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Old 01-06-2013, 05:55 PM   #1
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thinking of attending a writer's conf (NY/NE)...

I'm considering going to Backspace or NY Writer's Workshop this spring. My HF MS is complete and has been through two beta readers. I plan to start querying this month, but (of course) I expect I not have signed with an agent by the time of the conferences (hope for the best, plan for the worst).

My motivation for going is to make contacts with agents, but truthfully, I am a little scared of this. I hate doing self-promotion, especially in any form that is not written. I do, however, want to do whatever it takes to sign with an agent.

Can someone advise me of their experiences at this sort of thing? Any advice? Do's and Don'ts?
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:30 AM   #2
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I think you'd do better if you went with the hope of having a nice weekend, learning a few things, and perhaps making friends with a few writers; but not necessarily networking with any agents.

In my experience (as a speaker at such events, not as a writer), you'll be disappointed if you turn up expecting to end the conference with a list of agents who will look forward to receiving your submissions. Unless, of course, your writing is significantly better than most of the submissions they already receive, in which case you'll do fine submitting without meeting them at the conference first.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:39 AM   #3
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Old Hack,

My gut tells me that you are right. But much of what is written on this subject tells me that going to a conference is very useful, even necessary in obtaining an agent.

By the way, I would indeed enjoy myself, learn a few things and be glad I went, even if I had not "scored" with a bunch of agents. In fact, I might enjoy myself more if I did not go into it thinking I had to pitch my story. I just keep thinking that agents must see people approach them, shrimp cocktail and chardonnay in hand, and they must be thinking, "Man, can I make it to the bar for another drink before someone else pitches me again?" Somehow I would be perfectly OK if there were set times where you were scheduled to sign up and see an agent - an appointment, which may be part of these conferences for all I know. It's the schmoozing aspect that makes me feel so weird, like I am springing myself on someone.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:46 AM   #4
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I totally agree that your primary motivation for attending a conference shouldn't be to get the attention of a an agent. Pitch sessions are great but you can also learn so much from the speakers and panels.

Honestly, agents don't want you to "self-promote" to them at conferences. Unless you've specifically signed up for a pitch session, you shouldn't be shopping your book to anybody at a conference. Backspace, I think, doesn't even have pitch sessions. It's more about learning about the publishing process and refining your craft. In query letters sent after the conference, you can mention that you heard the agent speak at a conference and think you would be a good fit because of <blank>.

I know with SCBWI conferences, attending agents/editors who are normally closed have to agree to accept queries from attendees for a period of time after the conference. That can be a good way to open doors, but the vast majority of people don't walk away from a conference with an agent.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:52 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HFgal View Post
But much of what is written on this subject tells me that going to a conference is very useful, even necessary in obtaining an agent.
There was a thing on twitter a couple of months ago in response to a rejected writer claiming that the slushpile doesn't work. Tons of writers responded that they got their agents the old-fashioned way, with unsolicited queries. You absolutely DO NOT have to attend a conference to get an agent.
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Old 01-07-2013, 12:54 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Fantasmac View Post
There was a thing on twitter a couple of months ago in response to a rejected writer claiming that the slushpile doesn't work. Tons of writers responded that they got their agents the old-fashioned way, with unsolicited queries. You absolutely DO NOT have to attend a conference to get an agent.
Thanks - I'm feeling much better now!

If I go, I am going to make sure that I am looking forward to the events and speakers. I'll consider the agent/pitch thing optional at most. Whew!
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Old 01-07-2013, 01:11 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HFgal View Post
I just keep thinking that agents must see people approach them, shrimp cocktail and chardonnay in hand, and they must be thinking, "Man, can I make it to the bar for another drink before someone else pitches me again?" Somehow I would be perfectly OK if there were set times where you were scheduled to sign up and see an agent - an appointment, which may be part of these conferences for all I know. It's the schmoozing aspect that makes me feel so weird, like I am springing myself on someone.
There are often pitch-sessions worked into the schedule, but that doesn't mean that the writers who attend them end up with agents as a result. The success of such writers are often used to sell the conference to other writers in subsequent years: but there are so few of them that you'll often find them referred to year after year.

As for the agents, I've never seen a single one of them be anything less than gracious at such conventions: but I have seen them get pitched at in the queues for the ladies' loos, and while they're waiting for lunch, and while they're trying to prepare themselves for their events. It's hard on them, and they go way out of their comfort zones to help the writers who attend: but they still reject most of the manuscripts they request and won't offer representation to writers unless they submit a great manuscript--which writers can do without attending the events.
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Old 01-07-2013, 01:22 AM   #8
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As for the agents, I've never seen a single one of them be anything less than gracious at such conventions: but I have seen them get pitched at in the queues for the ladies' loos, and while they're waiting for lunch, and while they're trying to prepare themselves for their events.
LOL. EXACTLY. Pitching to someone while they are in line for the bathroom - even if I were just witnessing that, my skin would start to crawl.
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Old 01-07-2013, 01:42 AM   #9
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My motivation for going is to make contacts with agents, but truthfully, I am a little scared of this. I hate doing self-promotion, especially in any form that is not written.
That's absolutely not the reason to go. Agents are potentially interested in your book, not you so much. And buttonholing them in any way is not OK.

If you're asked what you write, you should be able to tell someone in a very very brief fashion, one sentence, what you write.

Agents are there to help educate writers. Go to learn, and meet interesting people.

Don't go to sell yourself or your book.

Do have some basic business cards with your name and email address, and a Web site if you have one. Don't print your phone number on it. A card that can be written on on the back is best.

Backspace has a super reputation from everything I've heard, whether it's from writers, agents or editors.
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Old 01-07-2013, 10:31 PM   #10
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Adding to the above: Collect business cards while you are there and follow up via e-mail. I've met some great critique partners at conferences. You never know who you can learn from.

If there is an editor or agent attending that you'd like to get to know, ask them about themselves and their work. I had a great conversation with Barry Goldblatt at a conference. We discussed women reading SF and what we believed might be a coming new age for the genre in YA books. He rejected my e-mailed pitch later (not SF or YA), but we still had a great chat. Human connections matter. They can help both parties decide if they want to work together. Would you want to work with someone who pitches you in the bathroom?
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:44 PM   #11
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Human connections matter. They can help both parties decide if they want to work together. Would you want to work with someone who pitches you in the bathroom?
I just wanted to draw attention to this; it's both true and smart.
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Old 02-08-2013, 01:55 AM   #12
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Hey, everyone. I have a question. I'm considering entering the scholarship contest, but I'm not sure if I'm the ideal candidate or if it would be the best move for me. I realize that speaking as if I'm winning is putting the cart WAY before the horse, but since the contest states you shouldn't enter unless you plan to attend, I figured it'd be a good idea to ask here. This is my situation:

I have an MFA from a school with a great reputation in the publishing world. I have, right now, about half of the work solidly written, and by the time the conference rolls around I'll have at least a first draft, with probably one or two rounds of edits from writers in my circle. I plan to attend a conference later this year run by my program that's only for graduates, which will be quite a personal expense to me already, but since many writers I know have met their agents/editors there, and since I love the alum community, I have intended to go since I was a student. I bring this up because even with the scholarship I would have to pay my own way to get there, and on top of the expense of going to my school's conference I'm not sure if it's worth the money. I definitely couldn't afford the full Backspace fee.

So my question is this: would Backspace be a good move for someone like me, who has been studying writing and publishing and has been workshopping for many years now? Will I be running into other writers with similar backgrounds, or writers who are a little newer to the world of writing and publishing (and not to knock these people AT ALL, because I was one once, but I want to go to conferences where the writers are at a similar stage in their careers). Does anyone know if I will have some distinct advantage if I attend, or should I just not worry about it and query the agents who are attending that I want when my manuscript is good and ready?

God, I really hope that didn't sound snotty. I'm really just asking where most of the writers who attend this conference are, professionally, and if there's a significantly higher chance of getting an agent by going here vs. just writing a query letter. It sounds like a great conference with a great reputation, but I'm not sure if I'm the right person for it. Thank you guys!
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Old 02-12-2013, 07:56 PM   #13
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Hi Mystic,

I've been in your shoes with different conferences. If you are attending just to meet and pitch agents, don't bother. If your work is good enough, your query will do the job without the expense of the conference. (Of course, the query also has to be good enough.)

That said, do a cost benefit analysis. Is there a speaker you really want to hear or a topic you think you need to learn more about? Would you still want to attend without the scholarship? Only you can decide if it's worth it.

That's not to imply that other people's experiences with Back Space aren't valuable in the decision making process in terms of listing possible costs or benefits. I wish I could offer you one of those, but I've never been.
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