Dear Miss Snark, I'm in several writing list servs and someone is always reporting that this or that agent will only look at your stuff if you met her at a writing conference. How important is it to attend writing conferences? Shouldn't I be at home writing and sending queries? Thanks in advance for your wisdom.
I'd like names of the agents, and specific sources for that information. It smells like urban legend to me. Think about it. It doesn't make much sense. Here's why:
1. The numbers. If my numbers are a reliable indicator I have to see 1000 query letters to sign one client. If my ONLY source of those query letters or prospective clients are the people I meet at conferences, I'd have to go to five or maybe ten conferences to get ONE client. That's a VERY inefficient use of my time and resources. Not to mention cutting into my summer vacation time in Antarctica.
2. Agents are actively looking to make money (big surprise here). If you write well enough you can be introduced by the plumber and I'll sign you up. (Miss Snark's plumber is a published poet but you get the point).
Writers Market has a category for "How do you get clients" and multiple choices answers that include writing conferences, and referrals from current clients.. My listing says only those two things. It doesn't say "we'll look at everything". The truth is though, I will. My listing says that because I was trying to cut down on the people who just send queries without investing in learning anything about publishing. "Attending writing conferences" is sort of the short hand for "investing in learning about publishing" because for a long time it was about the only way you really could get direct, accurate info. The web, and blogs particularly, changed all that.
There's a lot of good things to be said about going to writing conferences. It's a good way to get a lot of information about publishing and to meet editors and agents. I think writing conferences over sell the importance of "meeting" editors and agents. I have several clients I've never met whose work I've sold. I think it's easy to get hoodwinked by agents who have charming public personas and speak well, but may not be effective agents. (See posts on "What have you sold").
I don't know a single agent personally who doesn't read her/his query letters if you send them in the desired format.