How agents attending a book convention helps all clients

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

This morning, at 9 a.m.Ā  Central Time in St. Louis, a ribbon-cutting ceremony opens the 2013 International Christian Retailing Show. All five Books & Such agents will be there. Which brings up the question: What do agents do at book conventions? How does it benefit their clients?

Before we plunge into my answers to those questions, let me say that I’m characterizing what an agent does at a Books Stock Imagebook convention based on what we at Books & Such do. Some agents seem to meander through the show with fairly open schedules, picking up conversations as they see individuals from publishing houses lingering around the exhibit floor. That’s not how we operate, as you’ll see below.

What agents do

–A book convention is a once-in-a-year opportunity for agents to meet face-to-face with publishing folks. The meetings will consist of:

  • an agent talking about high-profile projects to publishing executives and editors. While this introduces exciting new manuscripts to publishers, it also reminds a publisher that this agency can deliver significant goods. It’s sort of like creating a headline for a newspaper that results in enticing the reader into the whole paper. Our goal is to engage the publishing house about not just that headliner but also with projects from clients whose careers are in the building process.
  • the publishing house representatives talking about new areas of emphasis, what they’re looking to buy, and a sense of how the publisher is doing. Not that any publishing executive is going to say, “We’re about to close the doors!” But when a vice president admits, “We can’t seem to make fiction work any more” and then shows little interest in nonfiction projects, an agent doesn’t walk away from that meeting with confidence the house is doing well.
  • a discussion of industry-wide issues. Last year our agency presented a White Paper to publishers to discuss changes we felt publishing houses could make that would result in a healthier industry. This year we aren’t approaching these meetings with such a specific agenda, but we do have concerns that are bound to surface during the interplay.

All in all, we will meet with 33 publishing professionals in the three days at the convention. That translates to wall-t0-wall meetings. I’m a pretty merciless organizer of these meetings in that I don’t schedule time to move from meeting to meeting–or to take bathroom breaks. Fortunately for all of the agents, because there are five of us, we can do tag-team beginnings and endings to meetings. So if, say, Rachelle is engaged in a lively conversation about a project she’s presented, but we need to move on to the next meeting, everyone else will leave meeting A to head to meeting B (with some peeling off from the group as we pass a bathroom). Rachelle will join us at meeting B when she finishes up with meeting A. It makes for a tightly-packed day, but since we can have these meetings only once per year, the goal is to make the most of the time.

–We’ll attend social functions. This includes publishers’ events as well as award ceremonies. While that sounds like “let’s party time,” these social occasions give us a chance to chat with clients, other authors we know, and publishing personnel in a casual environment. I usually have a lineup of people I want to be sure to spend some time with. One vice president of marketing is always on my list. Talking to him is like downloading a layered report on what’s selling for his house and what isn’t–and why. It’s an important glimpse into the industry that I can then explore further by asking other publishing houses’ personnel, “So how are sales going for memoirs for you?” By the end of the convention, between these events and our meetings, I’ve gathered a strong sense of what’s happening in the industry.

The award ceremonies are also key because we generally have finalists at these events whom we want to support with our presence. We cheer them on and pout (just a teeny bit) if they don’t win. This year IĀ  have the honor of presenting, with agent Sara Fortenberry, all the finalists at the Christy Award ceremony. My being onstage is a subtle way to communicate the standing our agency has in the industry. It lifts our agency’s boat and thereby lifts our clients’ boats.

We also hold an agency event in which we invite all of our clients attending the convention to spend some time with us agents. Sometimes we’ll have a brunch and sometimes it will be a reception. We want to have some time from the otherwise hectic schedule to pause and connect.

–Walk the convention floor.

Since each publisher exhibits its new releases, we have a visual of what publishers are emphasizing and what we see little of. One year I noted that white and purple seemed requisite colors to put on book covers. Who knew!? I never would have observed that trend if I hadn’t walked the floor. (And realized I wanted to steer my clients’ upcoming covers from those colors.)We’ll also have a chance, as we peruse the booths, to chat with sales reps, marketing staff and the publisher himself. Asking them which books they’re most excited about or which ones they’re seeing the most interest in from bookstores adds to our collection of information. We’ll observe in what ways publishers are promoting our clients’ books. If we can’t find a title on display, that’s a bad sign; if immense banners announce a client’s title everyone sees from the escalators outside the exhibit floor, well, that’s worth a really big grin.

How our presence benefits our clients

We’ll leave St. Louis exhausted but exhilarated. As you can see from our schedule, every minute of each day is calculated to increase:

  • our awareness of industry trends, which will inform the way we steer our clients’ writing and help us to determine what publishers to show each project to throughout the upcoming year.
  • the agency’s relationships with publishing personnel. Sharing a meal or a meeting or a coffee break creates bonds that hold when meaty discussions have to occur in the next year. Nothing can beat being face-to-face.
  • our agency’s standing in the industry. If our agency is viewed as one with a list of significant, interesting projects; as astute about the publishing trends; as fair but tough to work with, our reputation helps every one of our clients.

Since I’m likely to be bustling through our overstuffed schedule as you read this blog post, I won’t be able to participate in the discussion, but I do want to leave you with a question to get the conversation going.

What surprises you most about an agent’s schedule at a convention? Is there something you wish agents did more of?


What does a literary agent do at a book convention? Click to tweet.

One way a literary agent learns about publishing trends. Click to tweet.

34 Responses

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  1. One of the things I see, between these lines, is that Books and Such is actively engaged in being the go-to agency in the CBA. In order to rise to the top, the cream has to have some richness and substance to it, or it just floats around with the skim milk, not really making an impact.
    Therefore, reading about the well organized pace of the five of you does not surprise me in the least.

    Anyone who’s been to any kind of conference knows that sleep and personal time get left at home. A person attends a conference to *confer* with the others in attendance. Well, that and seeing who has nice shoes…but I digress. I am hoping to have acquired a love of multiple shots of espresso by the time ACFW rolls around. Otherwise, I could not hope to keep up the pace you ladies set!!

    I’m glad, and very thankful, you’re all doing the front line work and that you share your wisdom with us!

  2. lisa says:

    Thanks for this inside look. Praying for your time. I agree with Jennifer, another example of your fine, God-led work. I can’t think of anything I would want agents to do more of… just that I hope to have one someday šŸ™‚

  3. The white paper surprised me, but after ideas you shared in a recent blog post, Janet, I’m sure the ideas in the white paper were excellent.

    What do I think you should be doing more of? Nothing! Hope you all have a terrific time there and get plenty of rest and bathroom breaks.

  4. Andrea Cox says:

    Janet, thanks for sharing your convention schedule with us. Sounds like you ladies will be quite busy! Hope all goes well for you and your agency. And have a blast presenting. That’s such an honor.


  5. Jeanne T says:

    I love hearing how you ladies work as a team during the conference. You represent a united agency and it sounds like you use your time very effectively.

    I have one question. You mentioned presenting a white paper. I can kind of infer what that is, but would you mind elaborating a bit?

    What you shared about your interactions with the publishing houses really gave me a broader, more accurate picture of agent-publisher relationships. Thanks for sharing this post today!

  6. As Jeanne said, it must be awesome to work together as a team. I also love how intentional you are with your time. Since I’m sure attending this convention can be costly, what with plane tickets, hotel fees, etc., it makes sense to use your time wisely. It makes me want to do the same with any conferences I attend (although for me, hanging out with other writers and soaking up their wisdom and the fellowship there is part of that!).

  7. Larry says:

    Congratulations on the honor of presenting the Christy Award, Janet! As you said, it shows how Books and Such, and its clients, are respected within the industry.

  8. Sarah Thomas says:

    You left out something very important–what will all of you wear to the Christy’s?!?

  9. What an amazing team! Janet, I am so grateful for the organized efficiency and sheer physical stamina the five of you are committed to for your clients. Thank you so much.
    Know I am praying with all my heart that God will meet and surpass your needs and requests for His glory!
    And I do hope the Books & Such team gets to go home to a massage day! Those tootsies are going to need refreshed.

  10. Michelle Ule says:

    She’s got a gorgeous spangly dress.

    White paper was an examination of an issue the agents felt they had insight into that publishing houses seemed to be missing. It was well received.

    We all operate in our own areas and getting out to see product, as Janet described, is invaluable for the agents to do their jobs well. For the same reason, they read across the spectrum in and out of CBA, attend movies and plays, hang out in book stores, read Publisher’s Weekly and so forth.

    They do not sit in their offices and dream–all the time. šŸ™‚

    Preparing for ICRS has taken up a lot of our office hours the last month. It’s exciting and the agents generally return exhausted and exhilarated.

  11. donnie and doodle says:

    . . . just remember ladies – to leave some time to hang out in the “yummy” Food Court.

    Even publishers have to eat lunch – sometime.

  12. Sue Harrison says:

    I love being one of your clients. I love understanding what you do a bit more. Thank you! Many prayers!

  13. Blessings on all of you for a productive time and for safe travel.

  14. Praying for you all! I can’t wait to follow the live blog feed from the awards ceremony tonight. šŸ™‚ I’m looking forward to cheering for everyone.

    I love your descriptions, Janet. I can see you all swooping through the conference like secret agents on a mission. Thankfully for your clients, Books & Such is anything but secret!

  15. Kiersti says:

    Wow! Sounds like an intense time for all of you! Thank you all for all the effort you put in to pursuing excellence and being such wonderful agents for your clients. We are truly blessed to have such professional, wise, knowledgeable–as well as loving Christ-follower–agents to help and guide us through. Will pray for your stamina and blessing this week!

  16. Bonnie Leon says:

    Janet, thank you for helping authors like me understand how much is going on at a conference like ICRS. I’m impressed by all the thought that goes into what the agency wants to accomplish and what the agents are doing–the why of it all. And I’m grateful for all of your hard work and commitment to Books & Such authors.

    I’m praying for outstanding results–not just for my precious project but for all the Books & Such authors.

    You guys are outstanding professionals.

    Thank you.

  17. Jillian Kent says:

    Hi Janet,
    I hope to hear more about what you learned while at ICRS after you and Rachelle and all have a chance to catch your breath. Thanks for sharing.