A Conference Behind The Scenes
Ever heard of Boston’s Muse and the Marketplace Conference? It’s why I’ve been MIA for a bit, and also the reason I had one of the best internships and (more recently) birthdays of my existence. Here’s some backstory before I get into the Conference Behind the Scenes:
Muse and the Marketplace “gives aspiring writers a better understanding of the craft of fiction and non-fiction, prepares them for the changing world of publishing and promotion, and creates opportunities for meaningful networking. Established and emerging authors lead 100+ interactive sessions on the craft of writing – the “muse” side of things – while editors, literary agents and other industry professionals tackle the business side – the “marketplace.” Though 800+ presenters and participants will attend, GrubStreet creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere designed to give everyone access to the wealth of talent on both sides of the classroom.” – Muse and the Marketplace
I was lucky enough to be chosen as the Muse Intern from January until the conference’s completion on May 1, and my experience has taught me more about writers and agents and basically life than any other position. The Muse offers additional events inside the conference itself (see Manuscript Mart and Shop Talk Happy Hour).
As someone who not only saw the pre-launch organization of these events, but also the end products, I’ve realized how much teamwork and effort goes into the makings of a conference. It’s also allowed me to see just what can make a conference feel like it’s tipping off the tracks. So, here are a few tidbits to help you be the best conference-goer you can be!
Do Your Homework
Let’s start with the easiest first, shall we? Go to the conference website, read what classes are offered, see what speakers are highlighted, understand what dates you’ll be considering taking off from work. A well-informed attendee is always one favored by the staff. If you know what’s going on, we can do that much more to enhance your conference experience.
Check Out That Refund Policy
This conference was easily $500 or above (if you attended all 3 days – single day tickets are cheaper, but not by much – so let’s assume away). You pay the money, enjoy the months passing, and then realize last minute that something’s come up and you have to cancel. If you haven’t checked out the repercussions of this, CHAOS WILL OCCUR! The Muse and the Marketplace refund policy was strict: no refunds at all, but credits toward classes with the organization or to next year’s Muse were possible, minus the $75 processing fee. But, if you didn’t notify us before April 25, no chance at getting
anything in return for the cancellation.
Obviously, specials cases happen. Deaths in the family, medical emergency, it’s all taken into account. But for those people who fell under the “something just came up” excuse, the situation was not satisfying for either party.
If you don’t have the money, ok, I get it. Sometimes life takes precedence. But if you’re forced to wait until later to not only sign up, but also select the sessions you’d like to attend (or even the add-on events where you can personally meet agents/editors), do not then email in complaining how the slots have filled! Conferences are first come, first serve opportunities. That’s a key word – opportunity. No writer is owed a conference experience, so please don’t expect someone organizing one to act like you’re the most important one going.
Pay Attention to Deadlines
I’d never have believed it, but this was one of the MOST thrown away sentiments for attendees. Deadlines are given for a reason. Reminders are sent out for a reason. If you don’t bother to read the instruction email we already sent out, why should we expect you to read the next one?
Be kind to the people enforcing those deadlines. My coworkers had to deal with some nasty emails, from people who frankly didn’t care about deadlines. Remember: extensions can be made, but not if you’re an ass.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Most of the time, questions are annoying. But honestly, I’d rather answer a hundred questions—provided they’re not obvious ones plastered over the website’s homepage—rather than find someone in a panic on Day One because they think they paid for extra events/scheduled meetings with specific agents/editors when they didn’t.
Double Check Your Schedule
This goes along with the Pre-Conference note of Asking Questions. Some staff send out schedules to remind attendees what they’ve signed up for; others trust you to print your own. Either way, always double check! I’ve been the one walking into a class and realizing halfway through that it’s for a completely different genre than I write. It is NOT fun.
Don’t Be That Attendee
This should be a given, but so freaking many people proved me wrong only a week ago. If staff tells you a place is off-limits, THAT PLACE IS OFF-LIMITS. We are responsible for everyone’s safety, that means you AND the presenters! Which brings me to my next, very important point.
Agents and Editors Are Not Celebrities!
Sure, they’re glamorous. They’re either what we dream to be or dream to work with. But, above all, they’re also just people. The conference is for them to meet writers and network and simply have a good time. It is not for you to shove a manuscript in their face, or pitch your story as you corner them in the bathroom.
Again, there are always exceptions. Some will ask to hear from you, other offer special events for you to pitch or submit your work for feedback; at this point, I think you know it’s completely fine to promote yourself. However, if you see an agent/editor at the bar, enjoying their cocktail, try getting to know them as a human before a business opportunity.
This is my last point, and I’ll stop preaching. You’re going to this conference to learn, meet new people, and grow no matter what level of a writer you are. But in the middle of all of that, make sure you have fun! We, as writers, are quirky individuals. We have a lot going for us, whether we know it or not. So don’t stress. Don’t worry. No matter what happens, you’re getting something you can’t find anywhere else in regular life. Breathe and explore.