I am in the Richmond Virginia airport waiting to board my plane home after attending the James River Writers' Conference.
I accepted this invitation over 6 months ago after an editor who I adore suggested I would be a good speaker for the conference. Even though we are both in New York, we hardly "hang out" together, and I knew this would be a good opportunity to really enjoy each others' company.
I also have three clients in Virginia who I haven't seen much of lately. I asked them to come to the conference, and two of them did. One attended the conference and found that she was inspired by it, possibly enough to go back to school for an MFA. We also cooked up two new book ideas while she was there.
The other client joined me on a panel about the author/agent relationship, which was a real interesting topic. There was another agent there whom I had never met, Olivia Blumer, who said that she believes you have to meet your agent at least once for the author/agent relationship to really gel, if you plan on having a long-term relationship (which is how I work), so it was really great to hear that from another agent. I have traveled halfway around the country to meet some of authors, and I know that some of them have done the same (I try to get invited to a writer's conference within 500 miles of clients - and once, when my 47 year-old cousin was dying of Pancreatic cancer, I was invited to a writer's conference in Oklahoma so I could see him before he passed away). But you don't need to meet your agent until your book has been sold.
A lot of writers attend writers' conferences expecting to get signed up by the agents attending, so when I tell them I already have 80 clients, that we get 30,000 requests for representation a year and that I take on, at most, 5 new clients a year, they get angry and want to know why I go to writers' conferences. But many of those 5 clients are writers I met years ago at other writers' conferences. You've got to be in to win it.
At this point in my career, I go to writers' conferences because it is my way of paying it forward.
When I was a baby agent, Dean Koontz took a lot of time with me and really gave me some incredible advice about the author/agent relationship. I knew I wasn't going to represent him, but I really appreciated his perspective and time. When I asked him why he was so generous, he said very few agents ever asked authors what they could do better and that it was all part of the karma wheel (not his words, but mine here).
I go to these conferences because I know so much. A lot of the agents who go are new and can't give perspective. I have years and years of stories to tell and I know just about everyone in the business. Ten minutes with an established agent should be a priceless commodity for any writer, but I am always amazed at how many writers tell me they met an agent 5 years ago and then never followed up their conversation.
And you never know who you will meet at a conference. Many of my really famous authors met me years ago at conferences where we were just co-attendees.