Sunday, September 30, 2007

Why I Go To Writer's Conferences

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.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice post.

Going back to the overwhelmed topic, how do you know to "expect to have three offers on the table next week"? Do the editors call you to let you know they've read your clients' books? Do they email? Are you in contact with them the whole time?

Maprilynne said...

I just picked up my first Dean Koontz novel about a month ago and LOVED it. Have picked up another since and actually liked it even better. It is so fun to find out when highly successful authors are also kind, generous people.

Lori Perkins said...

Anon

They usually call if they are interested. They know I have the book on submission elsewhere. It can take anywhere from one day to a week to get approval to buy a book.

I email editors every few weeks after I've sent them a proposal or book to make sure they've moved it to the front of the pile.

tessa said...

Terrific post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the writers pitching to your co-worker Jenny. I bumbled through it badly, worse than I've done before (third time pitching) but I have to say she was nice, much nicer than the agent who is locally famous for being so mean to writers pitching to her at a previous conference. I even asked for a second chance and Jenny was kind enough to extend it. (I didn't fare much better)

If anyone at our conference got angry please keep in mind there are those of us who were glad to have the chance and would be happy to see you return.

Laura

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post.

I get that you are giving back, and how importatnt that is especially to newbie writers. But when I was unpbulished/unagented this used to frustrate me about writer's conferences -- you spend a hefty chunk of money, memorize the bullet points of your novel, and put on a snazzy skirt and lipstick for a pitch appointment. It goes well,or so you think. Until later you attend an editor round table panel where the editor you just pitched to -- that was funny, wild about your idea, and told you to send them a partial -- is lamenting her schedual, saying she's overworked, underpaid, and oh, yeah, not looking for any new clients. At all.

Made my head spin -- like what is she doing here then?

Of course now that I'm sold, well-agented, I understand how all of those experiences shaped me into a more reliable client. But I'd be interested to know how many other commentators, at least at the beginning of their journey, felt baffled by pitching to editors that you later realized had no intention of considering the unpublished masses to whom they were speaking?

Lori Perkins said...

Anon 2

But who told you that the reason to pitch to the agents and editors at the conferences was because they would take on or buy your books? That's an unrealistic expectation, even if an agent and/or editor IS looking for new writers.

A more reasonable expecation is that you will make a connection in the pubishing industry and perhaps that contact will give you a connection to the right person. You might also learn what you are doing wrong or how to make your book better which should be worth quite a lot. Many of the writers who come to conferences are really nowhere near ready to submit their work, but they don't know that until they attend and see and meet the competition.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lori, I'm Anon #2 --

Thank you for your nice reply. I do get that many people attending writer's conferences are not yet ready to submit and within the environment of a conference, surrounded by people that are perhaps more knowlegable, more professional, and ARE ready to submit work, they understand the extra engergy, commitment and fortitude they need to acquire to make it in this business.

However, it's not at all an unealistic expectation on the WRITER'S part that they are seeking out specific conferences/editors where they might gain representation. And, in fact, their main urge is to get that pitch appointment and get face time with an otherwise distant community of agents/editors.

And the conferences hit this "gaining representation" aspect hard (in their brochures and marketing for the conferences) making it a key selling point for their conference -- what agents/editors will attend and take pitches -- for this very reason.

For instance, if that dangling carrot weren't there, it would serve the writer best to say, in lieu of pitch appointments, we're going to offer a workshop on writing query letters, which, in my opionin is WAY more useful, but not at all as sexy as the editor pitch.

Again, I'm thrilled you take the time to go to conferences, as from your blog I gather you don't have loads of free time. I'm not slamming you in ANY way.

But I'd still like to hear from other commentors. I can't be the only one who, in my intial stages of writer's conferences, was left baffled by this aspect.

JDuncan said...

I think the percentage of authors picked up by agents from confrences is some very low number, like 1 or 2 percent. I does happen though, so aspiring writers can always hope, but should never expect to get anything more out of it than meeting someone in the industry who has knowledge and perspective that you will usually find very useful. It's the meeting part that is the reason for going to conferences in my opinion. Networking. The value of that cannot be overstated, because you never know when that random connection you make will benefit you down the road. That in itself makes the conference fee worthwhile.

JDuncan
www.jimnduncan.ocm

ORION said...

Lori I totally agree with you. I attended the Maui Writers retreat and conference since 2005. Before I was agented it opened my eyes to the way the business side of publishing worked and I met new authors who were very generous with their time.

Three years later I was a speaker and my book was for sale in the bookstore. I did not get my agent at the conference but what I learned paved the way.
Just the networking and the energy is worth it.

Lori Perkins said...

I went through my list. 13 of my exisiting 80 clients were first introduced to me at writers' conferences, and I had one that I repped for 10 years with whom I no longer represent, but we're still in touch.

So I would say that the greatest percentage of my client's have come from writer's conferences, the only change being that more than half of those I met 20 years ago when I started and was actively building my list. Now I take on much fewer clients.

And I met very few of those clients at a pitch session (although I have met some this way). It was at the meals and the parties and the sessions where we really got talking.

Anonymous said...

I was at the conference and I had such a great time. The best part was listening to Lori, Jenny and Liv though and I got lucky enough to sit beside Liv for lunch. She doesn't rep what I write, but we still had a nice chat. Jenny requested my first three chapters and whether or not that gets me anywhere, I am definitely going to send them to her (after I obsess over them for a few more days). For me, the most useful sessions were the ones with the authors and the agents. I was so impressed that they took the time out of their busy schedules to speak to us. So, thank you Lori for paying it forward.
Chris

Bob Weinberg said...

Hi everyone--

while not the least bit famous, I'm probably one of the better published unknown authors around, and I've been a client of Lori's for nearly twenty years. I'm the author of 16 novels, 16 non-fiction books, lots of short stories, and have written comic books for DC and Marvel, including one of the X-Men titles.

I met Lori at an SF Convention/Writers' Conference 20 years ago, when I was with another agent. However, she made such a strong impression on me and my wife that when the opportunity arose to sell a horror novel to a mainstream publisher I dropped my first agent and turned to Lori. That was in the late 1980's and I've never regretted the decision once.

The one thing you really learn at these huge writers' conferences that no one ever mentions but is extremely important is patience. If you want to be a writer, you must learn to be patient. Editors work at their own speed and its not as fast as you like; publishers pay at a much slower speed than authors like. Books are distributed at a slower speed than authors like. Authors are always in a hurry-hurry mood and book publishers are always in a sooner-on-later speed. If you want to become a successful author, you need to learn how to mellow out when the time calls for it. Patience is a virtue when it comes to publishing.

good luck!

bob weinberg

my web page is
www.robertweinberg.net

my live journal is
bob_W.livejournal.com

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!

I did meet you at a conference five years ago and you are currently reviewing a partial that I'm fairly sure isn't going to be "quite right for your list."

My current WIP, however, is TOTALLY right for your list, so I hope you have a vague recollection of who I am by the time I submit it.

It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

Ryan Field said...

I like the comment about paying it forward.