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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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