You need to have a strategy. If you have a manuscript that is agent-ready, meaning that is has been revised at least 15 times and you’ve gone over it with a fine-toothed comb, you are ready to travel outside of your state and comfort zone to meet an agent in your genre at a writing conference. However, you should note that you probably won’t land your agent at a conference—most writers still acquire their agents via query letters. But conferences will give you an edge over your competition because you’ll have made personal contact with an agent.

OK, back to the strategy: first, you’ll need to come up with a list of writers’ conferences that offer agent and editor pitch sessions. I have listed a few for you:

Backspace Writers Conference 
North Carolina Writers Conference 
San Francisco Writers Conference  
South Carolina Writers Conference 
American Society of Journalists and Authors Annual Conference 
Writers and Editors One on One Conference (for magazine
SCBWI International Winter Conference 
More Writers Conferences and Centers

Second, you’ll need to scan the faculty and speaker lists to find out which agents are coming and if they represent your genre. Many conference sites offer you the chance to sign up for their e-newsletters which contain contests, conference news/agendas, articles, tips and more. You can follow these conferences on Facebook and Twitter, and you may be also able to follow an agent’s Fan Page or Twitter feed. I would caution against friending their LinkedIn or Facebook profile before you have met them.

As you’re getting packed, place multiple copies of your synopsis, sample chapters and query letter in your work folder so that will be easily accessible. After speaking with you at the bar, an agent may want more information. I recommend against bringing your entire manuscript with you to the conference floor, but I would bring it from home and leave it in your hotel room. You may also want to copy your manuscript onto two or three flash drives. Label the drives and hand them to the agent if she asks for a complete copy—voila—she now has easily transportable reading material for her plane ride home.

In the week leading up to the conference practice your 30-second to 1-min pitch so can recite to anyone without it sounding canned. Also make sure you have brought enough business cards. Take comfortable, yet professional clothes. Many writers (both men and women) opt for nice jeans with a belt, loafers, crisp collared shirt and a blazer, but if you’re more at ease in a dress, that’s fine too!

Once at the conference, don’t act desperate, clingy or weird (no stalking in the bathroom, OK?). Agents are people, too, and that means getting to know them by asking questions such as, “What keeps you busy outside of work?” Be sure to network with other writers and faculty members who aren’t agents. When meeting someone new, maintain eye contact at their eye level and not at their chest level where their name tag is displayed. Don’t cut and run if you discover the person you’ve just met at the buffet line is like you and not a power-broker. You never know if their best friend is an agent, but even if they aren’t, anyone you interact with is an opportunity for friendship, networking or business. Networking is a process fueled by a desire to help others succeed, so make sure you are as generous as possible with links, referrals and resources. If you act relaxed and not ready to launch into a sales pitch, you’ll be more likely to be remembered…in a good way.

Conferences are fabulous opportunities to gain the latest market and publishing information from the experts, make new contacts and friends, receive feedback and recharge your writing practice. It does pay to know what to expect from the conference and to take the time to “vet” the conference’s history, participants and agenda. Who knows, you may be that lucky writer who gets her lucky break at a conference!