Pub Rants

A Conference Suggestion

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STATUS: Busy Monday. I have a couple of projects to get out by Friday and since we’ve requested quite a few full manuscripts (like 5 or 6) in the last week or so, I’ve got a lot of reading to do. Not to mention, my client delivered her manuscript as promised (and that delights me because I’ve been waiting for this one).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT by Elton John

First off, my read & critique session on Friday afternoon went pretty well. Or at least in my mind it did. The writers looked a little dazed upon leaving but I do think they felt that the session and the feedback were valuable or helpful.

On Saturday, I took pitch appointments and noticed an interesting trend I’d rather not see repeated so I thought I would share it here—just in case conference organizers and future conference attendees are reading this blog.

About a third of the pitches I received were for projects my agency does not represent.

And many of those projects were quite good but since I don’t represent that kind of material, it really was a waste of time for both the writer and for me.

Flummoxed, I even asked one participant who had what sounded like a cool literary thriller why he had an appointment with me.

He said, “Because all my other agent choices were already booked and you were the only agent that had a slot open.”

Okay, valid, but I have to say I was a little aggravated. If my agency is the only slot open and we don’t rep your type of work, please, don’t meet with me. Decline your spot and allow another writer to take it who has a project that fits my criteria. I actually want to meet that person.

I attend conferences because I’m looking for new projects—in the genres I rep. Agent pitch sessions aren’t for practicing.

So here are two suggestions

Attendees: don’t list an agent on your request sheet if the agency doesn’t fit what you are writing–even if you have to fill in a third request slot or something like that.

Conference organizers: Please, do a final vet before the agent pitch list is finalized. Have the writers list their project and genre and if doesn’t fit with what the agent has clearly listed as what he/she represents, delete the writer from the pitch list. Let another person have that slot.

After all, the whole point of pitch sessions is to match up a writer with an agent. If that doesn’t happen, it’s just a waste of time.

27 Responses

  1. 2readornot said:

    Very good point. I do know of someone who pitched to an agent who didn’t rep their genre, however, and that agent didn’t mind because their pitch list was so much shorter than all the others. But I think that’s a very unusual situation.

  2. Christine Fletcher said:

    I ran into this same situation, from the writer’s side. At this particular conference, writers were allowed to sign up for “extra” agent appointments on a first-come, first-serve basis (you can imagine the length of THAT line). By the time it was my turn, the only slot open was with an agent who repped children’s books exclusively. I turned it down, and the conference volunteer actually argued with me–never mind that I was there to pitch a mainstream adult novel! The feeling seemed to be “Any agent appointment is better than no agent appointment!”

  3. sex scenes at starbucks said:

    I agree. I talked to about a ton of writers at that same conference who were just using you guys for practice. Hell, practice on me, practice on your dog, I even heard one lady practice on a waiter, but don’t waste an agent’s time.

  4. Anonymous said:


    Sometimes writers sign up for these conferences primarily to get a shot at pitching, so it can be heart-breaking, after making a significant investment, to get closed out of one’s first choice agents.

    Many of these writers take advantage of whatever session the conference organizers assign them to in order to gain experience.

  5. Virginia Miss said:

    Kristin, I just knew you’d do great at the read & critique sessions. Wish I’d been there.

    On the pitching: perhaps some writers don’t know how rigidly some agents stick to their categories. This is the type of thing that’s so helpful for us to hear.

  6. Lynne Simpson said:

    At one conference (which shall remain nameless), all of the agents and editors who might be interested in F&SF manuscripts were booked solid. Even the waiting list was full. At the last minute, they added a few more agents and editors, but according to my research, none of them did F&SF, either. Nonetheless, the people running the appointments insisted that this one individual was looking for fantasy manuscripts, and I let them talk me into scheduling an appointment.

    Big mistake.

    My research was correct, after all, and I ended up apologizing to the person for the misunderstanding. Very nice person, extremely professional, but not the appropriate audience for my pitch.

    Lesson: Trust your own research!

  7. katiesandwich said:

    I’m with you. Here’s something I don’t understand. Any writer who cares enough about their writing to spend a substantial amout of money on a conference… well, I would think they’d know enough about the industry to know that you can’t pitch your fantasy book to someone who only represents mysteries. Or whatever. I went to a conference a few weeks ago and was able to get a consultation with an agent because someone else dropped out for whatever reason. And the agent asked me to query him after I finish my revisions, plus gave me a referral to another agent on my wish list. If this other author hadn’t dropped out of the consultation, I wouldn’t have had that chance. So be considerate at a conference. You could be ruining someone’s one big chance.

    Plus wasting the agent’s time. You agents are very busy people!

  8. Kanani said:

    I remember signing up for a “how to get an agent” seminar a major university, and getting there only to discover that the agent presenting represented “How To,” and cookbooks!

    But sometimes I wonder if there’s just too much rushing.
    By that, I mean rushing to get published before learning to craft the language, learning to read in a different way, pulling together a good first rough, then writing the second, running the book in front of people you trust for a critique, and only after that… researching agents, finding out who publishes books like yours and finally, the pitch.

  9. Stephen D. Rogers said:

    I understand your frustation.

    That said, I do have two counter-points.

    1) The organizers can only work with the agents who have agreed to attend and have no control over what the conference attendees happen to write. This makes matchmaking a daunting task.

    2) As a writer who pitched, the experience of pitching to an actual agent was more important than being a perfect match.

  10. JDuncan said:

    Well, that’s a sad state of affairs if fellow writers are going to be selfish for the sake of ‘practice’ when someone else has a legitimate pitch for an agent interested in their type of material. I’m not an agent obviously, but I would respectfully decline anyone who identified their material as something that didn’t interest you. There’s folks on the wait list that likely do I’d imagine.

    Kristen, why can’t agents specifically state that they will only take pitches in certain categories? You don’t spend your time and money at a conference to be someone’s practice dummy. That’s…ridiculous, really.

  11. Ryan Field said:

    I think the type of writer that would set up an appointment with an agent who doesn’t handle their genre is typical conference mentality.

    Kristin, they don’t care that they are wasting your time. These people live in a world of their own where rules (and common sense) don’t apply.

  12. Termagant 2 said:

    Ryan writes: I think the type of writer that would set up an appointment with an agent who doesn’t handle their genre is typical conference mentality.

    Ryan, this assumes the writer KNOWS exactly what genres the agent will find interesting. Most of the time when we sign up for conferences, this information isn’t given to us, and since we don’t always know ahead of time whom we’ll be scheduled to meet, we can’t do the research on a timely basis.

    I’m off to a conf. next week. I didn’t get my first choice of agent or editor. Do I cancel the appointments on the supposition that Miss Agent or Mr. Editor and I can’t find common ground? I think that would be a very poor choice on my part.


  13. Anonymous said:

    “Agent pitch sessions aren’t for practicing.”

    Well, maybe. I attended a conference where they promoted the agent sessions as a chance to “meet with an agent.” Agent pitch sessions aren’t always called “Agent Pitch Sessions,” and conferences often charge writers to meet with an agent.

    So I can see where an unpublished writer might want to spend some money to practice their pitch, or maybe they just want time with an agent (any agent) to ask some questions without pitching a manuscript. In their mind it’s their money, so what they do during that fifteen minutes is their choice.

    Notice I said, “…in their mind.”

    Conference organizers should probably be more specific about what is intended and what is allowed during these writer/agent meetings, particularly if they charge extra for them.

    Just my 2 cents.

  14. Eileen said:

    I will admit at one pitch session (before my book was even done) I signed up to meet a few different agents and used the time to ask them questions about the query process, how they did business, what they liked to see and how. It helped me down the road when I was ready.

  15. Kimber An said:

    I’ve never attended a writers’ conference, but don’t these writers pay a lot of money to attend? Surely, most of them realize the chances of snagging an agent at this event is extremely remote. Therefore, they are there to learn. If they can’t attend agents in their own genre, maybe they can still learn from an agent in a different genre. This may be a waste of time for that agent, but not attending an agent workshop could be a waste of money for the writer, money he could have spent buying a new book for his little girl or chocolate for his wife. Hard earned money. There’s always at least two sides to every story. Any writer should know that.

  16. Arkansas Cyndi said:

    Very interesting post. While I could argue multiple viewpoints, bascially I agree with Ms. Nelson.

    I had an appointment at RWA with an Avon editor. Avon! Wow. Wouldn’t I love to get a contract with Avon! But, in reality, that particular editor did not read my genre, so I decided it would be a waste of my time and hers. I actually gave the appointment to my roommate, who does write what this editor was looking for. Some of the unpub’eds waiting to talk to her told me I was nuts. Any editor is better than none, but I didn’t see it that way. My time is valuable, too.

    I did have an agent appointment before I was ready to pitch (I requested it months before the conference and forgot!) So, I did meet with her – I had already researched her agency and her clients. We spent the ten minutes discussing what changes she was seeing in the business, etc. It was a valuable experience for me. When I do query, I will send this agent a query letter. I felt like I knew her better.

    While I wish there was some way for conference coordinators to schedule author appointments with appropriate agents, it would be almost impossible. Authors are supposed to be professional. It is their responsibility to see that they request appointments with the appropriate agents and/or editors.

    However, wouldn’t it be nice if the agent knew ahead of time who her/his appointments were with and could request a one page synopsis prior to the meeting?

  17. Ryan Field said:

    Taking both sides into consideration, Kimber An has the best outlook. This is a learning experience for the most part.

    Obviously, from Kristin’s post:
    He said, “Because all my other agent choices were already booked and you were the only agent that had a slot open.”

    Now, unless I’ve missed something, this writer knew ahead of time Kristin wouldn’t be the right fit and yet he still wasted her time.
    Again, this is typical conference mentality: “Maybe she’ll like it anyway, even though she doesn’t handle this genre”…”Once she sees how wonderful I write she’ll begin to represent this type of fiction, it will change her life.”
    And it’s such a waste of time for both writer and agent. Not to mentinon money.

  18. Kanani said:

    Kristen wrote “most of the submissions really aren’t quite ready yet to be under the brutal agent eye. They could use a tough but supportive critique group first.”

    So they bypass the critique process and go straight to the pitch.

  19. RyanBruner said:

    It sounds, to me, like you have mutually exclusive uses for the conference here.

    Agents are there to hopefully find that next great author to add to their list.

    Authors, while wanting to find an agent, are primarily there to learn what it takes to get themselves published, including the agenting process.

    So, while Kristin would rather not meet with a person who isn’t right for her, the author is using Kristin to learn something. As someone else said, in the mind of the writer, they paid a lot of money to come to that conference in order to learn…so why would they voluntarily give up the only slot they could get? Sure, it isn’t a match, but they need to take advantage of what little time they have because they paid money to be there.

    The two goals aren’t complementary.

    I think it should be the responsibility of the conference organizers and NOT the agents nor authors in attendence to ensure the most effective use of the pitch sessions. A more effective pitch session means a more effective conference, and you’ll end up with a better turn out the following year if your conference can boast that they matched up X number of authors to agents, etc.

    Nevermind I’m speaking both as an unagented writer as well as a writer who has yet been able to afford to attend ANY conference…

  20. Maria said:

    It’s not unusual in my conference experience. You’re allowed to set a preference from one to three agents and then you get “assigned” an agent if those choices are full. They do not ask on the application what kind of material you write.

    As an attendee, you can obviously research beforehand–and list up to three agents (sometimes it’s only one agent and an alternate).

    Then you wait and end up with an assignment. There’s generally no changing it (unless there are other slots opened.)

    The biggest problems is that we writers are PAYING to meet and pitch–and if we don’t get someone that reps our stuff, we are wasting our money and our time–not to mention the agent.

    It’s a shame, but that is the way some of the conferences are organized. And sadly, conferences are often put together mostly by volunteers, so there isn’t a lot of control (and no point at all in complaining.)

  21. Maria said:

    Also, I’ve been to at least one conference where the agent was a no-show. The appts were shoved willy-nilly to other agents–the attendees had zero time to research and prepare.

  22. Kanani said:

    After reading Ryan’s comments…
    The writers are there to get published.
    The agents are there to find their next Lana Turner.
    And the conference organizers are there to make a profit and try to ensure that everyone learns something.

    I think it’s the writer’s responsibility to ensure that their MS is being pitched to the right person. Assuming it’s a completed MS that’s gone through a critique process, you’ve tossed 3 – 5 years of your life into it. Seen in this light, it’s an asset –and you just don’t want to toss it out to just anyone. So it makes no sense to me to even pitch it for ‘practice’ or to the wrong person.

    I think the great thing about all these blogging agents is that they help people understand the process, and all the fine points of not only writing, but also the inevitable business end of it. You don’t have to go to the conferences, nor do you have to take classes or seminars. Blogging has really opened things up, made ideas more accessible.

  23. Anonymous said:

    Kristen, I attended a conference wherein attendees had the chance to meet in a group with an agent and talk business. The attendee would then be allowed to submit a part of a mss– length determined by the agent at the helm of the mini-group– to that agent without a formal pitch.

    Kristen was one of the agents I had the opportunity to meet in that group experience. I initially did take her (when offered a choice of x, y, and z) because Kristen was the only agent offered to me that 1: represented children’s authors. After a few moments thought, I thought better of it, knowing Kristen did not represent the TYPE of children’s books I write. The conference people placed me with Y, another agent at the conference, whose bio did not say one way or the other if said agent repped children’s writers. But said agent workes for a Well Known Agency that handles many children’s authors so I went with Y.

    At the Agent-Author session at the conference, the agent told me he or she did not represent children’s books or authors. Not at all. That agent said that he/she would give my mss to another agent in the house that does indeed represent children’s authors/books. I was thrilled.

    And that is the end of the story. Never heard from the More Appropriate children’s agent. Sent a polite e-mail to the initial agent to thank the agent for his/her time and to remind the agent of the offer to share my work with another agent in the house. (This was one of the main reasons I signed up for the conference in question: the ability to meet with agents and get our work read. Even if it was rejected.)

    No response from the polite e-mail.
    No response from the 2nd agent (who owes me nothing but…) I don’t know what else to do. After one status query without a response, I get the message.

    So Agent Kristen, while I instinctively acted as you said in not taking up your time when I knew my work was something you did not represent, I ended up losing time and a substantial sum of money and a little dream I had after this conference.

    By the way, I loved the conference, so the $ loss was painful but not the end-all and be-all of events.

  24. JDuncan said:

    I don’t understand the whole losing money process if you aren’t able to pitch to an agent. Surely the other assortment of activities at said conference provides valuable learning experiences as well. So even if the hoped for pitch doesn’t occur you can’t say your money was wasted if you didn’t. I’m not sure why someone would pay to go to a conference purely for the shot at being able to pitch to an agent.

  25. Wonderwood said:

    Man, I think I know what my problem is. I’ve never been flummoxed. I’ve been confused, perplexed, and even mystified, without a doubt. But flummoxed? No. How can I expect to ever get published if I can’t experience a simple flummoxification? I don’t mean to put myself in the elite company of Agent Kristin and others who have this quality of flummoxiblilty, but I must have hope. Can one acquire this quality by observation and practice? Perhaps the writer that wasted your time was merely trying to observe your flummoxification with hopes that at some point in the future, he/she could emulate it. I’ve known for quite some time that something is missing in my character, and now I know what it is. Thanks for helping me pinpoint my problem. Does self-flummoxification qualify?

  26. Anonymous said:

    You can write a query letter to any agent at any time without spending hundreds of dollars at a convention.