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Heading to ThrillerFest? Liz Berry’s Tips on
Making the Most of Your Conference Experience

Liz Berry,
ITW’s Executive Director

By Dawn Ius

Attending writing conferences can be overwhelming, says ITW’s Executive Director, Liz Berry. But the key to making the most of them is to start your prep early. And if you’re heading to ThrillerFest next week, Berry advises there’s no time like the present.

Before you even get the schedule of events, preliminary research can go a long way.

“Learn who will be there, and what you can learn from them,” Berry says, noting that even though ThrillerFest is a great place to network with authors of all experience, meeting the genre superstars can sometimes feel a bit daunting. “That way, if you have an opportunity to speak to them, you’ll have some knowledge about them and won’t feel quite as nervous.”

Research on the authors is a good start, but Berry says you should also have prepared a question you might like to ask—just one. Think quality, not quantity.

“A gentleman came right to me and asked if I had two minutes to help him with his pitch,” Berry says. “That’s all I had, but we absolutely changed the pitch for the better and he came away more confident.”

Still unsure how to get the conversation with your literary idol started? Berry offers these great tips for “controlled enthusiasm”:

  • Ask to interrupt—don’t assume you can.
  • Introduce yourself with your name, and where you’re from—even if you’ve met them before.
  • If someone comes up to you and you’re not sure who they are, don’t say “nice to meet you”—instead say “nice to see you.”
  • Taking a picture is encouraged—if all parties agree—but don’t assume you can plaster it all over your social media. Ask if it’s ok.
  • Don’t speak negatively about others—the publishing world is small!
  • Don’t be a wallflower.
  • Don’t overstay your welcome.

Similar networking rules apply when you’re meeting with agents, editors and other industry professionals, during formal sessions—such as PitchFest—or at more casual run-ins, like sharing space in an elevator.

“Don’t assume everyone wants your business card,” Berry says. “Ask for theirs and see if they ask for yours. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t. It’s better to get theirs and follow up.”

And that follow-up is key. Berry says once the “meet” is over and the coveted business card is in hand, slip away for a minute to write on the back of the card what was discussed so when you go to write that email a few days later, you aren’t drawing a blank.

As part of your pre-conference prep, Berry suggests spending a bit of time highlighting the events you’d like to attend—the panels and workshops first, and then the additional events, such as the banquet or cocktail parties, that afford extra opportunities for your to deliver that ever important 25-word pitch you’ve practiced and memorized.


Even if you’re not pitching to an agent or publisher, it’s vital that you’re able to give a succinct answer to anyone who asks what your book is about, published or not. And you will be asked, Berry says. A lot.

While most conferences—including ThrillerFest—provide opportunities for you to dole out some book “swag,” Berry advises a cautious and strategic approach.

“Don’t create something that will just be thrown away,” she says. “Bookmarks are cheapest, but use them wisely. Give one away with each book you sell. Have them on your table to look nice, but let people take them who actually want them.”

At events like ThrillerFest—where not only industry professionals attend, but also readers and fans—Berry says preparation and etiquette can not only enhance your conference experience, but can also make you stand out in a crowd.

So…are you prepared for ThrillerFest?  Wait…you haven’t registered yet? There’s still time!


Dawn Ius
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