Live and In Person! Miss Snark!

Could you say a few words about the value of meeting with agents at conferences rather than querying them by mail? Why would agents want to do this? What do they get from five minutes with a potential client at a conference that is better than what they get in a query letter? It seems kind of inefficient to me, but what do I know?

First of all, if efficiency is the yardstick, most of publishing fails miserably. This is not an efficient industry because it's so subjective. You KNOW that an SUV gets crappy gas mileage and what the insurance company is going to charge you to put the beast in your barn before you buy, but books aren't so easily evaluated or rated.

But I digress.

I despise writing conferences. I go only under threat of death. (Threat of death means someone I like begs me.)

Which brings me to why I hate writing conferences. There's hardly any opportunity for real, or helpful feedback. Remember the story in the comments section below about an agent who was asked to review pages during lunch? And did! And then the author told the agent why he was wrong? Not an anomaly that tale.

I've been to writing conferences when people stopped me on my way to the ladies room to talk to me. I've been to writing conferences that auction off a lunch date with you to anyone who wins. And you have to sit there with a total stranger one on one and listen to their story cause they've paid HUNDREDS of dollars to be there. Yikes.

I've been to writing conferences so hell bent on making money they book 15 minute appointments from 9am to 5pm with a half hour off for lunch...which they don't want to pay for.

Mind you, agents are NOT paid to attend. Our expenses are covered but trust me, an all expense paid trip to Beautiful Downtown NOT-NYC is not a place I want to be.

The good thing about conferences is that it's about the only way to actually see an agent face to face unless you have one. And that's a good thing if only to realize we aren't all caped and bulletproof (excluding Miss Snark of course, who is).

I think it humanizes an aspect of the industry that does its best to be daunting to writers. And meeting an agent gives you an idea of the discord between what they say on their site and what they are like in person. (Miss Snark doesn't actually BREATHE fire, she just has to be careful with her gin soaked exhalations and Bic flickers.)

yes it's inefficient. yes its a pain in the ass. But it's pretty much the only game in town.

They're almost useless for finding clients, but I do know agents who have.


Breathe said...

Thank you Miss Snark, you just saved me $100.

I'll use it to play the lottery. Who knows, perhaps it'll qualify me for the supreme court!

Demented M said...

While agents and editors may not gain much from conferences, as a writer I've found them invaluable.

There are several agents who are OFF my query list because I've met them and found them not to be a good fit with my personality or found their behavior unprofessional. I'm so glad I learned this earlier as opposed to later.

Also, there ARE agents who find clients at conferences. I've met some who say a 1/3 of their list comes from cons and they were from a top agency for my genre.

If there's an agent at a conference who's one of your top picks, go and meet them. You'll gain invaluable information on what their query quirks and preferences are which will help you get out of the slush pile.

And if the conference is any good (some aren't) you'll get a ton of insider track info from visiting editors and the authors attending. The networking opps are priceless.

I typed up all my notes from the last conference I went to and put them up on my blog. If you're curious to see what kind of info I came back with, go to http://dementedmichelle.tripod.com/dementedblog/ Click on the topic writing and scroll down to the 8/30/05 entries for the start of my notes.


Elektra said...

Wow. I'm supremely impressed by your ability to keep hold of notes for that long...and then be able to find them!

Love of Words said...

Miss Snark -

I'm a fellow literary agent who has had remarkably different experience with writers conferences. I have signed clients I met at many of the conferences I have attended, and have gone on to sell their books for big money to many major publishers (HarperCollins, S&S, FSG, etc.) It would be nice if you'd let your many devoted readers know that for some authors and agents the conference circuit can be very effective.

- Love of Words

Miss Snark said...

Dear LoW,
I think your comment does that very effectively.
Thanks for writing.

Mark Pritchard said...

A couple of years ago I attended a conference event where they had 20 agents in a ballroom and let the 300 conference attendees queue up for the agents they wanted to talk to. Every five minutes they rang a bell, and your pitch was over and the next person in line sat down.

In addition to the 20 people pitching at top volume, you had everyone else in the room practicing their pitches on each other. What a madhouse!

Advantage for me, the writer with an unpublished novel: it did get me a few minutes with a few different agents, allowed me to see what questions they asked, and made me practice my one-minute summary of my book. I listened carefully to their questions and took them to heart.

Disadvantage: it was a madhouse.

I did get each aqgent's permission to send the first three chapters; all of them eventually passed. I got an agent the next year, through a snail mail query.

Maria said...

Conferences can be useful--if nothing else attend one or two to learn. I also met a few agents that were on my list; they subsequently got off that list because in person they were, uh, rather obnoxious. For agents that hate conferences: Please do NOT attend. If, as an agent/editor you Don't want to be pitched to, Don't go. Many of the agents I marked off my list got knocked off because these agents made it quite obvious they wished they were elsewhere, they wished they did not have to look at another writer ever again, or they were unnecessarily, abysmally rude. I worked a conference as a volunteer also. Clue to agents: Don't complain to the volunteers about how awful it is that you have to listen to pitches. We assumed you knew that was why you were invited.

I know Conferences are a lot of work--for both the writers and the agents/editors. I know some writers are desperate and rude, but it doesn't help to be pitching to someone who would rather be stuck in a swamp with starved mosquitos. (I've also met some very patient, pleasant and professional agents at conferences. These are people who can truly keep their cool under intense pressure. They also have a lot of class to remain helpful under less than pleasant circumstances.)