) is inside. It’s the easiest way to stand out.

James L. Rubart is 28 years old, but lives trapped inside an older man’s body. He thinks he’s still young enough to water ski like a madman and dirt bike with his two grown sons, and loves to send readers on journeys they’ll remember months after they finish one of his stories. He’s the best-selling, Christy, INSPY, and RT Book Reviews award winning author of seven novels as well as a professional speaker. During the day he runs his marketing company which helps businesses, authors, and publishers make more coin of the realm. He lives with his amazing wife on a small lake in eastern Washington. More at