Hello, readers —
Ah, the bohemian life of the writer: we never really get vacations, do we? Or, to be precise, our definition of a really fabulous vacation tends to be a few days off in the middle of nowhere, where we can shut ourselves off from outside stimuli and write. Preferably with room service.
This is actually a working vacation for me, but with the conference so close, I thought I should post, anyway. The very fact that the term “working vacation” has made its way into our collective vocabulary makes me wonder about how much the computer has actually improved our lives. It used to be that when you traveled for business, you got to read a book on the plane — now, you work on your laptop instead. One of the charms of being on vacation used to be that you were NOT reachable by phone, but we now regularly hear cell phones ringing on beaches. It makes one think.
I am allowing myself a certain leeway of topic, though, to mark the casualness of the occasion. So, in keeping with the summer vacation spirit, where everyone’s knees are visible in Bermuda shorts, I’m going to tackle a fun topic today: what you should wear to a conference in the dead middle of summer.
Several of you have written in, asking about what to wear to your meetings with agents and editors at the upcoming PNWA conference. (And, if you have not already had a chance to register, remember: registration forms postmarked by TOMORROW will mean $50 off the price of admission!) It’s an excellent question, because in many ways, these meetings are job interviews — you want to look professional, not as though you have just stepped off the aforementioned beach.
Does this mean you should wear a suit? No, not unless you will be pitching a book about business skills, or another sort of NF book where your credibility as an expert is a strong element of your platform. If not, overdressing can come across as insecurity, rather than professionalism, especially to a NYC-based agent or editor.
Why? Well, just as being naturally good-looking makes a BIG difference in first impressions on this coast (come on, admit it), being well and appropriately dressed is important in making good first impressions on Manhattanites. Seriously, one way that people identify others like themselves back East is by dress — if you work at a fashion magazine, you dress one way; if you work in a brokerage firm, you dress another. So to an NYC-based agent, if you wear a suit, depending on the designer’s label within, you might to an observer be identified as a high-powered attorney, a minor official at a state agency, or a shoe salesman.
So while this means that you might as well skip the makeup and wear your glasses to your meeting (because that’s what writers look like normally, right?), this is not the time to be shabby. Neatness counts. Nice pants or a skirt (but not a super-short one, unless you are pitching erotica), avoid showing too much cleavage or chest hair, and go light on the cologne. Unless you are pitching a book about mountaineering, I would avoid jeans or hiking boots. No need for women to wear heels or nylons, though. Don’t dress up as if you were attending an afternoon wedding — a corsage would be a BIT much — but don’t show up in shorts and a T-shirt, either.
I am about to make a prophecy: you will remember this advice vividly when you walk into the conference, because there you will see many, many people there in jeans and T-shirts proclaiming their favorite bands or 5K runs for charity. The PNW is a pretty casual place. Do as I say, not as they do, because even if EVERYONE else is dressed down, you will still make a better impression if you are appropriately dressed than if you are not.
Basically, wear what you might to the first major reading of your book in a bookstore.
This is a terrific rule of thumb anytime you will be meeting with anyone in the industry, actually, because you will be demonstrating to an agent who is considering taking you on as a client, or an editor who is considering your book, that you have enough social sensitivity that they don’t have to worry about you showing up to future interviews or signings in your pajamas.
Believe it or not, the ability to dress appropriately is equally helpful whether you write gardening advice or cyberpunk. People in the industry want to work with authors whom they can send into a variety of promotional environments — if you doubt this, pay attention to what the presenting writers, agents, and editors will be wearing. You’re not going to see a while lot of prints on the women, for instance; I’ve never been to a writers’ conference where at least one of the publishing professionals WASN’T wearing a plain, clean-lined pantsuit.
So this is not the best place to trot out the big floral prints (you’ll think about that, too, when you see how many people show up in them), or clothing bearing the insignia of a business or sports team. I don’t want to see your knees at all, under any circumstances, so even though it will be July, just don’t pack the shorts or flip-flops with your conference gear. Trust me on this one. (The meeting rooms will be air-conditioned, anyway, sometimes to pneumonia-inducing levels of chill.)
I hear some of you out there grumbling, and rightly so: for most of the conference, you will be sitting around on folding chairs, listening to speakers. So wouldn’t it make MORE sense to wear something comfortable, rather than fussy nice clothes?
In a word, yes — to the parts of the conference where you can reasonably expect to be sitting around on a folding chair, listening to speakers. But for your meetings, no. There’s no law, however, that says you can’t leave your nicely-pressed shirt on a hanger in your car, or in the closet of your hotel room, to change into an hour before your appointment, is there?
Two caveats about the preceding. First, if you plan on taking the brave route of accosting agents to pitch at them in the hallways, do plan on being dressed up a bit the whole time, so you are always ready to make a good impression.
Second — and this may seem a trifle frivolous, but it is nevertheless true — the lighting in virtually every conference center in North America makes everyone look ghastly. Red tones tend to do better in that light than yellows. And if you’re like me, and pale, you might want to spring for a little rouge or lipstick, so you don’t look as though you have spent the last year typing away on your opus in a crypt. (Unless, of course, you write about vampires, in which case you may feel free to look a trifle Goth.)
Speaking of which, I now notice that the sky outside is a glorious Copen blue, and I should go outside. Happy June!
Keep up the good work!
– Anne Mini