Pub Rants

Category: conferences

Pitch Alternative Recap

STATUS: Busy Monday as I connect with my foreign rights person to debrief Bologna.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONESTAR by Norah Jones

Thank you all for the many varied responses to my blogs about Pitch Alternatives. I’m actually going to share these blog links with various conference organizers so this was not for naught.

So I can do so, I want to recap some of the options that I think will work most effectively.

The problem, for me anyway, in allowing non-ready writers to pitch unfinished projects is the expectation that is often in place before the pitch. I know that these writers actually still expect an agent to request the material—even if the work isn’t complete.

And I’m very serious about this. I’ve gotten shocked responses from pitchers when I’ve started the session with “Is your manuscript complete” and then when given a “no” reply, they were stunned that they couldn’t just send it a year later when it was ready.

Folks, I couldn’t make this stuff up so what I’m saying is that if we allow folks to just pitch at will, it puts too much expectation on the agent and then we feel like the bad guy by saying, no, you can’t send the partial you have; or, no, you can’t send it a year later when it’s finally finished.

This is what I’m trying to avoid. So here are my ideas. This is working off the assumption that the pitch appointments will be screened and only writers with finished projects will be allowed to “formally” pitch.

For all unfinished projects, here are some viable alternatives. These would all include a fee, above and beyond the conference fee, for the participant to attend. That way the conference is not sacrificing revenue for these alternate ideas.

1. A morning practice pitch session that is advertised as such. In other words, any writer with an unfinished project can pitch an agent or editor but they go in with the expectation that the agent/editor will not be asking for sample pages. This is solely for fun and practice. I suggest that the conference organizers ask the attending agents/editors if they are open to being faculty for this kind of session. I wouldn’t mind doing it and then the pressure is off me completely because the expectation is clear upfront to both parties participating.

2. A social event with an agent (or editor but I’m not going to retype that each time), limited to 6 participants and held at an off-site location (to avoid interruptions), that’s a roundtable discussion that allows writers to simply have sit-down Q&A with agent. This isn’t a practice pitch session per se but it might end up there if the agent directs it that way. Event to be held in a bar or restaurant so food and drinks are available. Expectation is that participants pay to attend and then also have to pay for their own food and everyone there pitches in to pay for the agent. (Trust me, we won’t eat or drink so much to make this cost prohibitive. Or we shouldn’t anyway!)

3. Coffee Klatch: Morning session in a classroom where participants pay to attend and the fee also includes coffee, tea, and pastries. Hey, I think events don’t work as well if food isn’t there. The conference can set the price appropriately for how much it would cost for the food/beverage service. Or, cheaper yet, the session moderator brings the bagels or donuts (but the session fee still pays for the bringing in of yummies). A similar idea could be done with a special lunch in smaller rooms with smaller tables that are more private (so you don’t get the overwhelming loudness). Participants can pay to have a special lunch with an agent. Limit the number to 5 or 6. Maybe have the event off-site at various restaurants so the Conference does not have to pay to reserve these rooms. Or, utilize the same rooms already reserved and have food brought in. That way the Conference can control cost and make sure the fee covers the expense.

4. Small roundtable query workshop and or opening pages—limited to 6 people. I’m not opposed to this but I just wanted to point out that it’s a lot of work on the agent’s part to prepare for this. At Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, they do this on the Friday before the conference begins, I spend a good two hours easy on reading and commenting on the submissions so I’m prepared. I know you don’t realize it, but it’s asking a lot from agents. I have so very little free time as I easily work 10 or 13 hour days on average just to keep up so I have to get this preparation done in my spare time and to be honest, when I have spare time, I really want to do something fun like hang with Chutney and my hubby. I often don’t feel like taking 2 hours to read opening pages. Just being honest here. I do it but it’s a commitment.

The Pitch Alternative?


What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHE WORKS HARD FOR THE MONEY by Donna Summer

What I’m looking for is a pitch alternative.

Hum… the problem is this. Most conferences charge a fee for a participant to do a pitch session with an agent or editor above and beyond the fee to attend the conference. This is often how conferences generate revenue to run the programs.

So right now, most conferences allow anyone who wants to sign up for pitch appointment to do so. There really is no monitoring of whether the writers have a finish project or even if their project fits with the agent they are pitching.

Most conferences assume that those interested in pitch appts. are doing their homework to sign up with the right person. We’d all like to think that writers would be in tune enough do that.

Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Examining the conferences I’ve done just in the last year, which was actually a lot because I freakishly agreed to something like 9 conferences last year, I can tell you this. On average, more than 60% of the conference attendees who pitched me were not ready to pitch as they didn’t even have a complete manuscript.

At one conference I did last year, I’d say that the percentage rate was higher. More than 80% of the people I had pitch appointments with didn’t have an even close to finished manuscript for me to look at.

And yet, the agent/editor appts. are the biggest money generators for the conference. I get the necessity of that.

I’m just trying to find some other way to accommodate writers without finished projects to have time with an agent/editor.

Jessica suggested more social events planned for the participants and the faculty. I’m certainly not opposed to that but those events usually are not something that will generate the much needed revenue the conference organizers need.

Not only that but at social functions, agents and editors often like to hang together (because we like catching up with each other as well) and very few attendees feel confident enough to break that “inner circle” grouping. Hey, I’ve been guilty of that and I’m willing to ‘fess up to it. It just happens because we have so much to talk about. The participant interaction is probably not as high as it should be at these mixers.
Now the Pikes Peak conference does an interesting thing with their agent/editor hosted table at the lunch hour (which is free) but the tables are too big and the room is often too noisy to really work well except for the few attendees lucky enough to sit closest to the agent or editor.

So I’m trying to find some kind of happy medium that could work, and I’m open to suggestions.

So bring it on. How could we solve this problem?

1 Hour With An Agent

STATUS: The blizzard indeed hit. Although I live within walking distance of my office, Chutney took one look at the 30 mile an hour winds and blowing snow and lifted her nose in disdain. I could do what I wanted but SHE was not going out there. We are working from home today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONG HOT SUMMER by Style Council

Well, a long hot summer is what I’m dreaming of right now. All I can see is a wall of white snowflakes out my window.

Just recently I was having a discussion with a conference organizer about pitch appointments. As an agent, I think it’s pretty much a waste of time to have a writer pitch a fiction project that is either only in idea-form or only partially written.

After all, we attend conferences not only to connect with writers but to find clients. Shocking I know! If a novel isn’t written, there’s nothing I can do with it.

From her perspective, she thought the value of pitching for their attendees (even those with unfinished novels) was to allow the writer to have a networking opportunity with an agent.

So I started to think about that. For me, a pitch appointment is not a successful networking moment. For the most part, if a project is not ready, that’s all I really remember. Not the writer or the story.

But I do see the value in networking. After all, I just took on a new client a couple of weeks ago who I met and remembered from a conference I attended 4 or 5 years ago.

I’m serious. That’s exactly what happened. I actually don’t remember if she had pitched me at the conference. She might have. The pitch I have no recollection of. What I do remember is the variety of social moments orchestrated by the conference that gave her an opportunity to mingle with me. We had some fun chats which weren’t necessarily related to her project. She reminded me of that when she queried me all these years later.

Then she submitted the most wonderful novel I’ve read in a while….

As an agent though, I don’t take on clients because they’ve networked with me; I take on clients whose writing I love. If they also happened to have networked with me, so much the better I guess!

But I understand where this conference organizer is coming from. Conferences often need the revenue generated by pitch appointments to keep the conference going.

So I thought of an alternative and I wonder what you folks think about it. I suggested that instead of one-on-one pitch appts (which I think should only be reserved for finished manuscripts), what about a networking hour with an agent for writers who have works in progress but aren’t ready for pitch time? Limit the size to let’s say 6 people so that it’s small, intimate, and not intimidating.

I even suggested that the hour be held somewhere social—like at the bar or at the restaurant so all participants could have a beverage or snacks while the talk unfolds. Then it feels like fun rather than work. For the agent and the participants! Conferences could charge for the session if revenue is a necessary evil.

6 people, 1 agent or editor, and 1 hour to ask about your project, its viability, the process, publishing, what have you.

I’d love it I think. The expectation is not that I’m going to request sample pages because the project isn’t ready. Then I don’t feel bad about gently telling them in a pitch appt. they’ve paid for that they can’t pitch a project that isn’t complete. I’m off the hook but the writers still get quality networking time to get questions answered.

Interesting or no?

And if you had 1 hour with an agent, what would you ask?

A Moment Of Silence

STATUS: Just a little sad.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I turned off the music.

I have to say that I had a whole blog entry planned for today. Right before I was planning to do my entry, I was reading PW’s Children’s Bookshelf—which is a weekly electronic email mailing.

I read this news article on two librarians, Kathy Krasniewicz and Kelly McClelland, and I was so horrified by the news that they were killed on the way to Denver International Airport right after ALA Midwinter had wrapped up on Wednesday morning that I just couldn’t think or write about anything else.

I just want to do a moment of silence for two ladies, two strong advocates of reading, who dedicated their lives to children and books.

Teens Speak

STATUS: Tired but happy from the long working weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? IN YOUR EYES by Peter Gabriel

ALA wraps up today—for me anyway. I actually think Librarians are meeting for another day or two to finish up discussions.

Hands down the best session I attended was on Sunday afternoon when the Best Books for Young Adults met with area teens to discuss the titles that have been nominated.

The session was packed as editors, agents, librarians all sat in to hear about which books caught the teens’ attention on the nomination list. Unfortunately, the nomination list was 9 pages long and the teens only got a chance to air their views on the first four pages. I, for one, would like to vote on making the session significantly longer so we could hear what the teens had to say on all the possible titles but that wasn’t an option yesterday. The last five pages of nominated titles were done in 25 minutes and teens were only allowed to speak once about a title they liked from those 5 pages. I was pretty thrilled to hear two teens pick Brooke Taylor’s UNDONE as their choice from those undiscussed pages.

As for the teen commentary, it was pretty revealing.

Yes there were some teens who were so excited about a book, it was hard for them to articulate anything beyond “I really, really loved this” but there were many teens who were sharp, analytical, articulate in their views about why they did or didn’t like something.

Heck, I wanted to hire some of them to be my teen review committee!

Of course there were the usual gushes for Stephenie Meyer, Melissa Marr, and Suzanne Collins’s THE HUNGER GAMES and Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER but there were also some surprises.

Like the teen boy who prefaced his comment that he wasn’t one for poetry but did enjoy THE APPRENTICE’S MASTERPICE: A STORY OF MEDIEVAL SPAIN. Told in verse no less! I think some of us swooned and wondered where this kid was when we were in high school!

Boys liked Eoin Colfer’s AIRMAN and James Kennedy’s THE ORDER OF ODD-FISH.

Girls loved AUDREY, WAIT!

Other favorites were GRACELING and NATION. Also, THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR DOGS had very passionate responses and made me want to read the book.

There were mixed teen reviews on LUXE and lots of teens were drawn to a novel called GONE (as in the title grabbed their interest and they picked it up) but ultimately none of them gave the title a favorable review.

Also interesting was the fact that the books that the teens loved didn’t always line up with the titles the committee members from Best Books For Young Adults were voting for to make the final list.

And I’m sure you’ve heard this already but the Printz Award for best YA for 2008 went to JELLICOE ROAD by Melina Marchetta.

A title I’d never heard of I have to admit.

Newbery Medal went to Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

Morning Breakfast With Hyperion

STATUS: Finishing a few things here at the office before I head over to the convention center for the start of the ALA Midwinter conference.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NIGHTS IN WHITE SATIN by The Moody Blues

Was up and at ‘em early this morning for a breakfast with Stephanie Lurie Owens, who is the new Editorial Director over there at Disney-Hyperion. Brave woman had us meet at 7:30 a.m. It’s a rare editor who is a morning person I have to add. I don’t think I’ve ever had an editor breakfast before 9 a.m.—that is until this morning!

Oddly enough, we didn’t talk about books too much. Our main discussion was about digital formats and technology actually. I’m happy to say the Stephanie is pretty hip and on-top of what is currently unfolding in the tech world despite the fact that the company of Disney-Hyperion has been a little slow (in my mind) to embrace electronic books. Disney legal tends to slow things down, but it’s nice to know that the availability of the D-H titles in the ebook format is just around the corner. [So you Gallagher Girl and Percy Jackson fans shouldn’t have to wait too much longer.]

We also talked about the prevalence now of Sony eReaders for editors. Finally! Publishing houses got the memo that they could save hundreds of thousands in paper and printing cost by equipping their editors with this little gadget.

Praise the lord and pass the peanut butter! (Wait, maybe not the pb with all the recent salmonella scare).

But don’t worry, we also talked about what Hyperion might be looking for as of late.
She’d love to see, gasp, more middle grade series for girls. Hey, it’s been a long time since I’ve heard that from an editor. A new MG Meg Cabot, she says, bring it on.

For Hyperion, they have such a strong MG list for boys (with Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl etc.), they really would like to take on something new in MG girl stuff and make it big. Having watched them build Ally Carter, I have to say they can do it well.

Have a great weekend!

Just Like New York But Denver

STATUS: All my appointments are set for the weekend. It’s going to be busy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE by The Cure

ALA officially began for me tonight as I had my first editor dinner with Susan Chang of Tor. I must say I love it when conferences are held in my home town. It’s like a trip to New York without the travel!

I’m very glad we met up though because most of you know that Macmillan has gone through a large restructuring over the last few months. The biggest change is in how the children’s divisions will operate. Before, each imprint was a separate entity with its own publisher, sales force, marketing dept. etc. Now all the children’s divisions are gathered under one umbrella and will be sharing things like the sales force, marketing and promotion people, reporting to one publisher head rather than six. Although, I’ve been told, each imprint will keep its own publishing vision and imprint identity even though they are now all one big family called Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group.

All except Tor, which was news to me. Tor is still considered a completely separate entity with Susan and her children’s imprint reporting directly to Tom Doherty.

To quote Frontier Airlines, Tor is still a whole other animal! Interesting. In general they have always been known to be less corporate (which can fabulous in some respects—such as creative vision and the embracing of new talent—and frustrating in other ways—such as long response times on submissions). But they’ve always been known to be independent, slightly quirky, and with smart editors.

So far, that hasn’t changed. Go Tor.

Susan and I also got into an interesting discussion about SF and young adult. Both of us agreed that SF in the young adult world works best when the novels aren’t labeled SF.

Seriously. One look at the Uglies series and The Hunger Games rather proves that out. Those books are basically SF but never called so. I can name a host of other examples as well.

We also talked briefly about the popularity of fantasy in the children’s realm and why they didn’t seem to translate to fantasy readers in the adult world. We didn’t play with any theories but it’s an interesting conundrum. What happens to those avid fantasy readers as they age?

There’s probably an essay waiting to be written there if it hasn’t been tackled already.

ALA Midwinter

STATUS: It has been just overwhelmingly beautiful in Denver the last two days. 70 degrees +. Can you blame me for skipping out early just to walk in the sunshine? Have laptop, can work from home when the sun goes down.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NICK OF TIME by Bonnie Raitt

As I mentioned yesterday, ALA Midwinter is happening in Denver this weekend. But what is ALA you might be asking. It stands for the American Library Association and this weekend is their midwinter conference. They also have an annual conference that happens in the summertime.

Midwinter is what the industry calls a “working” conference. Now all big conferences are work but what is meant by the term is that this conference is about the business of running ALA. There are many division and committee meetings.

Most important are the discussions that will determine the awards for the Printz, Newbery, and the Caldecott. These are not open to the public.

But many of the discussions are. For example, the Notable Children’s Books Committee and the BBYA, which stands for Best Books For Young Adults, are both discussions that anyone can attend.

In other words, I can sit in on librarian chats that will spotlight the books they are excited about and what they’ll be recommending to their young readers.

Heck yes.

And I’m definitely going to be at the BBYA presentation where members will be talking about one of my books that has been nominated: UNDONE by Brooke Taylor

Now the ALA midwinter conference does encompass the adult and children’s world but for whatever reason, the main emphasis tends to be on the children’s books. More to come as the conference unfolds.

What Established Authors Have To Say

STATUS: As much as I enjoyed Worldcon (the SFWA and TOR party were quite fun on Friday), I must say I’m just relieved to be sitting here alone in my office just working away.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FOR ONCE IN MY LIFE by Michael Bublé

On Saturday, I attended a panel entitled “Writing 101: Authors Take Questions from the Audience.”

Now this may be an odd panel for an agent to attend (being that I’m not an author) but I do think it’s valuable to hear what established authors have to say to aspiring writers. At the very least, it’s going to be a healthy reminder to me of what struggling writers face out there in the trenches.

Besides, I was just interested in hearing what war stories Harry Turtledove, Kate Elliott (I’m a big fan) and Kay Kenyon had to share.

It was a good panel and I’m glad to have attended. I think the best pearls of wisdom that I gleamed from their talk are these two:

1. All writers have felt like they’ve been kicked to the curb at some point in their career (be it trying to land an agent, accessing an editor at a publishing house, or sifting through the myriad of rejections). You are not alone and the best you can do is to keep writing because that’s what writers do. All established authors have at least one manuscript that will never see the light of day. Many have several.

2. Wherever you are now in your writing is not where you will always be. These established authors said that they couldn’t reread their first published novels because ack, they are so much better now; they can hardly believe that such dreck actually was published (my take: even established authors are hard on themselves!). You will learn and grow as a writer and your rejections today might simply be a memory tomorrow.

Good advice I think.

You Don’t Have To Be A Fashionista But…

STATUS: Just about to head out of the office and to the convention center for an afternoon at Worldcon

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LITTLE LIES by Fleetwood Mac

Last night I had a dinner for the NLA clients who are in town for Worldcon this week. This topic came up and I have to say that we were all in agreement. Sometimes conference attendees need to rethink their clothing choices when the desire is to meet industry professionals.

Now I’m no fashionista (as I prefer Tevas over high heels any day) but I do think there is a difference between attending a conference as a fan and attending a conference as an aspiring author looking to connect with agents, editors, or what have you.

If you’re a fan, hey, wear what you want and be comfortable. If you are there as an author looking to network, maybe the old t-shirt and shorts isn’t the best clothing decision.

And I don’t mean a person has to don a business suit. Heck, even I only wear business casual at any given conference (and I never wear nylons—she says while shuddering with horror). So I wouldn’t expect that of anyone. No tie is required here either. Still, I have to say it, if you’re an author looking for a prospective agent, appearance does count.

So don’t go with the t-shirt. Step up to a collared shirt or a nice blouse. Instead of shorts, choose pants (even a nice, clean pair of jeans is okay with me). Wear the skirt instead of shorts.

And for goodness sake, don’t wear sweatpants. (I haven’t seen it here at Worldcon but I have seen it at other conferences. I even had an author show up in them for her pitch appointment with me.) I want to be assured that any author I took on knows how to dress accordingly and that can start at the conference or pitch meeting.

And last but not least, unless you are at an evening party (where this would be appropriate), a costume isn’t what you really want to be wearing when meeting with an editor or agent.