Writing Conferences: The Agent on the Other Side of the Table

This weekend I popped my writing conference cherry at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon. Actually, I’ve been to writing conferences before, but as a writer not as an agent. This weekend I sat and took pitches from one million and forty seven people. It’s so difficult to know whether anything will come of any of it, because I haven’t actually seen any of the writing yet. But I’m hopeful.

Face to face pitching is excruciating, both for the writer and for the agent. On the writer side, I know how you just want to get it right, convey the beauty or majesty or seriousness or humor or importance or fun of your manuscript, and have that agent say, “Yes! I want to see the whole thing and I want to be your agent and we’re going to make a million bucks because this is the best thing I’ve ever heard of or seen ever!” Or maybe even, “Sure. Send me the first 10 pages.” I get that, because I’m a writer and I’ve been on that side of the pitching table. On the agent side, I’m hoping to hear something interesting, so I’m really listening for that, fingers crossed under the table.

But some people don’t do their homework and pitch me things that I just don’t represent. I hate that, because I hate telling someone not even to bother sending it. But I did tell some people that. And then sometimes I could just tell it wasn’t for me, something about the content or structure or theme. I’m just interested in what I’m interested in and not interested in what I’m not interested in. Although I don’t like to tell folks no, I also am not sorry for liking what I like.

There were so many things to like, too! Because some people did do their homework! I got a great MG pitch that I’m particularly  looking forward to seeing and also a fun YA that I’m eager for. And some potentially interesting fantasy/sci fi and a lot of literary fiction! And I have no idea if any of it will be good or a good fit for my list or pan out to actually be up my alley (Ok, I have a little idea of whose I think might be good though…).

But here’s what I like about being at a conference: the authors are these brave souls who are on this journey to express something and I might be able to help them with that. So if I say no or yes I try (sometimes more successfully than others) to have them walk away having gained something from the interaction. Sometimes I’m giving them writing advice, or coaching them on pitching or just reassuring them that agents are just human beings like themselves. Sometimes I’m letting them know that they should do their homework before pitching.

And what I love, although it’s totally exhausting, is meeting the people.

Have you been to writing conferences? What do you hate or love about them?



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16 responses to “Writing Conferences: The Agent on the Other Side of the Table

  1. 5kidswdisabilities

    I’d love to go to a conference. Maybe in a year or so when my kids are grown. I don’t suppose it would look very professional to be dragging a kid or two along!!!

  2. peggydover

    In the middle of this crazy journey, one hopeful/helpful agent made my Friday when she said I gave her chills. At least I was the first of the weekend. 😉 Twenty pages of Stone Revival will be winging their way soon!

  3. It was nice to meet you at the conference. I’ll send you a link to the Ooligan Press blog post that mentions you as soon as it goes up.

  4. “…here’s what I like about being at a conference: the authors are these brave souls who are on this journey to express something and I might be able to help them with that.” Beautiful! I haven’t been to a conference because I’m not ready to pitch anything and haven’t had the opportunity regardless but if the stars align, I imagine it would be quite exciting.

    • Different conferences are for different purposes. You don’t necessarily need to be ready to pitch. Many focus on the craft of writing or learning about the business of publishing.

  5. Great post, Linda. I’ve been to a lot of writing workshops, but never a conference. The energy must be incredible. All that creativity + anxiety + (let’s be honest) a bit of crazy mixed together? It’d be enough to power a small town, I bet. I’d love to check one out some day.

  6. I’ve never been to a writers’ conference, not due to a lack of interest, but because I’ve never managed to be in the right place at the right time for one, or on the one occasion when I was, free to go. I really want to go to one some day for the same reason you mention: to meet the people.

  7. Susan

    I appreciate your willingness to endure exhaustion. Fantastic night talking with you. So much fun. If needed, I will supply coffee to replace sleep.

  8. First time for me, too. Day one results: one really helpful workshop session, a couple of good ones, and several interesting conversations I wouldn’t otherwise have had. And lunch with an ultra-cool agent!