Dear Miss Snark,
What, for you, makes a conference perfect? Or as near to perfection as possible? What are some of your likes and dislikes during the whole process? From initial invite to making it back to your office in one piece.
Start to finish here's what makes a conference good for me (not for a writer, but for a visiting agent).
1. Spell out the specifics of what you want me to do when you ask me attend: teach a workshop (ask me what my best workshops are but tell me you want at least one); appointments with writers; any kind of obligatory social thing. I HATE showing up to a conference to find out that there are six more things I'm expected to attend than I thought.
1a. Tell me what the expected weather is going to be, or any other conditions that are normal for you but abnormal for us. It rains a lot in Portland; Denver has altitude; it's hot as hell in Fresno in the summer...those things.
2. Spell out what you're paying for: airfare, meals, transportation; if it's reimbursement or you book it; and if there is a limit to the amount ($500 for airfare for example). If you're NOT paying for some of these, just tell me. Sometimes I'll come anyway but I will not get into a wrangle with a conference about reimbursement and ever ever attend again. AND I'll mention why to my colleagues.
3. Have someone pick me up at the airport. More than anything this makes me willing to do damn near anything for you. I don't drive, so I can't rent a car, and trying to figure out ground transportation in a strange city or how much cash I need for a cab is a pain after a long plane ride.
3a. Don't expect me to share a room with anyone. This is non-negotiable.
3b. the fewer meals shared with conference attendees the better. I'm not at my best at breakfast, and I like some downtime too.
4. You can work me as hard as you want for as long as you want if you have someone whose sole job is to keep my coffee cup full. In other words, I'll do back to back agent appointments for as long as you want, but if you don't bring food and water, I'm getting very very very grumpy.
5. Name tags for writers that show their level of expertise. RWA does this pretty well. It helps to know someone is a total neophyte when they show up with a 215,o00 word memoir of surviving the carrot patch on Rabbitania.
6. Giving people a list of industry terms in their conference packet. If I don't have to explain the difference between genre and category it helps.
7. Screen the agents who attend. If an agent hasn't sold something within the last year, don't invite them. If an agent charges fees, don't invite them. If an agent is running a sideline business in editorial services, don't invite them. I don't want to be on a panel with those people and I REALLY don't want to say anything on a panel (Miss Snark's defacto rule "what have you sold" for example) that will embarrass them.
8. Screen the writers. Don't let writers pitch projects that aren't finished if they are novelists. Set them up with info sessions.
9. Don't charge writers extra money to attend pitch sessions. It violates AAR rules. No one gets too strident about this but really, I'd rather not be put in the position of doing something I shouldn't cause you didn't know.
10. Have a clear, easily readable schedule and map when I show up. Remember, I need to have my best foot forward all day, every day. If I can't find a room, or I miss an appointment cause it was tucked away on an schedule addendum, that's the ONLY thing some people will remember about ME. They won't remember it wasn't my fault. They'll think I'm a nitwit. I can be a nitwit without any help as it is.
11. Invite a geographical mix of agents. There are a lot of good agents who don't hang their bandolier in the 212.
12. If it's a multiple day conference, tell the conference organizers to wear the same shirt each day. If I've learned to associate you with the bunny t-shirt that says "Rabbitania rules" it will take me a couple seconds to figure out you're in a new ensemble on day two, and I'll have to be close enough to read your name tag. It's also easier to remember the Rabbitania Rules tshirt than names. I will try hard to remember names, but it's not even close to 50% on Day One.
My colleagues may have more to add to this. Perhaps they'll comment or email me so I can add their insights.