Thursday, August 11, 2011

Agents and Conferences

Conferences used to be about learning to write. They had workshops on Editing, POV, Cutting the Passive Verbs, etc. Now it seems most of them are about finding an agent. The conference will have three or even twenty agents in attendance. Attendees can sign up to pitch to an agent. If there’s a pre-conference cocktail party, attendees show up in hopes an agent or two will be there and they can meet them and possibly fit in a pitch.

But the truth is … the chances of you snagging an agent are small. During your pitch, for which in many cases you have to pay extra beyond what you paid to attend the conference, the agent may ask you to send 30 pages. Or he may not. There are no guarantees. Or an agent giving a talk may tell all the attendees in her class to send the first ten pages if they think their manuscript is ready.

In either case, make sure your pages are stellar. You won’t get a second chance, unless the agent sees something in your story and writing that makes them ask you to rewrite and resend, but that’s rare.

If your goal is to meet and pitch to an agent, do your research. Check out the conference site and see which agents are interested in what you write. Figure out how much it will cost you to register, stay in a hotel, drive or fly, eat, drink, print business cards, and any other costs you foresee. Too much? But you really want to go?

Don’t give up. Look at other conferences that are cheaper or closer or near your Aunt Beth where you can stay for free. Once you begin to look at conferences that feature agents, you’ll find that a lot of the same agents appear at multiple conferences.

Listening to an agent speak is a good way to decide if you want to be represented by him or her. But if you can’t go, don’t think conferences are a waste for you. Check out the site for the conference, link to the page that lists the agents who are attending, read their bios. You’ll find out what they like -- and whether they are accepting queries. And if they don’t state whether they’re accepting queries, there will most likely be a link to their agency site where you can get that information.
 Helen Ginger is an author, blogger, freelance editor and writing coach. If you’re looking for conferences or upcoming events, check out Helen’s site where she maintains lists of Events and Contests for writers. Both lists are updated weekly. You can also sign up for her free weekly newsletter, Doing It Write, which includes publishing news, links, and more, by sending an email to:

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  1. Meeting an agent does seem to be the number one priority of everyone who goes to a conference.

  2. Know of any great mystery conferences coming up?

  3. I've spoken to agents at conferences, and even sent manuscripts to them. If nothing else, they can offer valuable hints about what areas needs to be improved in a manuscript, also about current trends in what publishers are looking for.

    Morgan Mandel

  4. I've never been, always too far from where I live, but you are right. I'm trying to compensate for this by finding someone to do publicity, so that I can crawl from underneath! Then hopefully one step nearer to success. :0)

  5. I agree, Alex. Even with the rise of ebooks and self-pubbing, writers are still craving an agent.

    Clarissa, Killer Nashville is this month. Later in the year there's Bouchercon, although not too many agents there, but it is THE place to go (I believe) to meet well-known mystery writers.

    True, Morgan. We tend to think of agents as unapproachable or even scary, but they can be quite helpful. After all, writers are their bread and butter.

    Carole Anne, have you tried some of the online conferences? Not too many agents there, but lots of writers teaching online workshops.

  6. Thanks for the helpful post, Helen. A lot of folks in the industry wonder what the role of an agent will be in this ever-changing publishing business. I think that a really savvy agent will take on a client and help with the marketing of the finished product. If an author self-pubs an e-book, making sure it is edited and has professional cover design and layout, an agent can help promote the book, and any others, for a percentage of the sales. I think Joe Konrath is doing that with one of his books and an agent. I hope he blogs about whether that is successful.

    So I can see the benefit of still trying to find an agent, and conferences are a good place to meet them.

  7. Maryann, agents are really scrambling now to keep their big name clients and prove their worth. That will filter down to the newer writers trying to find an agent.

  8. One thing agents say is that a too-high percentage of the people who pitch to them at conferences don't actually follow through and send pages, so if you've got your work ready to go, the competition isn't quite as tough as it seems to be. Plus, you avoid that dreaded query letter!

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  9. This is timely advice, Helen, since I'm attending my first conference in October and yes, I have an appointment with an agent. I did do my research before I booked the appointment, hoping to find the best match.

  10. Literary agents becoming advertising reps. I shudder a little. LOL.

  11. Very true, Terry. Some either don't have the query or manuscript totally ready, or they think they do, but don't.

    Good luck, Elspeth! Sounds like you're prepared. Go for it.

    Dani, seems like there's a lot to shudder about these days.

  12. Well, and a lot to cheer about, too!

  13. I sometimes feel the agents listening to pitches always ask the writer to send something. I'll be giving it another try next year.

  14. Susan, that's another thing that often happens. Some agents will say, no, not for me. Some will say, send me the first ten pages, just so they can move on to the next person. But...there's always the chance they will, in the end, like what you send.

  15. Thanks Helen - this is most helpful.

  16. This is really helpful. Although I want to get an agent, I would also like to take classes and get better at my craft.

  17. I am very happy to read this article..thanks for giving us this useful information. anti viral Read a useful article about tramadol tramadol


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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