Friday, August 11, 2017

Dear Frida Pennabook: Great Expectations in Grayling

Sometimes it's helpful to tap into the expertise of a fellow writer or artist. Got a question? Need advice? Just ask Frida.

Dear Frida,

I registered for the upcoming Gathering on the Grand conference because there are going to be two editors and an agent there! This will be my first conference and I need to know the best way to make an impression on those editors and that agent so that when I slip them my manuscript at dinner, they’ll remember me. What should I wear? Should I hire someone to professionally design my website? Is Vistaprint the best place to order my business cards? I’m thinking of coloring my hair—is it too trendy if I do pink? Please help me get signed!

Great Expectations in Grayling

Dear Grayling,

First, let me say congratulations on signing up for your very first conference! It takes courage to put yourself out there and mix and mingle with writers from all over the Mitten. You should be proud of yourself.

Second, the mental picture I have of you, chasing after presenters and tossing business cards at them like confetti while babbling about the pure genius of your manuscript (which you are certain is destined for the New York Times best seller list) is very, um, striking, even without the pink hair.

My darling GE in G, I have two words for you: PLEASE DON’T!

Forgive me if I sound harsh. But the reality is that conferences are where one goes to “discover”, not “be discovered.” Conferences are designed for writer of all levels to improve their skills. If you pay the fee expecting to find an agent or an editor, you’re bound to leave disappointed. No matter the speakers or the presentation topics, nothing will come close to that expectation.

On the other hand, if you think of conferences as opportunities to learn from experts in the field, then you’re on the right track. You’ll hear from people who have put in the time and the effort to reach the level of success they have through hard work and who are willing to share with you some of their secrets. You’ll come back not only inspired, but you’ll bring with you a tool kit of new ideas to explore and make your own.

Yes, people are “discovered” at conferences on occasion. But those people have also spent lots of time doing the grunt work needed to improve their skills beforehand. I know a couple of these writers, and all of them put in years of effort to learn from others both before and after their “overnight” successes. They have never regretted it, and neither will you.

So, color your hair butterfly blue, if it suits your personality. Have plenty of business cards ready to pass out to all the new contacts you’ll make while at Gathering on the Grand. Overhaul your website if you think it’s time. But do these things for you, not for some presenter at a conference. Take the time to do them right rather than rushing through them, because it’s not worth making a mistake that thousands of people might see, when all you wanted to do was make an impression on one editor or agent.

In other words, adjust your Great Expectations, be yourself, and be ready to learn!


Frida Pennabook will be at the Gathering on the Grand, improving her writing skills. Her hair will be in its usual sensible bun and will not be pink. Or blue. Though she thinks those are lovely and wishes she had the cajones.

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  1. I disagree with Frida; it is clear she DOES have cajones no matter her hair color. Excellent advice, BTW.

  2. Thanks! Wish I could be there this year, but another duty calls.