Pub Rants

The Best “What Not To Do At A Conference” Story Ever

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STATUS: I don’t know what it is about Mondays but I seem to rarely accomplish anything that’s on my list and every Monday seems this way. The real work can’t happen until Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONELY NO MORE by Rob Thomas

If this were a contest, I think I would win hands down. I defy any other agent to come up with a story as good as this one but if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments section.

I was doing a panel at one of my recent conferences when this happened (and as you know I’ve done several already this year so I’ll just let you guess which conference this was because it’s no reflection on the conference organizers if one of their attendees is a clueless boob).

One of the participants stood up to ask a question, which I, and the other members of the panel, were happy to answer, when his cell phone went off. He asked us to wait until he finished the conversation for us to answer his question. I’m not making this up.

But it gets better.

I wasn’t too inclined to be all that helpful by answering the posed question but hey, it’s not the rest of the audience’s fault if there is a rude person in their midst so I begin my answer. Cell phone rings again. Participant, still standing, answers it. I don’t stop to wait and finish my response.

The guy finishes the call and asks me to repeat my answer. I decline. Next question please.

I probably don’t have to tell you what was running through the panelists minds but it goes without saying that this person could have written the best book in the entire universe and I would have refused to represent it.

56 Responses

  1. Jill James said:

    Okay, you’re making this up, right? Nobody could be that stupid. Oh wait, they probably could. So sorry you had to deal with such a rude person.

  2. LindaBudz said:

    I’m pretty sure someone with so little awareness of others’ impressions and feelings would not be someone who would write the best novel in the world.

  3. Hava said:

    I had to read your blog twice, because I was sure that I had simply misunderstood what you said, and someone really and truly couldn’t have done something like that.

    Apparently, I was wrong.


  4. Colorado Writer said:

    OMG. I can’t even believe it. That’s worse than the guy who ALWAYS stands up and asks what a query letter is for or the one who wants to bash a book you’ve represented.

  5. Cathy in AK said:

    “I’m pretty sure someone with so little awareness of others’ impressions and feelings would not be someone who would write the best novel in the world.”

    No, but he’d sure THINK he had.

    Calling this guy a boob is an insult to boobs everywhere.

  6. Jana DeLeon said:

    Okay – that’s worse than the guy at the DARA conference who called romance “fluff” at Kristin’s workshop. (in a room full of romance writers – at a romance writer’s conference) ?????

  7. The Anti-Wife said:

    I was there. The guy was a jerk and totally unconcerned about the other 50 or so people in the room. During the small 2/2 sessions, a woman sat and sent e-mail and text messages during the entire hour.

    The next morning, the first thing they did was ask everyone to turn off their cell phones and several people applauded.

    It really makes you wonder how they survived pre cell phones.

  8. Anonymous said:

    I think your response was completely appropriate, Kristin. He is probably completely unaware that he was a problem, and well, that is his problem now.

    I can’t top this one, but I was at an agent and editor panel at another conference, and I believe it was an editor that gave an author there a professionalism smack-down.

    (Here is my disclaimer, this was years ago, and the memory might be fuzzy, but I will attempt to tell the story to reflect the incident as accurately as I can, and if not, I hope the description is entertaining.)

    The panel I was attending was a typical one, with typical questions from typical nervous writers and tired, but very patient editors and agents graciously giving us their time and attention.

    Ten minutes before the end of the session, a girl walks in the door. She was one of these twenty-something, (Okay, another disclaimer, I was 20 something at the time) I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I’ve got my style, and you don’t have a right to criticize me, girls. She had short black hair with a swath of red, enough studs in her face to call down lightning in a storm, a cut short plaid school-girl skirt with chains hanging out of it over striped black and white stockings and three inch platform army boots.

    Now, I’m all for getting a little of your Goth on, and I’m willing to bet she had some insight on the vampire market. But she walked in on a professional conference, and pushed her way into the center of the room, only to thrust her hand in the air and announce, “I’ve got a question.”

    One of the editors politely acknowledged her.

    She said in a clearly accusing tone, “How do you get someone to take you seriously?”

    Right about that time, a great big screaming “WHAT?!?” rolled through my mind and I had to bite a knuckle to keep from saying it.

    One of the editors calmly looked at this girl and said, “I always look for professionalism. If an author wants to make it, first she needs to treat every aspect of her writing like a professional.”

    I never forgot that advice.

    So I’m keeping my plaid mini and my knee high platform black leather unstoppable boots in the closet for my next conference.

    Which is too bad, really. They do make me feel unstoppable, just not very professional. LOL

    Chessie Welker

  9. Eileen said:

    This story just made my day. I like to imagine him with his index finger raised in the universal “one minute please” gesture.

  10. Anonymous said:

    Honestly, how could someone be so inconsiderate and downright STUPID?!? I’ve never heard a horror story worse than that…

  11. beverley said:

    LOL!!!! OMG!!! That is really priceless. Wouldn’t it have been a hoot if he was pitching to you later that day? Or maybe you were on some sort of Candid Camera show and we’ll see you on tv in the next several weeks.

  12. Liz Wolfe said:

    I remember the first time I saw a cell phone. Late 1989 on the train from NJ to NY. This guy carried his cell phone neatly tucked into a side pocket of a battery pack that was about 6″ x 8″ x 4″. Handy. He answered the phone and I thought “What could possibly be important enough to carry that with you all the time?”
    But even as cell phones have become smaller, so many of the users have become even more obtuse. I think that certain types are oblivious to the rest of the world. Their mantra is “me first, always”. And there’s no way they would be able to write the best novel in the world. Or anything even close to it.
    Kristin, I think they way you handled the situation was perfect! Instead of blasting him for his inappropriateness, you let him suffer the consequences of his own choices and actions.

  13. Gabi said:

    Great story. I was at a group session at a local all-genre conference with a high profile editor from Avon. She started by saying that Avon publishes 100K word romances and 65K word mysteries that could be series, and then she opened the session to questions. The first woman spoke up and said she had an 80K word romance, but that she could pad it if the editor wanted to see it. Then this same woman gave the editor three pages of contest wins, a synopsis, and a two page biography.
    I didn’t think it could get worse, but the next woman said she had a 100K word mystery. The editor politely asked if the main character could appear in a series, because that was what she was looking for, but the author informed her that, no, the main character was the murderer, so he wouldn’t be appearing in any other stories. And by the way did the editor want to see it?
    It couldn’t get worse. Wrong. The next woman said she had a 40K word novel, but she didn’t know what it was. Would the editor be willing to read it and tell her, and then publish it?
    Yes, I know this sounds like I am exaggerating, but I’m not. There were seven of us at the table. Six people made pitches that left my mouth open. I talked to the editor a few years later. I reminded her of that chat session from hell. She laughed. She told me that she has never done group sessions again.

  14. Jordyn said:

    Hold on, my cell’s ringing.

    That is so inconsiderate though, really. And WHAT would make a person think that is okay behavior for a professional environment?

  15. L.C.McCabe said:


    A few years ago I served on a jury and at one point our judge told of a similar horror story. A juror’s cell phone rang in the middle of the trial and she answered the phone and walked out of the courtroom while talking.

    I was amazed that something like that would happen in a courtroom.

    Then again, common sense seems to be rather uncommon these days.

    A few years ago I was delivering a speech at a conference and I prefaced my remarks by reminding the audience to set their pagers or cell phones to silent or vibrate. I then gave the notable exception for those on the organ transplant list who felt that day might be their lucky day. About halfway through my presentation, a woman’s cell phone inevitably went off. I turned to her and said, “Good luck, the surgical team is standing by,” and gave her the thumbs up.

    The audience laughed as her face turned crimson and she slunk out the back of the room to answer her phone.

    I was glad my punchline worked.

    Here is hoping that the story you shared never gets topped in any future conferences you attend.

    Thank you for sharing.

  16. r louis scott said:

    I’ve just returned from the Historical Novel Society Conference in Albany. While there wasn’t anyone answering ringing phones during the panel sessions, one woman somehow thought she was being discreet by sitting on the floor of a coat closet and yapping on her phone.

    While the speaker was speaking.

    The door was a mere three steps away.

    I don’t understand these people.

  17. Sten Düring said:

    I can beat that 😀

    Nothing to do with writing, but still.

    A salesman had whined himself to get a meeting with us and we set up a time.

    This stellar genius starts his performance by arriving half an hour late. Five minutes into the meeting he excuses himself, flips open his phone, makes a call and starts another sales pitch over the phone while we sit there in stunned silence.
    I shoved him the door after that.
    The next day he calls back and asks my boss to set up a meeting with someone who is less rude than I am.
    Thankfully I have never seen this person again, and no, he didn’t get that second meeting 🙂

  18. Ronni said:

    A conference, especially a pitch session, is sort of like a job interview, or a business meeting. Who would answer a cell phone during a job interview?

    Although, I know not to be surprised if people do such a thing.

  19. Sten Düring said:

    I don’t think that show existed before year 2000, but hey, I KNOW the IT-business attracted more than its fair share of morons 😉

    I guess this just goes to prove that it’s not only in literature where all ideas have already been tried by someone.

  20. Anonymous said:

    I actually have a story that CAN one-up that one. I work in the public health sector and went to a community health center for a performance review. I asked a question about cell phones in the building. They said they put the sign up after one woman came in for an appointment with the OB/GYN. You guessed it, her cell phone went off in the middle of the exam and she asked the doctor to stop while she answered – feet up and all!

  21. Ric said:

    What a great way to start the day! Very funny – horrible, but funny! And the other stories of cell phone idiots are wonderful, too.

  22. Misty said:

    Okay, it doesn’t involve cell phones, but I have a good “clueless writer” story…several years ago, I was attending a small mystery conference. Some of us were talking about the meetings we had set up with the agents on faculty for the next day. One woman announced that because of the habit agents had of stealing authors’ work (!) she had come up with the perfect way to avoid it and still have her meeting – she had sent in thirty random, nonconsecutive pages from her WIP for critique. That way, she said, the agent wouldn’t be able to steal her story, since she wouldn’t be able to figure it all out.

    I managed to keep from laughing until I was well away from her.

  23. Josephine Damian said:

    I was taking a college class in forensic anthropology when the professor answered her cell phone. Right in the middle of the lecture! How rude!

    I was about to give her an a– chewing for doing so when she told us what the call was about. She’d been assigned to work the Jessica Lunsford missing child case. They were calling to say they found the body.

    We all sat there in stunned silence.

    But somehow I doubt that conference guy’s call was as important as that! Imagine if he’d been giving a pitch and his cellie blew up? Bet he’d be stupid enough to answer.

    You did the right thing. But I doubt he learned his lesson.


  24. Deb said:

    About the ONLY reason I can think of for answering your cell at all, is if you have a minor child with an emergency. All other numbers that pop up should be ignored, and the phone kept on vibrate/silent.

    That’s my $0.04 (inflation)


  25. Jessica Keener said:

    As the moderator of this panel and witness to this appalling incident, I learned an essential lesson. The next day, when I moderated another panel at this conference, I began the session with a welcoming remark, then said: “First, I’d like to ask you all to take a moment to turn off your cell phones.” The room filled with buzzes and ring tones as half the participants in the room shut off their phones.

    As participants, we need to remember to do this when attending such events.

    Kristin you finessed this beautifully by ignoring the person and moving on. What a pro!

  26. Dave said:

    There was a recent story on the news where the family received a call for a 14 y/o who was on the transplant list. The kid was out with the grandmother and no one knew where.

    The police “pinged” the grandmother’s or the kid’s cell phone (I forget who had it) and used the GPS to locate them. They then went racing to the meeting where three policemen barged in asking for the kid. Most likely scared the daylights out of everyone but the kid got the transplant and everyone went away happy. TV News crews caught the radio traffic and wrote up the story.

    As ignorant as people are on cell phones, when the technology works, it works right.

  27. bran fan said:

    If I were in that room, I would have grabbed that jerk’s cell out of his hand and threw it across the room.

    What really steams me about this guy is that he and I both call ourselves writers. I don’t want to be tainted with his sins! He makes us all look like jerks and that’s unforgivable.

    I admire Kristin for having such a calm response, and one that is so obviously full of class. I would have screamed at him.

    …And please believe, we’re not all like that!

  28. Anonymous said:

    “Anonymous said…

    Could he have had Asperger’s?

    6:40 AM”

    I’m an adult writer with AS (Asperger’s Syndrome), and the parent of a child with AS. Just because someone demonstrates socially inappropriate/rude behavior, doesn’t mean he or she has Asperger’s Syndrome.

    There’s a difference between socially clueless and overtly rude. And most ‘aspies’ I know understand the rules about cell phones in public places.

  29. Vicki said:

    Yep, you win. In fact it leaves me somewhat speechless. I probably would have wanted to ask him to step outside will he conducted his all important “business”.

    Really, unless he was getting the deal of the century (and even then he should have excused his self and went outside) he was being totally rude!

    IMHO all cell phones should be at the very least on silence when in meetings of any kind.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to rant but this one is unbelievable.

  30. Ursula said:

    Okay, every time I think something is an urban myth in the writing community, I come to this blog and am shown proof that it does exist. Wow!

    Last post that did this was the one on authors writing back argue mail when you reject them, and in this case, it was the author’s mother. Double wow!

  31. Anonymous said:

    I was at a funeral, graveside, and the rabbi began to speak to a crowd grieving the shocking murder of a young Toronto woman–my college girlfriend. As we all wept and tried to console our friend’s mother, an older woman right up front–right in front of the open grave–answered her ringing phone and began to chat.

    Nothing shocks me anymore when it comes to appalling behavior.

    Tish Cohen

  32. pjd said:

    I don’t know that we should all be so critical of the guy in Kristin’s session. My guess is that he’s actually the administrative assistant of some middle manager who is thinking of writing a book. The manager sent him to the conference and was calling to see if the assistant had managed to secure an advance on the unwritten novel yet.

  33. Anonymous said:

    Okay, I guess I missed something in this story. Don’t you think you were a teensy bit harsh? It’s only a phone call. I never turn off my cell phone as I have little children and an ill parent in assisted living. I want and need to be available. That’s what cell phones are for. I’m quite surprised at the vitriol of some of the comments about this truly minor incident. I don’t see this as a reason to pubicly humiliate someone at a writers conference. Really. Give a guy a break.

  34. catherine said:

    pjd and anonymous: Person asks a question, doesn’t even bother to pretend that he’s listening to the response, then asks the speaker to delay her presentation–wasting both the presenter and audience’s time–while he attends to a phone call, but you two deem Agent Kristen out of line? Seriously?

  35. Saipan Writer said:

    Ah, a comment trail with rants about rude phone users! Kristen, you are a gem.

    Different people have different opinions about phones, that’s for sure.

    I believe that my personal phone lines (land and cell) are for my benefit. I unplug or turn off whenever I don’t want to be bothered. And I certainly would not want to be bothered if I were in a conference, trying to listen and learn. (And if it would bother me, it would certainlly bother otehrs, so another reason to turn off the phone.)

    But I have a friend who has repeatedly scolded me for not answering my phone when she called–how dare I be so rude as to be unavailable when she wanted to talk?! Her view is that phones are for the benefit of callers, not owners. If you have a phone, you basically have a duty to keep it on and to answer when it rings!

    To my way of thinking, that attitude is reasonable as to phones at businesses open to the public, so I can see where the idea comes from and how someone like my friend could develop such an idea. And it is frustrating to call someone and get no answer. But I’ll continue to turn off my phone. And cringe when others are answering theirs at inappropriate times and places.

  36. pjd said:

    catherine (since you called me out): What I wrote was a joke. I’ll work on it and tell it again when it’s funny, I guess.

    (For those of you who missed it, the joke was that the guy on the cell phone wasn’t a writer at all but some poor sap who was assigned to the conference by his boss who has a “great idea” for a novel and wants a big advance in order to write it. While he’s in the middle of asking his question, the boss calls him to see if he’s acquired the advance yet. Poor sap is under strict orders to answer the phone each and every time the boss calls, no matter what.)

    For the record, I keep my phone on “vibrate” all the time and don’t even look at it if I’m in a situation where it might be the tiniest bit intrusive.

  37. Heather said:

    Anonymous 8:28 –

    I understand your need to be available for your children, but that does not mean you hold up business meetings to talk to your phone.

    If it’s an emergency, you politely leave to answer the call… not stand up in the middle of the room and demand everyone else NOT involved in the emergency wait on you.

    To do so is the epitome of entitlement, and rudeness at its highest.

    I’m the mother of a small child, and only two people have my pre-paid cell phone’s number: My husband and my mother. If it rings, it is an emergency.

    However, it is a simple matter to place the phone on vibrate so that no one else is disturbed, because contrary to popular belief, courtesy does not fly out of the window when you have children, nor does the rest of the planet give a flying fig WHAT is wrong with your kids.


  38. Anonymous said:

    Well, Catherine, I didn’t say Agent Kristen was out of line, did I? I just sort of wondered aloud, so to speak, if the reaction wasn’t a teensy bit harsh. Actually I think it’s a funny story, and I would have laughed had I been in the room.

    And Heather, I do give a flying fig about what’s wrong with your kids, or anyone’s.

    I guess this will teach ME to ever express an opinion on this blog.

  39. Carrie said:

    I was there. Unbelievable. I actually spit out some water and laughed out loud. Rude, rude, rude!