I actually wrote this for a newsletter for a professional writer’s association I belong to. It seems some of my article was butchered out (accidentally) so I thought I would post the whole thing here in hopes it helps someone prepare for their first writer’s conference.
Ten Questions You Could be Asked at a Writer’s Conference
It’s time to get your answers ready! In a conference environment you’re bound to find yourself in a situation where you have to answer questions about yourself and your work. What you may not know is your answers are important. Your answers could mean the difference between a book sale, or being able to successfully network with other authors.
Of course for many different reasons, writers are not always succinct, eloquent, and precise in their answers. This can happen for any one of the following reasons:
- Some writers suffer social anxiety. Not all writers are socially anxious introverts, but some of us are. This may cause us the pause or trip up when asked a simple question.
- Being caught off guard. It happens to everyone at some point. For example – you’re having a drink in the hotel bar and someone sits next to you. You begin talking and you learn they’re THE acquisitions editor for [insert awesome publisher that you’d love to pitch here]. The editor then asks that daunting question, “So what do you write?” For a lot of people that would cause some anxiety.
- Some writers suffer from gushing, babbling, or foot-in-mouth. Someone asks you a question and you give a fifteen minute explanation while the other person looks at her watch and wonders when you’ll shut up. You guys know who you are and you need this advice, too.
All of these situations are why it’s important to have answers to some common questions ready to go. You just never know who you’re talking to, and you don’t want to trip over your own tongue. Not only that but by keeping your answers short, you offer room for more discussion and additional questions. You also offer brevity if the person asking was just being polite. Short, concise answers give people enough to satiate their curiosity, and you don’t prattle on incessantly and dominate the conversation.
Here are some of the common questions you’re likely to encounter:
What do you write? It’s a simple question, right? Maybe you can answer it in a few words. “Oh, I write romantic mysteries.” But sometimes it’s not so easy. For example, I have four pen-names and write in over 7 distinct genres with published books in all of them. Some of us are like that. It’s not always easy to sum up seven genres in a single sentence. My go to is response is, “I write across seven genres, but I’m currently writing a [insert genre here].”
What’s your latest book about? Take your latest project and formulate a one sentence summary. Then, if people want additional details you can share more.
What inspired this book? Come up with a brief summary, no more than a sentence or two, that explains what inspired your latest project. Then, if the person you’re talking to is still interested, you can elaborate as needed.
Are you working on anything else? This is often a question you might have agents or editors asking instead of other writers, but it’s still good to have this answer ready to go. Are you one of those authors who only works on one book at a time? Or are you a multi-tasker who works on two books at once? If you’re like me, you always have one you’re writing, one you’re editing, a few outlined, and some additional ideas on the back burner. It’s also a great answer to have ready if you’re pitching because it tells an editor/agent that you have more than one book in you. So have a quick summary of that book put together, too.
Who’s your publisher? Again, for some this is an easy question. Maybe you only have one publisher. For others, it may not be so easy. Hybrid authors self-publish certainly, but they will also have one or more publishers. So what do you say if you have more than one publisher? Instead of naming off a list of ten publishers, perhaps you could choose the biggest, well known name(s) and tack on, “and some other small presses.”
Will you read my manuscript? Okay – so I know that many aspiring authors would never ask this of a published author they admire, but sometimes they do. It’s happened to me and I’m not even famous. If you are a published author you should have an answer for this question ready just in case. Maybe you do read manuscripts for people and if you do, cool. It’s a delicate question because you don’t want to upset anyone, but at the same time it opens you up to the possibility of having to tell someone you don’t like their book, or it sucks up time you just don’t have. Nowadays I always use, “Due to my workload and existing to-be-read list, I don’t read unpublished manuscripts. Sorry.”
Will you read my book and give me a blurb? I encourage all published authors to set up a policy on this immediately if you haven’t, and have your answer ready just in case. If you are a blurb requesting author I recommend developing some rapport with the other author first before requesting said blurb. Nothing is more awkward than having a complete stranger walk up to you and say, “I love your work. Would you blurb my novel?”
Do you have a website? (Or Facebook, or Goodreads, or Twitter etc…) I recommend all authors, even if you aren’t published yet, to at least have a calling card printed up with your name, email address, and website URL. Your website should link to everything else, like your Twitter, Facebook etc… For published authors, cards, bookmarks, or postcards are a must. It’s so much more convenient to just hand someone a card or bookmark. Also – yes, if you’re unpublished you should have a website. “I don’t have one,” while a valid response, is always a let down, especially when you meet someone you get on well with, or someone who piques your interest.
What are you reading right now? You should be able to answer this question quite readily without stammering. All writers are readers, right? The topic comes up. And please, PLEASE don’t answer, “I don’t have time to read.” Whenever an author says this (yes — I’ve met a few), it does tend to make me wary of that author’s work.
Who are your favorite authors? You never know when this question will come up. Just keep in mind that it could come up so you’re not surprised if someone asks. People often use questions like this as conversation starters. Editors and agents might use a question like this to gauge who your influences are.
I’m sure you’ll be asked other questions, but in my experience these are some of the most common ones. Happy conference!