Dear Miss Snark,
I've read on various agent blogs that a good way for first time novelists to get a "foot in the door" is to go to conferences. Pitch to an agent there, network, etc. and perhaps they'll request a partial or recognize your name when the query appears out of the slush pile.
How important are these conferences? I live in BFE and it would cost nearly $1000 bucks or more to attend most of these things (including hotel and travel). And if I did manage to spring for one conference...well, it's only one conference and most likely one agent. Seems like a costly gamble.
What's your advice?
The more email I get from y'all the more convinced I am you don't think we read the slush pile: that it just sits here and when we get bored we sit around nipping from gin flasks, ripping out SASEs, writing "no dice" and sending them back.
CLUE: I read every single letter in the slush pile. EVERY ONE. So do ALL of the agents I know well, and probably the rest of them too. Yes, people arrive in ways other than the slush but pound for pound the slush pile produced more clients for me than ANYTHING ELSE, including conferences.
Conferences can be good for a lot of things, primarily meeting other authors, making friends, and getting a chance to actually see with your own four eyes that agents are human beings (editors...that's a different story of course).
You don't need a conference to get an agent.
You need to write really really well.
I read the slush pile...most of it's crap. Don't write crap.