Earlier this month I attended the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Fort Collins, Colorado (and followed it up with some much-needed vacation). The conference immediately followed my post on Agentfail, so I was feeling a little bruised, battered and unsure if I had done the right thing. Obviously this post sticks with me since I can’t seem to let it go.
One of the things that struck me about this conference was how much agents really, truly love our jobs. The first night there, conference director Kerrie Flanagan took agents Jeffrey McGraw, Jon Sternfeld, and me out to dinner. I felt a little bad for Kerrie because immediately upon getting three agents together all we did was talk shop. We shared stories of how we handle submissions we love, how we handle those we’re on the fence over, and what we do when we think a submission needs too much work to offer representation on, but we love it anyway. We shared client horror stories and experiences on how to deal with difficult clients as well as discussed what makes a great client. We talked about publishing news and gossip, and we offered advice to each other. Good grief, we just talked and talked and talked shop. Dinner lasted an hour, but since we weren’t even close to done, we moved to an amazing chocolate café for dessert. Poor Kerrie.
On Friday we had pitch appointments and I have to say, this was one of the best-prepared groups I had ever met with. Every single author I met with came in prepared to give a pitch and talk about themselves. More important, though, every author had a list of questions prepared in case the pitch ended early and there was time to just chat. Kudos to Kerrie, who revealed later that she had offered a three-hour pitch workshop. It really showed, she needs to take that workshop on the road. I heard some great pitches and was, hopefully, able to give some constructive advice. One author, at the suggestion of another agent at the conference, asked my advice on how to handle a difficult situation with her agent, while others wanted to know my thoughts on what genre they should be targeting or looking into (not based on trends, but based on the description of the story). I found that, throughout the conference, the writers were warm, engaging and intelligent. The questions they asked were great and the conversations were always lively.
Friday night after dinner, and I really have to shake my head, Jon Sternfeld and I dragged a group of writers into the bar where, yes, we could just talk and talk and talk some more about publishing. It’s a little embarrassing really and makes me wonder, do we just love to hear ourselves talk? I swear, if I get a captive audience (hello, blog readers) I can really talk forever about publishing. I love sharing my knowledge and experiences and I think most other agents do too. The truth is we want to see publishing success whether we’re part of the journey or not, and the more we can do to help authors along the way the happier we are. I remember sitting there and thinking how much fun Jon and I were having. We had never met before, but our common love of publishing created an instant connection. We were in our element. It was great!
I was asked during the cocktail party why I do conferences; the author wanted to know if it was for the pay. LOL. Newsflash, except in very, very, very rare instances, agents do not get paid to attend writer’s conferences. Typically hotel, conference fees, and airfare are covered, but we still need to somehow get to and from the airport, pay for meals that aren’t included and cover any other incidentals we might need (Internet access at the hotel, for example). I don’t do conferences expecting to sign new clients and I certainly don’t do them for money. I’m not going to pretend I’m a saint and attendance at conferences is completely altruistic. Sure, I never know who I will meet or what that will lead to, but primarily I speak at conferences because I love being surrounded by others who have a passion for books, who love to write and who really, truly want to learn more about publishing.