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Why Do Agents go to Writers’ Conferences Anyway???

February 14, 2012

So it’s Valentine’s Day, and whether or not you have someone to celebrate with, you can help me celebrate my one year anniversary with one of my clients, Kasie West (isn’t Kasie hot?? But check her out and then make sure you come back because I have a lot more to say).

I feel like I haven’t talked about Kasie very much on this blog (probably because I haven’t) or her book PIVOT POINT (which is coming out with Harper Teen in Winter 2013 (probably because I haven’t done that either)), but if you ever met me in real life, especially back around the time when I first read Kasie’s book, or when I was pitching/selling Kasie’s book, or when I reread Kasie’s book, or when I reread it for the gazillionth time just because I loved it so much, or even now, you would probably have heard me say a thing or two or two million about Kasie’s book.

Did I mention that I loooooove PIVOT POINT??? Um, because I do. And HA! I’ve even read the sequel (which is also awesome, but let’s not go there right now).

Anyway, Kasie came into my life at a time when I felt really busy. Not so busy that I had closed to queries, exactly, but I was reallllly feeling stretched to capacity. But man, I loved her query. And I loved those 5 pages. I went straight to a full, and I almost NEVER do that.

What’s my point? Basically, it’s just that PIVOT POINT is awesome and that Kasie West is someone you should be following if you aren’t already.

Wait, that’s actually not at all my point.

There will be tons more on PIVOT POINT in the days, weeks, and months to come. I heard that some people who met Kasie at a conference this past weekend got a special sneak preview of her gorgeous cover. Like, it is one shibumi cover. Seriously.

But that’s not the point of my post either.

My point is that in honor of Valentine’s Day, and our anniversary, Kasie decided to give me more work.

Oh, no wait, that wasn’t how she phrased it. I’m sure it had some wonderful praise in there (because she’s really good with the flattery), and then a bunch of questions for an interview on her blog that she’s sharing with a few other awesome ’13 debut writers.

So in a second, I’m going to send you a link over there, but first, I thought I’d give Kasie props for asking a question that I don’t think anyone has ever really asked me before. And since of course I wrote a PhD thesis-length answer on the topic, I thought it would be nice to post it here for all eternity, and then LINK (I’m still really excited about my linking skills–I’m not sure when that will wear off) to the rest of the interview on Kasie’s blog. I wasn’t planning such a long intro, but hey, that’s how I blogroll.

So, without further ado (unless I come up with some more do), here is Kasie’s question, and my unedited answer as provided to her before I had the awesome linking idea.

More do: So here’s where it would be so cool if I knew how to do different fonts or different colors on my blog, but alas, we’ve discussed this large knowledge gap of mine, so I will just have to make do. This is a lot of do, isn’t it?

KASIE: With the whole blogosphere as our playground these days, and knowing you are only a tweet (or twenty….thousand) away, are writers’ conferences worth it? Do you feel like you connect better with writers face to face? (holy crap, I think I changed the color–pink for Valentine’s Day!!! This is clearly Michelle talking even though it’s in Kasie’s designated pink)

MICHELLE: (I thought a whole long thing in red would be sort of annoying but I wanted to share the color fun. I’m Michelle by the way)

Look at you, Kasie, coming in with the hard hitting questions that few journalists dare to tackle…

So there once was a time, early on in my career, when I offered representation to an author and I didn’t really have any good references in that genre to provide. I actually don’t even remember who the client was anymore, but I do remember that she said oh that’s ok, I spoke to a friend of mine who met you at a conference and she said you were fabulous, and also that you were tiny (I included the tiny part so you would know I’m not making this up, even though the fabulous part totally sounds like something I would say about myself).

And there was another time, when an author was about to sign with me and I asked if he wanted references, and he said no, I read about you in the chat room from the XYZ conference which I had, indeed, just attended, and they all said great things.

Now in both cases (and these were both probably close to 6 years ago), I had been building my own relationship with these authors through email and phone calls and my own readings of their manuscripts, but still, there was outside confirmation that I wasn’t some total wackadoo in person.

And I used to feel that this was a huge benefit of going to writers’ conferences. That even if I didn’t meet someone there, that the writing community is small, and that by going, I’d be spreading goodwill and building my reputation as an agent. I feel, to a large extent, that Twitter and blogging, etc. do take care of that role, to the point where authors can learn a lot about an agent from their online presence (or lack thereof), and interact directly with them.

However, conferences have also been a great place for me to meet other agents and editors. Of course, since I’m in NYC and meet editors regularly, I can limit my travel for this, but still, I often meet new industry people at conferences.

So why still go to conferences then?

Well, I actually kind of like them. This is a job where we have to be ruthless. And we say no A LOT. But don’t forget, there are people saying no to us too (those pesky editors, grrr). And believe me, by the time I love something enough to take on a client, send a manuscript out, and an editor (or even more than one!) says no, I take that very personally.

This can be a difficult business and sometimes a depressing business. So for two days, I get to be more encouraging than I normally am, which is actually more my general nature. In those two days, I haven’t read your work in advance; I don’t know anything about you except what you tell me, and you know what? I can’t tell anything from that. Someone who has a poised, polished pitch might be a terrible writer, and someone who’s nervous as anything might be a genius on the page.

I see conferences as the time when I can encourage everyone to follow their dreams. Who am I to tell you that your 150K word manuscript is too long? I might mention it sounds a bit long, but I always say that yours could be the exception. And it could be. I’m not there to shoot down dreams.

What published author didn’t at some point feel that it was nothing but a dream? I don’t know which person in that room is going to be the one. Or the two. Or the ten.

So I enjoy connecting with writers on that level, hearing about their hopes and dreams and ideas, and I hope that I’m able to give them some advice and maybe make this process a little easier.

Tell me what you think about this in the comments (because I love comments), and then go check out the rest of my answers (I swear they are shorter) on Kasie’s group blog the Lucky 13’s! And comment there too, of course.

  1. I LOVE Kasie and Michelle, covet PIVOT POINT and want the ARC tour to start NOW!!!!

  2. Great post! I met my agent in the elevator at a conference – there’s nothing like seeing someone in person to help you make such a big decision.

  3. Great post- I wish I could get to more conferences as a writer, because of the shared energy of dreaming. Love that you are a dream-supporter 🙂

  4. I’ve never been to a conference. I really want to go, if only for the camaraderie with other writers, but they’re super expensive and always seem to be on a weekend where something important is happening in my life. 🙂


  5. I love this. I missed Surrey last year and I am so sad about that. I love going to conferences. And, one day I shall go to a conference where you are and…present you with your very own poem.

  6. I’ve been following Kasie for a while now, waiting for her book to come out. Funny that you should address this today and push to on twitter to have us all read it, because I’m heading to a writer’s conference in a few weeks and was just wondering, what the point was. For me, I go to interact with other like minded people and meet people like yourself that I may not get an opportunity to meet otherwise. Many of us have wondered why agents go, other than to find a new ‘it’ author. Nice that you’ve figured out colors for the font.

  7. Ditto Charlee. But this may be the year I ditch my kid for a conference, instead of the other way around. (What? He’s 9. He doesn’t want me around anyway. The menfolk of the house can have cake for breakfast in my absence!) SCBWI, I’m looking at you…. who else is in? 😀

  8. Aw, Michelle, thanks so much! Pivot Point loves you too…..wait that didn’t make sense. The author of Pivot Point?….Me….I love you too. There, that sounds better. 🙂 Thanks for letting me put you to work on V-Day 😉 (tee hee)

  9. I just got back from a conference, and it definitely left me with that optimistic feeling you describe. Not only did I get to interact with editors and industry professionals, I got to hang out with authors! I walked away feeling like hey, they’re just normal people, and I’m a normal person too (usually), so why not me?

  10. RSR permalink

    Thanks for the post! Funny and amusing and informative as ever!

  11. What a great interview! Can’t wait to read PIVOT POINT. 🙂

  12. Great post for Valentine’s Day. Made me smile. (Well, I’m eating Girl Scout cookies, so that might be part of it, too. Even so.)

    Writers are all-too-familiar with the “no” side of the business, so it’s always refreshing to read about the hope and optimism that goes into a “yes” (or potential “yes”) from an agent’s point of view. It’s insight like this, as well as the support from fellow writers online and off, that keeps us plugging away.

  13. It’s so true, Pivot Point’s cover rocks. And so does Kasie. Love her. AND I love this post. That’s a lot of love in honor of Valentine’s Day, right? Also, can I just say how much I love the way you make up words? I do that too. In fact, just this weekend, I started calling crazy people “wackadoodles” and then I read this post where you said you aren’t “wackadoo” and I literally laughed out loud. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to meet you at Storymakers in May.

  14. I love this response. Hope is a commodity in too short supply. So thank you for a timely reminder to keep hope alive and to keep making connections. After all, isn’t that what we storytellers do?

  15. Sometimes I forgot that agents get to hear no as well from the other gatekeepers, those pesky editors, and I especially love hearing that you take it personally. That’s exactly how I hope my future agent will feel. They’ve got to love your work as much as you do. It’s a crazy marriage after all.

  16. Jared permalink

    Wow Kasie seems amazing! I’ll have to check her out

  17. I’ve always wondered what agents really got out of conferences. I sure appreciate them, though. Thank you for still attending them in this digital age because that encouragement? Totally needed. 🙂

  18. This is such a great perspective on conferences–thank you! I especially appreciated this: “I’m not there to shoot down dreams.”

    I’m beginning to understand that a lot of the fear I have around conferences comes from the fear of someone telling me I can’t do it. Maybe they’re right. But what if they aren’t?

    Thanks for keeping the dream alive! 🙂

  19. Maria Entenman permalink

    Nice to hear from the “other side” of teh agent/writer relationship, Michelle. I’m planning on attending my first conference (LSFW) on 3/17 and looking forward to it. Even scraped up the nerve to sign up to pitch! Scary, but with this post in the back of my mind, it might make it easier. Thanks again.

  20. I’ve never been to a writer’s conference, but generally speaking I enjoy conferences for the opportunities they provide for me to wear cool shoes and cute heels that I don’t ordinarily wear at home…

  21. I agree. I have attended conferences and met agents that I (gulp) DIDN’T like in person. And of course I’ve met dream agents at conferences as well. For me, as a writer, conferences are the best for meeting other writers. That’s my favorite part. I’ve made some amazing connections and met some fantastic writers who have turned into crit partners and friends.

    And, when I’m ready to look for an agent, I’ll know who I’m looking for.

    Thanks for the interview!

  22. This is great, and so is Kasie! I love going to writing conferences because I love learning about the craft of writing. It’s wonderful to meet people face to face, but I agree that the double-checking on the internet is a wonderful tool. Can’t wait to read Pivot Point!

  23. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  24. Beckie permalink

    Chicken or the Egg
    Agent or Editor?
    I just found your blog in efforts to research an agent for a pitch session at the Writer’s Conference in Provo Ut this May. I like to be prepared and at least have a vague idea of the person I will book talk with. There are three agents plus yourself and three editors. Which one should a first-time author contact first in this glorious process, the agent or an editor?
    And thank you so much for your post! It’s incredible to me how writing a book so thrilling and yet the whole business side of writing can be so overwhelming…
    So I’m taking it all one step at a time and trying to educate myself.
    P.S. Fonts, colors and little google images can be soo fun to play with!

  25. Michelle, do you remember me? My name is Chris and i met you a while back at the Story conference. We met because you commented on my blue suede shoes. You said they reminded you of an old roommate. In response i told you they were actually alligator. Then you asked me to send you 5 pages and then after reading them you told me you didn’t find them believable because you didn’t think it was possible that there could be dinosaurs on Mars… but, i told you, there were tarantulas also, i saw the whole thing during a seance.

    Anyway, i’m not into the whole Ouija thing anymore, but i’m still making money playing Monopoly in the Garment District (or whatever’s left of it).

    What i’m getting at, is that you should definitely follow me on Twitter.


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Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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