Talking with Agents
September 3, 2007 | Written by admin
It’s a beautiful day in Fort Wayne, Indiana, as I look out my new office window. What am I doing in Fort Wayne? I just agreed to teach a couple classes in the Professional Writing Program at Taylor University Fort Wayne. My good friend Dennis "Doc" Hensley runs it, and he’s created the best college writing program I’ve ever seen. He invited me to come participate, and I was happy to help. We’ll see how I do sitting in a classroom with a bunch of college students — I’ve never exactly been Mr. Touchy-Feely, but I’m loving the opportunity to talk writing and publishing with some young people who want to learn the business. On to today’s question…
Martha wrote to say, "I have heard the best way to connect with agents (and sometimes publishers) is to attend writer conferences. I had also heard you can make an appointment to have an agent or editor look at your material. If so, how does an author find when and where conferences are held, and how does one go about making those appointments?"
It’s true. In fact, one of the BEST ways to connect with agents these days is at a writing conference. In a few weeks, I’m going to be at the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference in Dallas, Texas. There will be several hundred writers attending, so it’s a great time to connect with other people who write fiction. There will be a dozen or so editors representing the publishing houses who compete in the Christian fiction market. And there are close to a dozen agents who will be in attendance. All of them make themselves available for a limited number of 15-minute appointments with authors. That allows an author to come into a room, sit across from me, and pitch his or her book idea. We may talk about the author’s experience, or I may evaluate the author’s proposal, or we may talk about the overall salability of the author’s idea. In some cases, I’ll read the first couple of pages of the author’s opening chapter and offer my initial impressions. While there isn’t time for this to be a full-blown evaluation of an author’s work, it at least gives you some sense of how an agent will respond to your idea.
Many conferences also offer in-depth analysis of your proposal, done by a working professional in the field. This is usually an extra charge — but to pay $30 and have a full-time freelance editor or writer examine your work is, frankly, a steal.
To check out writers’ conferences, just google "writer conference" or "Christian writers’ conference." Some of the biggest and best are the ACFW conference, Mount Hermon (California), Glorietta (New Mexico), Ridgecrest (North Carolina), and Write to Publish (Chicago). There are good Christian conferences in Florida, Colorado, Oregon, and Philadelphia every year, and there are good secular conferences all across the country. In addition, Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writers Guild puts on some very good conferences, as does Reg Forder’s organization, though neither of these have literary agents attending. There are also many local conferences, as well as dozens of good writing conferences offered through colleges and local writer organizations.
Every conference will list the agents and editors who plan to attend, and will offer free sign-ups to conferees. Be aware that you have to go into a 15-minute meeting with realistic expectations. "I’d like to make a good first impression" or "I’d like to get an agent’s opinion on my writing" are realistic. "I expect to convince a person I’ve never met before to take me on as a client in a fifteen-minute interview" is probably not realistic. But I encourage you to attend. It’s one of the few places an author will find where he or she can not only meet agents, but hang out with them at meals and in hallways.
On a similar note, Dayle wrote and said, "An editor requested I send him my manuscript at a conference. They later sent me an evaluation memo with a few editorial notes, with a request that I rewrite it and send it back. Is this worth mentioning in an agent query?"
Absolutely, Dayle. The fact is, many editors get fatigued saying "no" at writers’ conferences, so after a while they find themselves telling authors, "Go ahead and send that to me," thinking that it’ll be easier to reject via an email after the conference than to sit face-to-face and tell the author, in essence, "I don’t think this idea is any good." I understand that — I’ve been fatigued at conferences in the past, and occasionally asked somebody to send me an idea that wasn’t particularly stellar. But I’ve stopped doing that, since it just creates more work for me later, when the hard copy of the bad idea comes into my office and demands a response. It would have been easier just to say "no thanks" in the first place. So an author who tells me "the editors at a recent conference all liked it" doesn’t gain much prestige in my mind.
However, an editor who asks for your proposal, then takes the time to review it, make notes, and send you a request for a revised version is showing serious interest in your work. THAT means a lot to me as an agent. So yes — make sure that information gets conveyed to your prospective agent.
Hope this is helpful. If you’re going to be at the ACFW conference in Dallas, make sure to say hello.