Hi! I'm Miss Snark and I'm an Agent!

Dear Miss Snark,

What, for you, makes a conference perfect? Or as near to perfection as possible? What are some of your likes and dislikes during the whole process? From initial invite to making it back to your office in one piece.

Start to finish here's what makes a conference good for me (not for a writer, but for a visiting agent).

1. Spell out the specifics of what you want me to do when you ask me attend: teach a workshop (ask me what my best workshops are but tell me you want at least one); appointments with writers; any kind of obligatory social thing. I HATE showing up to a conference to find out that there are six more things I'm expected to attend than I thought.

1a. Tell me what the expected weather is going to be, or any other conditions that are normal for you but abnormal for us. It rains a lot in Portland; Denver has altitude; it's hot as hell in Fresno in the summer...those things.

2. Spell out what you're paying for: airfare, meals, transportation; if it's reimbursement or you book it; and if there is a limit to the amount ($500 for airfare for example). If you're NOT paying for some of these, just tell me. Sometimes I'll come anyway but I will not get into a wrangle with a conference about reimbursement and ever ever attend again. AND I'll mention why to my colleagues.

3. Have someone pick me up at the airport. More than anything this makes me willing to do damn near anything for you. I don't drive, so I can't rent a car, and trying to figure out ground transportation in a strange city or how much cash I need for a cab is a pain after a long plane ride.

3a. Don't expect me to share a room with anyone. This is non-negotiable.
3b. the fewer meals shared with conference attendees the better. I'm not at my best at breakfast, and I like some downtime too.

4. You can work me as hard as you want for as long as you want if you have someone whose sole job is to keep my coffee cup full. In other words, I'll do back to back agent appointments for as long as you want, but if you don't bring food and water, I'm getting very very very grumpy.

5. Name tags for writers that show their level of expertise. RWA does this pretty well. It helps to know someone is a total neophyte when they show up with a 215,o00 word memoir of surviving the carrot patch on Rabbitania.

6. Giving people a list of industry terms in their conference packet. If I don't have to explain the difference between genre and category it helps.

7. Screen the agents who attend. If an agent hasn't sold something within the last year, don't invite them. If an agent charges fees, don't invite them. If an agent is running a sideline business in editorial services, don't invite them. I don't want to be on a panel with those people and I REALLY don't want to say anything on a panel (Miss Snark's defacto rule "what have you sold" for example) that will embarrass them.

8. Screen the writers. Don't let writers pitch projects that aren't finished if they are novelists. Set them up with info sessions.

9. Don't charge writers extra money to attend pitch sessions. It violates AAR rules. No one gets too strident about this but really, I'd rather not be put in the position of doing something I shouldn't cause you didn't know.

10. Have a clear, easily readable schedule and map when I show up. Remember, I need to have my best foot forward all day, every day. If I can't find a room, or I miss an appointment cause it was tucked away on an schedule addendum, that's the ONLY thing some people will remember about ME. They won't remember it wasn't my fault. They'll think I'm a nitwit. I can be a nitwit without any help as it is.

11. Invite a geographical mix of agents. There are a lot of good agents who don't hang their bandolier in the 212.

12. If it's a multiple day conference, tell the conference organizers to wear the same shirt each day. If I've learned to associate you with the bunny t-shirt that says "Rabbitania rules" it will take me a couple seconds to figure out you're in a new ensemble on day two, and I'll have to be close enough to read your name tag. It's also easier to remember the Rabbitania Rules tshirt than names. I will try hard to remember names, but it's not even close to 50% on Day One.

My colleagues may have more to add to this. Perhaps they'll comment or email me so I can add their insights.


Don said...

So would #9 include the sorts of fees that the SDSU Writers conference charges? Or are those not quite pitch sessions?

Don said...

Oh, it occurs to me that a link would be handy to clarify what the SDSU stuff is about:

(I meant to include this, it was ready to get pasted even, I just am having a bit of brain freeze at the moment)

Jenny Rappaport said...

Miss Snark, I agree with you on every single point! Particularly the driving from the airport thing... my eyes suck and I can't drive at night, so renting a car for me is pretty much pointless, unless you're providing me with a driver as well.

Linda Adams said...

I've run the agent pitch sessions at two writer's conferences and will at the third one coming up in June. These are some additional things we've run across:

Have bus schedules to NY handy if the conference is on the East Coast.

Have an Internet connection so an agent can check his email.

Provide a schedule to the agent of the pitch sessions (the sessions start to run together by early afternoon).

Many of the agents found it helpful if the the pitch session coordinator reminded them of when their breaks were.

Keep the morning sessions running ON TIME. If it goes off the schedule in the morning, the sessions will run late all day. Which impacts when the agents can take breaks, their panel attendance as well as coordinating the writers to come in. Running over is especially problematic if the agent needs to catch the 7:00 train back to NY.

What we did at our conference was to schedule the ten minute sessions at fifteen minute intervals. The extra five minutes gave us a little wiggle room if someone wanted to run over, an agent needed to rush to the bathroom, or just to clear the room.

Five minutes into the session, I called a five minute warning so the writers know to start wrapping up. At ten minutes, a timer went off. Most people would start finishing up at clearing out at that point. At the fifteen minute mark, volunteers brought the next batch of scheduled writers over from another room down the hall (where they waited without crowding the pitch room). Once the writers came in, we'd get them to the table or at least in view of any agents who were running a little long. Sometimes we'd have to be flexible that one agent was simply going to run late--but as long as we kept generally to the schedule for everyone else, it gave everyone a chance to get out on time.

And above all, be friendly to everyone, smile, and keep them into the loop as to what's going on.

waylander said...

Make the name badges large enough to read from 10 feet away.

Ben from Bleak House said...

I'd add a few things that are variations on the theme--

(1) Stress to authors that there may be moments when an agent/editor does NOT want to hear about his/her book. If said agent/editor is in the middle of a conversation with somebody (especially if the conversation is during lunch) don't assume it's ok to step in "for one quick second."

(2) Be mindful of the clock during pitch sessions. We hate to be rude, so we don't want to say, "Yeah, so, your ten minutes are up two minutes ago." As soon as one pitch runs long, everything else follows. Not good.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused about what this means:

9. Don't charge writers extra money to attend pitch sessions. It violates AAR rules. No one gets too strident about this but really, I'd rather not be put in the position of doing something I shouldn't cause you didn't know.

I have been to conferences where one can pay a fee to meet indidually with an agent of their choice- an agent who has reviewed their first five pages--and will then comment on them. Is this the same thing?

Dave Kuzminski said...

This is a topic that I'd very much like to copy into an opinion article at P&E. If this is all right with the participants and Miss Snark, simply let me know either here or in an email to me at prededitors@att.net .

Beth said...

Name tags for writers that show their level of expertise.

How does this work? Can some kind RWA member enlighten me?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I don't run these things! I'd be the guy everyone looks at with the expectant face when all I'd do is shrug and say, "Whaa? Oh we were supposed to pick them up at the airport!" Cut to Miss Snark and KY checking their jewel-encrusted watches at Burbank International...

Never Again said...

cluster fucks.

There's a long running, well known conference here in New York that just has people line up to talk to an agent. No time keeper, no organization.

When the afternoon session is over, the lights blink. There's no one telling the agents how many more people they need to see or what to do with the people in line.

Many agents go to this conference once, and swear to never go again.

If you're running a conference, YOU are in charge of making sure the line moves smoothly and people get to speak to an agent. That's NOT the agent's job.

Miss Snark said...

SDSU limits paying for reading pages to editors. That's ok.

You can't pay for an agent to read or critique your work.

A cursory look at their website makes me think this one is ok.

Most conferences are ok on this.

Termagant 2 said...

From a conference volunteer's perspective: each agent/editor is assigned a volunteer. We're in charge of (sometimes) getting them to & from the airport; running interference when pitch sessions are over; informing them when an event is running late (rarely happens); schlepping water, coffee, tea, soda, whatever; generally being the guest's gofer.

We don't mind treating our guests this way. I don't know what the financial arrangements are, but it seems to me any conference planner should go the extra mile to provide comfort & convenience for the guest agents & editors.

(Go Bears)

Anonymous said...

RWA has several levels of membership. General membership – Anyone willing to pay the yearly fee to join. PRO membership – Writer has completed a novel, submitted it to an RWA approved agent or editor, and received a response (rejection notice being the most common, of course). PAN membership – Writer has been published by an RWA approved publisher.

Many RWA conferences note on the attendees tags if they are PRO or PAN. I’ve never really thought PRO meant much beyond making writers feel good about themselves. But I suppose that an A/E speaking to someone with PRO on their badge would expect that person to understand what a query letter is, at the very least.


Kathy said...

PRO means you've completed a novel.
PRO means you've actually sent your baby out into the cold world and risked (and probably dealt with) rejection.

You may have forgotten, but those are huge milestones, require a degree of perseverance and guts and are completely under a writer's control. You know a PRO is serious about writing to get published.

Once you make PRO, RWA gives you a ton of workshops, discussion loops, etc. to educate you about the business of getting published. So chances are, a PRO knows more than the average unpublished writer.

PRO doesn't mean you're a skilled or talented writer, but it's not meaningless, either.

A Naughty Miss said...

Silly me paid $50 for an "agent critique" at a conference last year. For $50, a certain agent attending the conference would review the first 20 pages and a 1-page synopsis then meet with the sucker...err author to go over the critique during a half-hour appointment. What I got: A ten-minute appointment, a one-liner critique (two-liner if you include the agent's comment of "I don't read synopses"), and an in-person rejection. Lesson learned.

Anonymous said...

Still confused, I did the following with an agent attending--now an agent with ICM.....had a positive experience --would it be considered kosher?

MANUSCRIPT EVALUATIONS are available with many of the faculty. Please read faculty descriptions for specific instructions. Evaluation by conference faculty includes a 30 minute conference and costs $100. Please send not more than 15 pages of your chapter, short story, memoir, article or poems (limited to 6 pages/6 poems) and a cover letter to CCWC with a postmark no later than July 16, 2007 . . ....descriptions provided by faculty, are available at our web page: www.capecodwriterscenter.org
Writers not attend the conference may submit a manuscript for evaluation.

xiqay said...

Thanks to the person who posed this question.

And thanks to Miss Snark, Jenny Rappaport, Linda Adams, Ben from Bleak House, Never Again, and others who answered.

It's nice to see this topic discussed from the other side of the fence.

Anonymous said...

RWA PRO also means you're multi-published, but just not by the publishers that the RWA "recognizes." You can sell a bazillion books to small presses, and unless they're on RWA's small press short list, you'll be in PRO-purgatory forever.

Anonymous said...

So you can sell a book to a publisher who is not an RWA publisher, and be considered unpublished?

In what universe?

How very high school!

There's a big difference between helping to educate unpublished authors, and restraint of trade. I don't understand how they get to say a "real" (meaning not a subsidy publisher or vanity press)publishers doesn't count.

Anonymous said...

RWA members have been debating the worth of PRO and the criteria for PAN for ages. The thing is though... The designations really have no meaning outside of RWA national and the local chapters. Will an agent look more closely at a query written by somone declaring themselves PRO? Highly doubtful. Which was why Miss Snark's comment about liking the designations (or maybe finding them useful, is a better way to put it) was interesting to me.


Anonymous said...

Yes, that's exactly what I mean. Check the "Romance Writer's Report", RWA's monthly publication, and in the First Sales column you will find "first sale to an RWA approved publisher" under some of the entries. They really mean this. Vanity/subsidy presses do not count, of course, but neither do many small presses and most (not all) e-presses. Yes, it's very high school. Yes, we've been trying to shame the Powers into changing for years. Yes, some of us have dropped out of RWA over it.

It's juvenile, and it's the way it is.

fotofinnish said...

Dear Miss Snark,
Your answer was perfect. Too bad no one, on the conference side or writer side, wants to hear it. I know, I wrote the book on it... Some Writers Deserve to Starve from Writers Digest. It was so well received you can now find it in the remainder bin.

Anonymous said...

Incidentally, (here I am showing my idiocy) what IS the difference between genre and category?

Miss Snark said...

I read that book. I thought it had some good advice.

Anonymous said...

RWA does not define 'published'.
As a professional organization, RWA sets standards for recongizing publishers. Other organizations, such as Western Writers Association and Mystery Writers Accociation also have qualifications for publishers.

Neither does RWA require any author to submit/publish with only RWA recognized publishers. Who you submit your work to is up to the author.

Any publisher who meets the following may be recongized by RWA.

"Publisher has been releasing books on a regular basis via national distribution for a minimum of one year; and Publisher can prove to RWA that it has sold a minimum of 1,500 hardcover copies or 5,000 copies in any other format of an RWA member’s romance/romantic novel."

If a publisher can't do that, then I'm not sure how they can support my book and my writing career.

Anonymous said...

The comment about wearing the same shirt was interesting... I have a brightly colored jacket/overshirt I often wear when I'm working an event. It makes me make easier to spot in a crowd and more recognizable to people who don't know me well. Cool to hear that it's useful from the participant side. *g* Hordes of people in identical volunteer T-shirts probably make life noticeably harder!

Kim said...

For the anonymous asking about category and genre - in romance, a category romance is about 55,000 words in length (think most Harlequin lines). It differs from what is considered single title, which is anywhere from 85,000 to 100,000 words (these are approximate, each publisher has their own guideline.)

Genre is what it would be categorized under - historical, romantic suspense, chick lit, etc.

I don't know how it differs for other genres, though.

And no, RWA does not consider you published unless you publish with a house on their approved list. You can't be a member of their PAN (Published Authors Network) if your publisher isn't on their list.

Anonymous said...

"If a publisher can't do that, then I'm not sure how they can support my book and my writing career."

Considering the earnings potential of some of the RWA recognized publisher authors, you might make out better with a new, hungry, up and coming small press.

Some of the RWA-recognized pubs pay as little as $1000-$1500 advance. Those are Print publishers. Not even going to touch the epubs. I don't know about you, but exactly how much of a "career" can you have with advances like that? If a writer accepts this sort of advance (and they are standing in line at RWA) "supporting" a career is a joke. How is making those publishers recognized helping authors? From my perspective, it looks a lot like author abuse.

RWA recognition is a joke.

pjm said...

"Your answer was perfect. Too bad no one, on the conference side or writer side, wants to hear it."

Bullshit. I generally only ask questions I want answered. As the person wrote the original post, and as a conference coordinator, I'm very interested in learning how to make improvements.

Sherryl said...

I read 'Some Writers Deserve to Starve'. I thought it had some good stuff in it, and I've read bits out to my writing friends. There will always be people who don't want to listen - that doesn't mean the rest of us don't. Thanks for the info, Miss Snark. It helps to know what it's like for you.

delilah said...

naughty miss -

I hope and pray that you write humorous fiction 'cause your comment was really funny. At least I thought so. (I'm not sure that's a good thing though.)

Terry said...

And it would be nice for an agent to acknowledge that ride to the airport. It's not required, but after chatting with an agent for an hour, and with a polite reminder in the opening paragraph of the cover letter accompanying the requested (yeah, probably a pity-F*K request) pages..in case you don't remember me, we talked on the way to the airport; hope your flight was on time, etc....kind of thing, something more than a boilerplate form letter would be nice. "Dear author" pretty much sux when you've hung around an extra 2 hours to provide that ride.

Anonymous said...

I've volunteered at conferences, and there are great people, and then there are the schmucks.

All of the conferences I've worked have been non-profit ones, budgeted on shoestrings. The guests travel expenses and rooms are paid for, and of course they don't pay for the conference. After that, strictly no-frills. We try to let our guests know that we care about them, and we are volunteers, not paid employees. Some of the volunteers are not even writers.

Once or twice there's been a real jerk who made demands. For the most part, agents have been very nice. Now, about those editors....

A Naughty Miss said...

delilah -

Humorous non-fiction, and not on purpose. Thanks for laughing [at me]. Now...back to working on my memoir, My Life is Like a Country Song.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad naughty miss and the other poster related their experiences. And kudos to M. Snark for bringing this up.

It is wrong to charge writers to have an agent read their work. And in some conferences, the agent even gets a split of the fee.