Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Conference Protocol

The San Francisco Writer's Conference starts tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to meeting some of you there!

I'm sometimes asked about protocols for talking with agents at conferences, and so I thought I'd take my own personal stab at some dos and don'ts.

First up: don't be nervous. Seriously. I don't bite, attack, make fun, disparage, or karate chop. (Unless you're a Lakers fan, in which case you should probably wear a helmet.) I know it's weird going up and talking to random publishing people, but don't feel like your chances of being published are hinging on what you say. They're not. So don't be nervous.

Please remember that I know I need a haircut but have been putting it off.

If you want to say hello but don't get a chance to -- don't sweat it. I hear the folks from Nowhersville, Indiana are looking forward to slapping me around for disparaging their fair town, but if we don't get a chance to speak, just e-mail me.

I'm sitting in on a pitch session on Sunday, but other than that it's not the best idea to pitch stuff to me verbally in the halls. Not because I'm not interested in what you're working on (I am), but I need to see the writing. What it sounds like verbally doesn't really matter, I'm always going to say the same thing: "e-mail it to me." If it comes up in conversation, great. But if you're looking for me to say whether it's a good idea or not -- I won't really be able to tell for sure without seeing the writing. Also, the pitch session is a good opportunity to ask any questions you have about the industry or about your writing -- I'm happy to help!

UPDATE: Please don't give me any papers, cards, or anything else. Save a tree -- emailing me is the way to go.

San Francisco recommendations for out of towners:
- pizza: Little Star
- coffee: Blue Bottle Cafe
- bar: Bourbon & Branch
- hamburger: In N Out or Taylor's Automatic Refresher
- outdoor lunch: Java House
- can't miss tourist attraction: Powell-Hyde cable car
- second can't miss tourist attraction: The Ferry Building
- only-in-San Francisco: the Tonga Room
- Chinatown restaurant (even though we all know the best Chinese food is outside of Chinatown): Hunan Homes
- North Beach restaurant: Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe (best meatball sandwich ever)
- best expensive restaurant: Aqua
- burrito: Papalote

It's going to be a fun time!


Cory said...

I went to San Francisco for a day last year, an experience that was greatly ruined when I went to eat at Lori's Diner and my stomach promptly rejected every last bit of food I ate there - and the same happened to the three people I was with.

Don't make the same mistake I did.

That being said, I wish I could attend conferences like these but sadly, I'm nowhere near the area.

I hope everyone has fun though!

Kathryn Harris said...

Don't leave us in the dark. Are you getting a haircut before the conference?

Nathan Bransford said...


Shaggy and proud.

C.J. said...

oh, man, i had the best burrito of my life in san fran. i can't remember the name of the place but it was in the haight/ashbury area. it was a long, skinny, two-tiered restaurant with shiny brass walls. do you know it nathan? boy, i could go for one of those right now.

anyway, an interesting post - i'm curious: what should a writer bring along - business cards, query letters, synopses, sample chapters? where is the line draw between being prepared and being over-excited/nerdy?

oh, and i hate the lakers, but kobe is the best basketball player in the league and has been for 5+ years. he's not my favorite, but he's still the best.

Nathan Bransford said...


You can have that stuff on hand just in case, but most agents will prefer you either e-mail us or mail it in afterwards. We can very quickly get weighed down.

And I'd have to disagree with you about Kobe. LeBron James has surpassed him.

benwah said...

Go shaggy, Nathan. I do.

Too bad I'll be in town about three weeks too late. Have fun.

Scott said...

>Shaggy and proud.

Shaggies unite!

I'm always shaggy, but now that I'm working at home full time, I tend to get scruffy too. Shaggy, scruffy, usually shabbily dressed, and being paid pretty well to be that way. This writing thing is pretty cool. (Even if most of the money isn't coming from the fun kind of writing...)

Adaora A. said...

Hey there is a Jave house in Ontario, Canada too.

The best Burrito is on my Uni campus - Taco Villa. I hate Taco Bell because it's too greasy. I'm pleased to end my reading week only to rush back to Taco Villa after lectures with friends. Yum.

LeBron James is a better player. There just isn't a contest.

Now oh shaggy haired one; aside from the fact that Shaq is getting older (and wearing thin), think of his prime days. Who owns? Shaq or Kobe? I always use to say Kobe because of his long range and how he just would float across the court - that's LeBron now.

Anonymous said...

The best chinese food I've had anywhere in the country is at Chef Jia's(925 Kearny St.). It's inexpensive without sacrificing quality. Not to be missed.

I hope everyone who's going has a fun, productive time at the conference.


Scott said...

Oh, and for burgers in the SF Bay Area, my guilty pleasure chain of choice is Nation's Giant Cheeseburgers. Big, sloppy, and greasy. Everything a burger should be.

And, if you get down to Pacifica, there's a hole-in-the-wall fish & chips place in the Safeway strip mall, Camelot Fish & Chips. I've had fish & chips in SF, Seattle, Vancouver, Boston, and London (and smaller places too), but Camelot is my favorite anywhere. I've actually seen them take the fish out of a bucket, dispatch it, prepare it, fry it, and serve it. Just do it. You know you want to.

Anonymous said...

Have you been to Alcatraz? I've heard that people grow up in SF and never go there. I always thought it would be a neat thing to see.

Have a fun weekend!

pjd said...

Are any other regulars here attending the conference? As a volunteer, I'll be on site all three days and would love to put faces to some of the names. Nathan, I hope I run into you (not literally of course) and get to say hi.

Eric said...

I don't suppose there's any chance that the San Francisco Writer's Conference is being held in New York this year? No? In that case, I don't think I'm going to make it. Oh well, enjoy yourselves.

Allie Hollister said...

I'm a California transplant living in Iowa, and I really miss San Francisco. I'll probably go to RWA this year just to visit friends and go to my favorite places. I thought I get over not living in CA after 13 years. I now realize it's not gonna happen.
Have a great time in SF this weekend!

C.J. said...

not to turn this into a basketball thread, but...

maybe i should have said most talented player - lebron is massive, which ups his difficulty to defend. so yes, maybe if i were building a team around one guy, i might have to go with lebron (or KG), but in terms of pure basketball skill, nobody does it like kobe. oh, and kobe's better on d.

and thanks for the heads up on what to bring.

pjd said...

Oh, and the Lakers are evil. I grew up in New England when Bird, McHale, Ainge, Parrish, et. al. were playing.

Scott said...

Nathan, you've got me missing home. Wish I could go to that conference. Now I'm thinking food.

Any seafood lover visiting The City would do themselves a big favor by spending a little more at least once for a SF specialty at a good seafood place, cioppino. Mmmm cioppino! I don't know where the best place is, but it's hard to find bad cioppino, so any good restaurant that serves it will do for me.

Furious D said...

Love to go to that conference, but I'm almost as far from Frisco as you can get and still be on the same continent.

Though having a bunch of writers and agents in San Francisco is no doubt a boon to the city's bar and tavern owners. ;)

All I can say is have fun, find the next big thing, and get a haircut you hippy!

(I kid, I kid. Since I once gone shaggy myself. It was a look I abandoned when I saw my picture with long hair and realized it looked like an IRA gunman's mug shot.)

Don said...

In principle I should love the bay area. In practice, every time I've gone, I've ended up cutting the trip short and leaving before my planned departure date. I just have to leave. Not sure what causes it. My wife and I are heading up to Santa Cruz this weekend. It's not quite the bay so maybe I'll be able to make it to Monday.

Heidi the Hick said...

I am really glad to hear that you are resisting the haircut!!

I think for me it's time though. I never got around to the "semi-" part of the "semi-annual haircut" last year.

Thanks for the advice on attending writing conferences. This may sound like an odd question, but...

Do you ever get attendees who just can't behave, and get a little too familiar and act like they've known you for years? I wonder if you'll start seeing that with people reading agent blogs and feeling like they know the agents already.

Not like I'd do that or anything, oh noooo.

Neptoon said...
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Hope Clark said...

So glad to hear that you don't like random pitches in the hall, the restroom or the checkout desk of the hotel. Common sense always told me that a verbal pitch meant nothing without the written words. Thanks for confirming my gut feeling. I'll stick to the written query.

Hope Clark

Neptoon said...
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Neptoon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neptoon said...

Okay...let's try that one more time...

Aloha nonLakerLovers,

Nathan,ummmm, I don't know how to say this, but we may have to cancel the surf lessons you won. To teach beginners I use the surfboard that your Golden State Warriors gave Kareem during his retirement tour . It's a Laker board through and through, even though Kareem gave it to me after his first few attempts to surf. The board bit him a couple of times. Now it's mine.

You can see the board at

Abdul...or Trindad Slim, as we often call him around these parts was a neighbor of mine here in Kilauea for 20 years. He sold his place about three years ago, but we still stay in touch.

I have been a Laker fan since Baylor and West, then Chamberlain...etc. etc. We Lakers fans understand the frustration of others.

As for your hair...go shaggy. Long is lovely! As a member of the Choctaw Nation I wear my hair traditional...right now it's mid-back.

I was once talked into cutting it back in the summer of 87. Here's a pic of Trindad and I the day he left Kauai to begin the new season... one in which he won another championship.

We were both slightly toasted at the time...

Enjoy your conference Nathan.

Aloha nui loa...

Just_Me said...

All these conferences sound interesting, but I'm traveling with the army now and they don't like putting us anywhere near New York, San Fran, or a place with writers and agents apparently.

Let me know how it goes, I'm going to continue living vicariously and missing the beach.

L.C.McCabe said...


You asked if any of the other regulars are going to be there. I'll be volunteering this year as well. Look me up because I don't recognize your name from the volunteer roster.


I'm in desperate need of a haircut as well, but this week was too hectic and I did not accomplish that task. Hopefully with the help of hot rollers and hair spray that I won't resemble a sheep dog too much.

See ya!


Aimless Writer said...

Don't be nervous? HA! You are the gatekeeper of dreams. How can we not be nervous? What if we turn into babbling idiots? What if forget who we are? Or what our book is about?
Are crib notes okay?
Some women like the shaggy look.

Kimberly Lynn said...

That was a great conference!

I attended it several years ago when it was at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. Unfortunately, it was my very first conference and I was completely horrified. Even so, it was a major step in showing me what I needed to work on in regard to writing. I found all the agents very friendly and approachable, although I shied away. Loved California! If I didn’t have responsibilities here in Florida, I’d pack tomorrow.

Maybe next contest, you could have San Francisco souvenirs for prizes. I was too broke on my visit to buy anything, and I certainly couldn’t tap into my cocktail fund. Have a great time!

Sam Hranac said...

The Minnesota Lakers rule! Can I trap you in a bathroom stall and go on and on about ancient basketball, Nathan?

Just kidding. I can't make it. Have fun!

Taylor K. said...

Well, I'm stuck in Charleston, and there's no way I'll make it to the conference. Love San Francisco though. Great China Town, and I love the proximity to the beach, a theme park, and one of the nations greatest national parks (Yosemite. Go if you can. Walk to a water fall and get soaked).

My main advice for any first timers is if you stay in Foster City (just outside of San Francisco) do NOT miss your exit. I learned this the hard way when I missed the exit and ended up going over an enormously long bridge that I had to pay a toll on in order to turn around. Cool bridge though. Just hate me them tolls somethin' fierce. ;)

Chumplet said...

*Sigh* I visited SF with my fiance in 7 BC (Before Children). My dad was our host. We loved every moment of our stay. Fisherman's Wharf, Coit Tower, The Golden Gate Bridge -- it was all so sparkly!

This was all before the big Quake.

pjd said...

I personally found this conference worth every minute I spent there, from the information in the sessions to the sheer entertainment value of most of the speakers, to the networking and contacts I made, to the ability to pitch one-on-one to four different agents and speak casually with many others. Perfect San Francisco weather and a fabulous venue (with a great conference room rate) didn't hurt.

I'm not sucking up (OK, not just sucking up) when I say that my favorite breakout session of the conference involved our very own hero, Nathan. His panel with editor Christine Pride of Broadway and author May Vanderbilt was funny and engaging and informative and insightful. My only regret is that I didn't have the opportunity to go hang out with them over drinks. What a fun trio they would be to hang out with. (Or so the first impression would indicate.)

For those interested, I've posted other thoughts on some of the sessions from SFWC. Sessions were recorded and are available on CD/mp3.

A quick thank-you to Nathan for being so approachable and candid. And the shaggy look is a good one for you, I think.

Joseph said...

Hi and thanks for reading,

I found your blog because a fellow conference attendee mentioned it. (That was probably the best part of my conference experience: making new friends!) This year's conference was my first San Francisco writers conference and writers conference in general. It was a profound experience that has utterly helped me to (finally) define my career and personal goals. Thank you for being a part of this experience, Nathan. I'm sure being able to talk with you was productive, insightful, and pleasant for everyone, myself included, who met with you.

For those who attended this year's conference, please feel free to stop by and let's keep in touch! "Survivors of San Francisco Writers Conference", anyone? :)

PS: I vote yes on the hair.

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