Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
Last week I wrote a blog post about how an agent spends a typical day in the office. You can read it here.
Today I’m at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference as a faculty member. You might think agents and editors try hard to be elusive at conferences, but a peek into what my days consist of might help you to create a strategy that leads to a connection. (Of course every conference is structured differently with variations on what faculty are expected to do, but this post should get you thinking strategically.)
I’ve chosen to write about the first full day at Mount Hermon, when energy and spirits are running high. At this point, we’re all hopeful we’ll accomplish every goal we set for ourselves at the conference. At breakfast, the faculty have reserved tables. That’s because agents, editors and published authors squeeze tiny spots into their schedules to talk business with each other. Breakfasts, breaks, and late-night free time are slots we fill with faculty meetings.
After breakfast, I’ll rush back to my room to read the opening pages of manuscripts attendees submitted before the conference with the request that I peruse them. If a conference has this type of system; take advantage of it. I can request, on a form the conference provides, to meet with conferees whose work interests me.
The previous afternoon I will have set up appointments for this morning to meet with conferees and clients who are attending the conference. At Mount Hermon, the conferees must request an appointment in person; other conferences have sign-up sheets. Once again, if you have a proposal written and think it’s ready for an agent to see, this is an excellent chance to pitch the project. Be brave and do so. You’ll get direct feedback on its suitability.
At lunch, each table will have a placard on it with a faculty member’s name. Anyone who wants to talk with me sits at my table. I make a point, throughout the meal, of giving everyone a chance to either pitch a project or ask a question. With hundreds of people carrying on conversations around the room, it creates quite a cacophony, but it’s stimulating too.
After lunch I head over to the building where the Career Track (whose attendees have written two or more published books) takes place. This afternoon Tim Peterson, a nonfiction acquisitions editor at Bethany House, is teaching a workshop entitled, Industry Trends and Marketing Strategies. Because it will be an interactive session, my job is to toss in my opinion when, as an agent, I might see a situation differently than Tim does or to expand on an idea he has brought up.
After Tim’s session, the Career Track will break into fiction and nonfiction segments, with T. Davis Bunn leading an advanced workshop on writing fiction and Lynn Vincent doing the same for nonfiction writers. I’ll go with the nonfiction group and facilitate the workshop for Lynn.
That will take us up to dinner where I’ll have a table full of conferees to host once again and listen to their pitches.
Dinner is followed by a keynote session with former Disney imagineer McNair Wilson.
Afterwards (we’re talking about 9:30 pm), Books & Such will host a party (woo-hoo!) for our 25 clients attending the conference. As an agency, our practice is to bring our clients together whenever we’re at an event. At some point in the socializing, we’ll run out of tea, hot cider, coffee and eats, and each of us will realize we’re also running out of steam. We’ll drift off to our rooms where some will slip into sleep, others will be too wired to even go to bed, and still others will launch into yet another conversation–with a roomie or with God. Thus endeth the first (very) full day of the conference.
As you read this blog, what occurred to you as important ways to prepare for a conference so you can take full advantage of it?
Note: As you can tell from this blog, I’ll have little time to join the conversation today, but as I have a minute or two, I’ll check in on the comments.
Making an agent connection at a writers conference. Click to tweet.
How to connect with an agent at a writers conference. Click to tweet.
That’s a busy time! It’s so encouraging that agents are accessible. I hope I am prepared and ready for ACFW this fall. I am working hard toward that. I would for sure be running out of steam by 9:30! I love that you throw a party for your clients, I just love the sense of community Books and Such has 🙂 Hope you have a wonderful conference and meet many new great writers.
Thanks, Lisa. Our party was way too fun. We passed out Easter bags loaded with chocolate, and everyone told the most fun thing that had happened to them so far at the conference. All that laughing happily wore us out, and then we shuffled off to bed.
Sounds exciting, Janet. Wish I were there!
From your post (and from personal experience), I consider it crucial to maximize limited time in a face-to-face meeting. There won’t be enough hours to describe every character and each minor point of intrigue. My advice for writing colleagues: Hit the highlights. Paint the big picture with colorful strokes that invite closer inspection and go from there.
May you make some exciting new contacts at Mount Hermon, Janet!
Excellent advice, Rick. When a conferee pitches a project and immediately heads to the deep weeds of the storyline, I know our meeting is in trouble. I intervene and ask questions to try to figure out the book’s essence. But not everyone you pitch will be that directive. Then, first thing the conferee knows, the meeting is over, and the conferee did all of the talking and has no feedback.
First of all, I’m with Lisa–it sounds like an exhilerating and exhausting day! It’s fun to hear what an agent’s day looks like at a conference.
In terms of preparing for a conference, I can see the value of being well prepared ahead of time in order to be able to send something for an agent to peruse and discuss with me. I love that this is an option at Mt. Hermon! Knowing my story well and having a hook and pitch on the tip of my tongue in the event I get to share it is also an essential.Having a dose of confidence is also helpful.
I still have that nervousness at the thought of meeting with an agent. I know, you’re a person, just like me. But I have to remind myself to take a step back and remember that. 😉 Probably the final thing I’d want to think about is ways to be an encouragement to those I meet.
Have fun, Janet!
Jeane, a dose of confidence is the perfect remedy for those nerves. Conferees for the most part are thoughtful toward the agents and editors, keeping in mind we’re being bombarded with book ideas as well as teaching and being on panels. It’s hard for us to stay on top of our game, but we try to give thoughtful, kind and well-reasoned responses to every idea. The main thing to keep in mind is that we care about every conferee we talk to.
Wow…I pray your energy level will be sustained Janet!
Looks like the most important preparations are having a proposal ready, knowing your pitch, and choosing the agents/editors/publishers you hope to meet with. Of course, knowing where to get another cuppa tea could be crucial!
I am looking forward to the day when I can attend the Mt. Hermon Christian Writers Conference.
That array of tasks sounds about right, Kate. Fortunately most conferences ask the faculty to submit what they’re looking for, which helps. I’m hunkered down in Mount Hermon’s coffee shop. The barista is supposed to open up…wait, he’s ten minutes late! I need tea NOW!
Have fun at the conference, Janet. I imagine these events must tire agents and editors out immensely! I appreciate the chance to meet and chat with agents at conferences, and it helps to know we aren’t “bugging” you since that’s why you’re there. So long as we don’t chase you down or pitch in inappropriate places, that is… 😉
Lindsay, yeah, the running down thing isn’t such a great idea.
It sounds like a wonderful time, Janet. Your mind must be a-whirling by the time you go home! I was just thinking about the ACFW conference this morning and running through my mental preparation checklist. The smaller conference I’ve attended didn’t have the opportunity to submit pages in advance. Sounds like a great opportunity. But I think the bottom line for me (and perhaps most of us) is “Be brave.” That, and bathe everything in prayer. Thanks for your encouragement!
As an editor-friend said to me once when I pondered if her publisher would go for a higher advance, “He can’t say yes, if you don’t ask.”
Thanks for saying that. I hate sending out queries, and often joke I’d rather get a root canal. I had a root canal this morning, so now I have no more excuses. Time to send out more. ( the rejections will hurt, but nt as much as my tooth.)
If one is going with a group, or meeting friends or colleagues at a conference, ask them what agents or editors they have experience with, and what those agents or editors are most interested in regarding the pitching process: do some put more importance on the business side of the equation (looking for an author aware of the current publishing landscape, has started to establish a platform, etc.), and so forth.
Sounds like you’ll be having a fun day Janet, as well as everyone else from the community here at Mt. Hermon also.
Have fun! 🙂
Good suggestion, Larry. I do have to say that I ask different questions, depending on what the pitch consisted of.
The first advice I give to any aspiring author is a conference like Mt Hermon’s. It’s an eye-opening experience — I know first hand — and a plunge into the brave new world of publishing. It’s how I got published, and received the fantastic representation I have thru my very own agent.
A writer at lunch today said, “attending this conference has saved me 5 years of mistakes I would have made.” Wow.
Christine Dorman / @looneyfilberts
Thank you for this inside look at a writer’s conference. You’ll be in my prayers as you go through the exciting but long days.
Wow! This is a fascinating look into the conference. Since I help plan one of our local conferences, I always like to hear how others are run.
At our conference, writers submit a query weeks before the conference; our committee sets up 10-minute face-to-face meetings; and at the end of the meeting the agent decides if she/he wants the author to submit a sample.
When I attend a conference, I look over all the possible panels and workshops so I have a plan where I want to go. If I’m meeting with an agent, I have a marketing plan put together, since I feel that’s one of my strengths. I also read over my proposal a few times, so hopefully I can maintain eye contact as I speak about my project.
Hope you have a blessed time at the conference, Janet.
Having a plan is excellent.
You poor sweet darling, I hope you get time to breathe and enjoy things, as I can see you’re going full out all day. (Drink your water!!) I’ll get there as prepared (talk to people, pray hard, put on my big girl boots) as possible but most likely I’ll observe, observe OBSERVE and then on day two, I’ll hit the ground running. One thing I might try, is wear my Navajo jewelry. Nothing says “do I stand out or what?” like a pasty white girl with Navajo bling. You might not remember my one sheet in that stack of 192 of them, but the lapis lazuli and turquoise might get some notice. Yes, I usually fly left of centre.
Jennifer, one of the things Jim Rubart talked about at the My Book Therapy Pitch & Promotion Seminar is finding your nitch and using it to be memorable and to attract attention – your jewelry would be perfect for that! Can’t wait to meet you in person!!!
I agree with Gabrielle, wear the Indian bling. It’s memorable and a great conversation starter.
Janet, it sounds like a fun and invigorating experience! One of the ways I felt prepared for the ACFW conference was getting to know people in the writing community online before attending. Going to such a big event was a lot less stressful (and a WHOLE lot more fun) having a whole group of friends to fellowship with as we experienced the conference together. My friends prayed with me, encouraged me, celebrated with me and dreamed with me. In turn, I felt fulfilled when I was able to offer my love and support for them, as well. It’s just one of the many ways to prepare in advance for a writing conference.
This is such great advice. As an agent, it’s been fun to meet some of our blog’s readers and some of my FB friends here at Mount Hermon. There’s an immediate bond.
Sounds like a full day. I hope there are rest periods in your schedule.
From a writer’s POV, I can see how intimidating it could be to meet agents and editors in person for the first time at a conference, let alone try to pitch an ms without passing out. There doesn’t seem to be a second chance. It’s like the writer’s on the air all of a sudden with a live camera in their face. Better be prepared, as the Girl Scouts say.
Janet, may I ask how much weight you put on the writer’s ability to tell you verbally in so many words (and such little time) about the manuscript they’re trying to pitch? Have you ever had writers sink and swim because they can’t get their tagline out, or if their presentation sounds like they just memorized their one-sheets?
Speaking of one-sheets, what is your general opinion on one-sheets at conferences? I know that’s sort of an unspoken requirement for writers to bring their one-sheets (e.g. to ACFW conferences), but have you ever decided on a manuscript based on seeing just the one-sheet or do you almost always need more than a “flyer?”
Thank you again for the conference insight, Janet.
Jan, unfortunately, if the writer can’t quickly convey what the book is about, it pretty much is a “sink” situation. But I’m not looking for a flawless performance; I’m listening to the content of that performance.
One sheets are a mixed blessing. They succinctly present the concept and the author, but they tell me little about the writer’s ability to write a manuscript. Unless the concept holds little interest, especially when the one sheet is for fiction, I almost invariably have to ask to see the first chapters and synopsis. Then, after requesting all that material be sent to me, since there’s little I could eliminate, I have to find time to read it.
Fiction can only be decided on by reading it.
Thank you. That’s a great quote: “Fiction can only be decided on by reading it.”
I hold out hope that someday I will get to go to a conference. : )
Sounds wildly exciting and petrifying all at the same time. 🙂 Have fun and try not to get too tuckered out!
Bless you for being so visible at a conference. With so many faces, it would seem that ‘newbies’ might get lost in the shuffle of meeting your clients, old friends and other ageents. Your table with ‘just folks’ sounds really great. Very thoughtful of you.
I definitely make time to interact with conferees. Current clients and industry professionals must be nudged into “odd” moments during a conference.
It makes me tired just to read about your schedule!
It’s tiring AND exhilarating.
Carol McAdams Moore
It sounds like a wonderful conference! This post made me anxious for the Write to Publish in June!
Once I heard someone say that she thought writing conferences were gruesome. . . I’m sure she meant grueling, but preparation can take the gruesome out of the equation. I prepare by making contacts (other writers and editors) and taking needed paper items (one sheets, writing samples, business cards). I also try to plan my clothes (to travel light) and resolve to get enough sleep while I am there. After that, I try to relax and enjoy the conference.
Oh, yeah, the sleep thing. That’s key to: not falling asleep during an editor/agent’s workshop; being up for the emotional challenge of interacting about your manuscript even if the feedback is hard to hear; finding the strength to be brave.
Mt.Hermon sounds like an all you can eat writer’s buffet full of delicious opportunity. YUM! Looking forward to the same delicacies at my first ACFW. *Jitters!*Safe travels, Janet!
It’s also an all-you-can-eat buffet. Period. Good food abounds here. I’ll confess I succumbed to eating the desserts starting yesterday at lunch. *burp*
Ahhh. Oh so lucky you are Janet. I remember, when I was a pup, staying in an old rustic cabin on the beautiful grounds of Mount Herman.
Donnie and I has so much fun creek walking, meeting all those wonderful people in the dining hall, taking nature hikes and playing that silly ping-pong game. Well, actually I didn’t play ping-pong, my fuzzy head just wobbled back and forth, following the little white ball.
The best part was the night we all had smores down at the athletic field. I had three of them, but of course, mine didn’t have any chocolate on it because donnie says I’m allergic to chocolate. (he takes real good care of me)
I always hated to leave that place at the end of the week . . . but you know – you can’t stay on the top of the mountain forever, eventually you have to go back down to the valley and the real world.
Yes, and peak experiences are emotionally exhausting. Sometimes one just needs to go to the valley to absorb what happened on the mountain.
Thanks for sharing Janet. I hope you have a wonderful time and come home energized with new ideas, and your cup filled up and ready to go again–after you recover!
I am praying about the right timing and divine appointment–until then, I’m working hard to prepare.
Safe travels! Hope to meet you at ACFW if the Lord wills it to be. 🙂
I’m so glad we met, yesterday. After reading this blog…it was a MIRACLE! 🙂 Thank you.
Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I’m always a little unsure of how much to engage the agents and editors at a conference. I am always fascinated and want to know about their lives and what they do. I also know they are human beings and might enjoy time to eat their meals. I try to keep it friendly and allow them to ask about my WIP rather than bombarding them with my pitch. Thanks to you and all the others who are so willing to give you time and go without sleep to support beginning writers.