Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writers and Editors and Agents, Oh My!

I spent last weekend at the Pennwriters Conference, something I've been writing about quite a bit in my blog over the past week. It was a great weekend, with an amazing number of workshops and multiple opportunities to engage with one of the thirteen agents and editors in attendance.

I've engaged in some interesting conversations this week about whether or not writing conferences should include access to editors and agents. It could be easily argued that many writers are just not ready for pitch sessions -- which is the opportunity most conferences afford, and for which an additional fee is sometimes charged -- and when that is the case, they do more harm than good.
I like going to conferences where editors and agents are present. As the gatekeepers of the traditional
publishing industry, they possess a certain mystique that can intimidate -- or perhaps even terrify -- authors who've poured their heart out onto the page. And conferences can help de-mystify these all-too-human people, rendering them mere mortals who love reading and books as much as writers do.

But on the flip side, I can't imagine listening to pitch session after pitch session, going back to work reading pitches all week and then the next weekend, traveling to another conference in another city, listening to more writers peddle their wares.

And so I don't think agents and editors should be required to receive pitches when they attend a conference. One of the best workshops I attended all weekend was the agent panel. Ten of the industry professionals not receiving pitches in that time slot introduced themselves, shared what they were hoping to find and fielded questions from attendees. And we, in return, got a sense of who they were and what their personalities were like. I left that workshop with a short list of three people I wanted to meet (two of whom I'd already short-listed when I read the conference literature before attending). By the end of the conference, I'd met all three of them through appropriate channels (which do not include cornering them in the elevator or the bathroom or bending their ear about the value of your latest project every time you see them).

Not surprisingly, these were normal (well, at least as normal as writers) people. Most were generous with their time and advice as well. I had not intended to pitch, and so when appointments arose, I offered modified, impromptu versions of an unplanned presentation, spurred on by the panel's agreement that they preferred conversations to hard core pitches.

The best part? I'm not afraid-a-no agents. Well, at least not these agents. When I'm ready to craft a query, I'll start with these human beings, who are no longer frightening, and, by virtue of their willingness to listen to modified, impromptu conversational pitches, at the top of my list.

What do you think? Does having editors and/or agents at a conference increase your interest in the event?


Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I think it really does help to meet agents and editors and learn they're humans. I didn't have anything to pitch this weekend so didn't pay a lot of attention to the business professionals there.

Lisa Lawmaster Hess said...

Which conference, Susan? Were you at Pennwriters?