There is nothing like the Rutgers One-on-One.
This conference for children’s writers, held yearly in October, is the place to see and be seen. The one-on-one ratio means that attendees get to rub elbows with as many agents, editors, and published authors (the mentors) as other (likewise awesome) mentees.
The invaluable face time gives you the chance for others to later connect your name to you-the-individual, and gives you the opportunity to do the same. Because (*whispers*) even big-name editors and agents are people too. No, really. You might not click with your “dream agent” in person. Another who seemed beyond your reach might be totally accessible and down-to-earth. Plus, if you aren’t sure if someone might be interested in your genre, you can ask! Like, “I read in an interview that you don’t like fantasy, but are you a fan of magical realism?”
One of the best things about the conference is the way it’s organized to maximize a successful conference for everyone. If you’re really shy, you don’t have to worry about approaching a Big and Scary editor or agent. You get the chance to learn from them (and even talk if you can muster the courage) at least four separate times:
- Your One-on-One. You get 45 minutes (45!!) alone with your mentor, who is either an editor, agent, or author. That morning, the mentors receive your 3-page sample you subbed to get into the conference, and you can spend time walking through that, through your manuscript as a whole, or talking about other projects, your query letter, or whatever else seems the best use of the time. My mentor in 2008 when I attended for nonfiction was an author, and I had an editor this year for YA fiction, and both of them were absolutely amazing.
- Your Five-on-Five. You also get 45 minutes with you, your mentor, and 4 other mentor/mentee pairs. One of the mentors moderates, and you get to discuss whatever people want to know: market trends, what their pet peeves are etc. At my table, we had 3 agents, 1 editor, and 1 author (who spoke that morning as the One-on-One Success Story from a previous year) Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich. It was great to hear how they agreed on so many things, such as:
- The importance of not writing to trend–just write a good story.
- The dystopian wave has crested, but some paranormals and dystopians are still in the works–they just have to have a very different angle (or combination of genres, like dystopian historical).
- Submit your very best work.
- The panel discussion. Again, more great insights from a team of authors and publishing professionals. Mentees could email questions in advance, and agent Marietta Zacker, who moderated the panel, did a great job hitting as many bases as possible with a selection of those questions.
- Lunch. Agents and editors remain at their tables from the Five-on-Five, and you can sit wherever you want. Here’s your chance to seek out others on your list you haven’t met!
- OK, I said 4, but the last opportunity you can use is the short breaks in between activities. You should never (never) try to approach someone in the bathroom line (NEVER), but if someone is alone at a table or edge of the room etc., they are fair game. This is the perfect chance to put your face to your name with someone you’ve queried, or just to say hello to someone you’ve had contact with, or admire from a distance. Don’t expect or try to initiate a long conversation, but if you have something short to say, this is a good time.
One last piece of the enormous pie of awesomeness that is Rutgers is the chance to network with other amazing writers. Because you have to send in a writing sample to get accepted, you can guarantee that the other mentees are as serious (and as good!) as you. This conference is a great place to catch up with old friends and make new ones, and I simply cannot recommend it more!