Writing Conferences...again, and again some more.
Dear Miss Snark, I am a volunteer at an annual writers' conference in a particularly gorgeous and sunny sea-side town that just started including an Agents Day last summer. I contacted the coordinator yesterday to check my facts, because I felt certain that - at least in our case - it was not the money-grubbing, greed-based exercise in futility that you seemed to think it is. Here is her response (names changed to protect the innocent):"Miss Snark is certainly snarky! Whew! Here’s the scoop on our Agents Day. We charged $20 for each slot with an agent, half of which went to the conference, half to the agent. However, we also paid for all their lodging (two nights at stiff rates) and, for some, travel expenses, and I lost a lot of money on the deal. We won’t offer free lodging or expenses next year, but will offer a flat $250 honorarium for any agent who comes. I’d love to make money on the deal, but it’s most likely going to be a wash. I’ll tell you that many of the agents who came last June were thrilled with the quality of our writers – several went out of their way to mention it – and [Major Agent at Well-Known Publisher] has signed at least one writer and is talking seriously to four others I know of. So, Miss Snark ought to come to [our conference] perhaps. What do you think? :) "I'll admit that there was a small but vocal minority who thought it was a bad idea, and who likened the $20 to 'reading fees'. Conferences are expensive to run, and we do our absolute best to make it a good deal for everyone, including the agents. The focus of our conference is on craft, and the entire week is spent in read-and-critque groups led by multiply-published authors with expertise in their literary niche. We placed Agents Day early in the week so that attendees could quickly shift their attention away from 'the pitch' and back to the craft. It worked. We had happy authors, happy agents, happy staff and happy volunteers.Your experience with other conferences may be vastly different. I just wanted to set the record straight for any among your wide and exalted readership who may have attended a conference last June in said beautiful sea-side town and were concerned about where their money went.Thank you for the magnificent blog.Ever Yours,A Sea-side Snarkling
I bolded the parts that cause Miss Snark to have heart palpitations.
Start with the last point: there is no such thing as a major agent with a well known publisher. Agents are not publishers. Publishers do not have in house agents. If your writing conference coordinator said this, s/he is seriously misinformed about how publishing works. Perhaps it’s just a misprint. This underscores the point that every single writing conference I’ve seen, read about or attended is organized by a person, or people, who are not publishing professionals.
Second, I agree with the people who compared the $20 to a reading fee. It is.
Third if you focus on craft, you don't want agents. You want editors.
I would like to be clear that I don't think writing conferences are snake pits of greed. I think they are walking slush piles that offer people hope they will get published when they can't. That's not my concern. My concern is the behaviour of agents who accept money for reading manuscripts. That's not ok. If an agent is a guest of a conference, that's one thing. If an agent is earning income at the conference it's not. Money flows FROM the agent to the writer. It's a rule. Really.
And of course there are agents who love this. That doesn't justify it.
Conferences that focus on craft, that have published writers and working editors can be a very very good investment. Someone mentioned one on Cape Cod in the comments section recently and I looked it up. If you write SFF, you'd be a twit not to sign up for this if you can.
Conferences that focus on selling your work can be valuable. Agents should not be paid reading fees to participate. Their expenses should be covered by the conference but they should not have income from it. I'm pretty sure AAR covers this in the rules but I haven't looked recently.
Don't pay agents.