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?