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Benefits of a Conference: Meeting Agents

One highlight of my recent conference was meeting my agent, Rachelle Gardner, for the first time. Here we are at a dinner WordServe hosted for their fiction clients. I had the lucky privilege of sitting next to her during the meal!

In addition to our dinner together, we had the opportunity to sit and chat for a while one night and get to know each other on a more personal level.

Did I really need to meet Rachelle in order to have a good working relationship with her? Absolutely not. But because we've interacted face to face, I believe our partnership will be even better. We got a taste of each other's personalities and styles. And I realized I can communicate with her about deeper issues. That's not easy to do with everybody. So I consider our connection a huge bonus!

Most conferences provide opportunities to meet with agents in appointments, at meals, and through panel discussions. These agent interactions provide many benefits:

1. Gaining confidence. With all of the agent blogs that are surfacing, agents tend to take on a larger-than-life status. A conference is the perfect place to see that agents are still just our size. We can cower in shyness or we can force ourselves to reach out with confidence. I took advantage of meeting other agents, besides my own, for that very reason. After one workshop, I shook hands with the agent who taught it and thanked him.

2. Promoting ourselves. If we've already been building a web presence, visiting agent blogs, and twittering, then there's the chance that our name and face will spark their attention when we finally meet them at a conference.

3. Learning more about publishing trends. Agents are a wealth of knowledge about the pulse of the writing industry. Hearing other writers talk about their pitch sessions with agents, about what various agents are looking for, was incredibly informative. I came away from the conference with a much greater feel for what is selling and what isn't.

4. Pitching manuscripts. Of course, having the one-on-one time to pitch a manuscript is what most writers crave out of a conference experience. If we're lucky, an agent might request a partial or full. Several of my blogging friends had this happen. Hopefully, because of the personal meeting, their manuscripts won't wallow in a slush pile once they send them to the agents.

A word of caution is in order, however. Meetings with agents aren't always sunshine and roses. I heard one story of an agent who looked around the room during the entire pitch, acting bored. Another agent wouldn't even glance at sample writing or a one sheet. And then there were some agents who requested manuscripts from everyone they met, without any discrimination.

Those kinds of experiences are frustrating, especially when a writer spends hundreds of dollars to attend, hoping for a genuinely helpful agent/editor meeting, even if it ends in rejection.

Writers should take advantage of all of the benefits of meeting with agents at conferences. But at the same time, we need to go in with realistic expectations. Agents are busy every minute of every day that they're at the conference. We may not get much time with them and it might not end up being the quality time we hoped for. That's the reality.

But here's the good news: excellent stories with superb writing will get an agent's attention eventually.

If you've gone to a conference, did you have a beneficial agent experience or did you leave disappointed? And if you haven't gone to a conference, how would you hope to benefit from meeting an agent at one someday?

42 comments:

  1. Hey Jody! I'm so glad you and Rachelle connected so well. That will make your professional union all the more productive, I'm sure. Another great post! Thanks!

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  2. Such true words, Jody! I was very blessed to experience three successful and helpful pitching sessions. We'll see if these lead anywhere! I hope so!

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  3. Love the pic of you and Rachelle. You're both stunning!

    I've been to three conferences in person and did one workshop on line. In person, I learned so much from all three experiences. My first conference, which was exactly a year ago in NYC (Algonkian Pitch and Shop) taught me that, although I'd been writing a long time, I had a long way to go to get where I wanted to be. As frustrating as that was, it was a great lesson. It's also where I learned about the significance of a blog.

    My last two conferences (BEA and Backspace in NYC in May) were AMAZING!!! I met many great agents, was asked for many sample pages, and got a much broader sense of the business as a whole. I know I wouldn't be as far along without having attended these conferences. I look forward to attending more!

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  4. I dream of the day! :)

    Great picture, ladies.

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  5. Great picture! I am truly enjoying your journey. You are sharing so much useful information to us--giving us an inside look and answering so many questions I've had. Thank you again!

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  6. Thank you for sharing your journey. I'm enjoying it and learning so much. Great pic! I'm so happy for you!

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  7. I think it would be so fun to meet my agent in real life and I love the idea of meeting other writers and hearing about their stories. I definitely want to make it to a conference this year.

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  8. I am definitely planning to attend a conference next year. I can't wait. I'm glad I didn't this year because I was totally Not ready.

    I'm glad you had such a wonderful experience!

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  9. Great picture, Jody. I was really blessed with my appointments this year, but that hasn't always been the case. I think I've had an appointment before with the bored agent. : ) I'm sorry we didn't get to connect more, too. But there's always next year!

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  10. I am so glad to see these happy pictures of you! What a wonderful achievement. Bravo Jody!

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  11. Love seeing you look so happy,Jody. I have not had great success at the conferences I went to, but they were many years ago and I didn't know what I was doing. Perhaps I'll re-think the conference thing now, thanks to these informative posts.
    Karen

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  12. I love learning about your story and I'm probably more jealous than I'd like to admit (didn't I just admit it?)

    I have this image of meeting my agent for the first time and laughing. Laughing of all things, weird right? Your experience sounds ideal. I think I am hoping to see the expressions on my agent's face and to relate in person in a way that only face to face interaction provides.

    Another benefit would be for the agent to begin to know the person behind the writing and for me to know them as a person behind the agent.
    ~ Wendy

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  13. Face to face meeting is always better for relationship building. It makes communication so much easier, and like you said, you aren't as afraid to talk about deeper issues.

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  14. Well, Jody, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that one of you and Rachelle says so many things to me. What a day brightener to see you two sitting there. It speaks of success but also, of a real-life connection that I really think is going to serve you both well for years to come. A million times over, congratulations!

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  15. Hi, Jody!

    I think I would like to receive an honest take on my work from an agents' perspective, to be able to read body language as I'm pitching to see what excites/doesn't excite. That is, if I could get any words out at all around the nerves!

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  16. It seem so beneficial to be able to put a face with all the internet connections, be it with writers or agents. It really keeps it real. How wonderful for you to meet in person, a perfect example of the benefits of conferences!

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  17. Well, if you two aren't the prettiest in the crowd! How nice that you got to meet Rachelle face-to-face AND spend some personal time together. It's such an exciting time for you, Jody!

    Many years ago, I attended my first writers conference with trembling knees. No experience, no confidence, and no clue what I was doing there...except that God had pushed me to go.

    I met with an agent, Chip MacGregor, who told me, "Your writing is actually good, and I'm not saying that to many people at this conference." I was not ready for an agent at that time, but his words encouraged me immensely.

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  18. I'm glad you were not only able to meet your agent, but connect with her, too. I haven't gone to a conference and don't see any lined up in the near future. Maybe once the twins are a little older and in school...

    Lynnette Labelle
    http://lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

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  19. How very, very fun for you! You guys look like you are having a blast in that picture. It's not necessary to meet in person, but it helps put a real face with the email or voice on the phone.

    I've met agents at conferences, had great critiques, got great advice. It's all part of the fun that a conference offers :)

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  20. Jody, I get giddy every time I read your blog. I'm just so excited for you, and so grateful to be allowed a "peek" into this new adventure.

    I hope to have the face time with an agent (or agents!), because I would LOVE that lightbulb moment when they see my MS in their slushpile!

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  21. I'm glad you had such a wonderful time, Jody. All of my conference encounters with agents and editors have been very positive and resulted in requests for partial or full ms. While those ultimately ended in rejections, they were personal and encouraging so were good experiences. I love attending conferences!

    Seeing this delightful photo of you and Rachelle reminded me of the Saturday evening dinner at last year's SiWC when my daughter and I found ourselves sitting with authors Anne Perry, Michael Slade (Jay Clarke) and his daughter Rebecca Clarke, Diana Gabaldon, Wally Lane, and the agent I had pitched to earlier that day, Jim McCarthy from DGLM. I could have been intimidated but I did a lot of listening and not much talking during dinner, and learned that writing professionals are people, too – talented, yes, but also personable and approachable.

    Carol Garvin

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  22. That picture of you with Rachelle gave me goose bumps. I just can't wait for the day I meet my agent for the first time. What a thrill!

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  23. What a pretty picture!
    Whew. So finally I got to read your post. I clicked over so many times but never got to finish reading it. It's very good and practical. I agree totally. I'm so glad you were able to meet her and connect. :-)

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  24. Hi Jody!

    What a privilege to be able to embark on the journey of your dreams. Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It encourages me to keep pressing on.

    The picture of you and Rachelle is a shining testament to a blossoming relationship. Work is always more enjoyable when you love the people you are working with.

    Keep smiling! It must truly feel like Christmas morning.

    Blessings to you...

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  25. Hi Jody -

    Excellent advice! When I request an appointment with an agent, I now pray for a time slot early in the conference. I had one appointment late in the day. The agent was so tired she nearly fell asleep.

    Most agents are interested and helpful even if you're not a good match for them. One agent took a few minutes to pray with me that the right opportunities would come my way.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  26. I'm so glad you enjoyed the conference and came away w/ valuable knowledge. Thanks for sharing!

    You won an award on my blog, BTW.

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  27. i'm so glad it went well for you. And you are so right, it is better meeting someone in person. Not everyone is perfect, agents and writers included, but that's valuable information when you're waiting twenty minutes to pitch someone. I've met all sorts, but it is the writers I stand/sit in line with that I enjoy the most. It's the one time we're all away from our words hoping and dreaming them to life.

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  28. I haven't been to a conference (and don't have any plans to do so in the near future), but I would love to go one day and I think having agent interactions would be my main reason for doing so.

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  29. Jody: I'm so happy you got to meet Rachelle, to thank her in person for helping you on your path.

    I've had some interesting experiences meeting agents. At one conference, I encountered two extremesin the same day. One agent sat forward, listening intently the entire time I pitched my books to her. She even let me read aloud a sample chapter, laughing in all the right places. Another agent sat with her arms crossed and body sideways as I pitched to her, implying, "Just try and impress me, lady!"

    Although I gave both of them candy, I wish I'd given Agent A a bigger serving, because she later offered me a contract with her agency.

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  30. Jody,
    Many thanks for all the helpful information you put on this blog. I am just beginning in the blogging world and have learned so much these first two weeks by reading your current and past posts.
    What a great team you and Rachelle will make, so thrilled for your success. Have a great day!

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  31. I haven't been to a conference, but I really appreciate hearing your view. Maybe I'll have the opportunity next year. It really sounds like a great opportunity for learning. Although, I still think most agents wouldn't be just my size... pretty much everyone seems "larger than life" to me, but that's just my shortness talking. lol :)

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  33. I have an editor story, not an agent story, but I hope it's interesting. At a conference I attended last year, I was enjoying my Sunday morning continental breakfast with a friend. As I met others at the table, I realized the woman sitting next to me was an editor from Harlequin.

    Even though my project was non-fiction, the editor inquired about my writing. She asked so many questions that I asked her if she wanted to hear my pitch. (She said yes.)

    I gave it my best and she appeared to enjoy it. However, because it was HQ and I was pitching non-fiction, I didn't think to ask some really good follow-up questions (like "I understand that Harlequin has a nonfiction line. I know it's "agent only," but is there any opportunity that group might review a submission from a non-agented writer?)

    When I remembered about 30 minutes later that HQ has a nonfiction line, I was extremely ticked at myself.

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  34. Congrats on being picked up by Rachelle. I know she's supposed to be one of the best literary agents out there!

    I saw on Tamara Heiner's blog that your book is coming out next fall. Mine too! What part in history is yours about?

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  35. I don't have an agent... but with potential agents I've had both very very good experiences and so-so ones. I think the so-so one just wasn't an agent I'd personally work well with in the end, and the other ones were all good--even when they rejected me. They are all respectable people and again, even if I get a rejection, I value their opinion and suggestions they give. And, there are the times when the agent is just tired, have had a bad day. They aren't perfect, just as we aren't.

    I think the time I feel the WORST is when they are eating and we are supposed to be "schmoozing" or pitching during lunch. I mean, I love the opportunity, but I feel horrible when they haven't eaten but a bite and people keep on asking them questions. Usually they are very kind about it. Hungry... but kind. It might explain though if they are grumpy the whole afternoon! Might help to bring them some food.lol.

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  36. Jody, it was great to meet you IRL! And you're right, there's something about meeting someone face to face, looking into their eyes, that reveals much about that person.

    I'm glad your fist conference experience was such a good one, and I hope to see you in Indy!

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  37. Neat-o! Glad to see pictures of your new hairdo. Cute! :O)

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  38. Oh my word, Jody. Just found your blog. SO excited to read your last few posts. FUN, FUN! Congratulations on your book(s) deal!!

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  39. Wow, lots in here, Jody. I think you nailed it for me with the expectations. What one is used to getting at smaller conferences isn't standard at the larger ones, but that doesn't mean there aren't a tremendous amount of other benefits that come with large conferences. I trust that God is in control, and am at peace with all my meetings now.

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  40. I've only been to one conference and it was a blast. It was commercial genre themed and most of the agents and workshops were geared for that brand of fiction. I write character-driven with a literary tilt so I didn't fit in, but it didn't bother me. I only attended because it was the only one local and they don't come my way often.

    It was a great experience and I did pitch to one agent who was very encouraging. I can't wait to attend another one.

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  41. I'm glad you had such a positive experience. You're right. Not everyone is so fortunate.

    It seems, too, that your experience was much more enjoyable, much less stressful, because you already had an agent and a contract.

    It's good to hear about experiences of others -- difficult ones that let us be prepared and good ones that help us think of these conferences in a positive light.

    Thanks for sharing.

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