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Conference Tips Every Literary Agent Wants You to Know

I have attended a lot of writers conferences of all sizes and focuses and after 20+ years of doing this, I had decided it was time to retire from the conference circuit. And then I attended the Alaska Writers Conference and they did everything right and I fell in love with conferences again.

  1. Alaska Writers emphasized learning and connecting. In fact, I didn’t have any pitches! I did have 15 critiques for the conference, but those gave me time to sit with authors and hopefully send them home with real knowledge and information and not just a business card.
  2. Agents and editors had time to explore. Conference coordinators took time out of their own schedules to show us a state they are clearly very proud of us. Collectively we visited glaciers, saw bears, watched beluga whales and were awestruck by this stunning place. Let’s face it when we travel to conferences part of the appeal is seeing a place we’ve never seen before. Alaska Writers know that.
  3. This group was warm, welcoming and friendly. So, so friendly! Never once was I left standing in a corner feeling isolated from the cliques surrounding me (yes, this happens all the time). This group couldn’t wait to chat and share stories and tell me about a world I’ve never imagined. Thank you to all of those who allowed me to pepper them with questions about what its like to live in the Alaska wilderness where your closest neighbor is a two-mile walk.
  4. We left the hotel. You have no idea how many cities I’ve been to where I’ve never left the hotel. Not in Alaska. We had a fantastic event at a really cool Indie Bookstore, we ate fresh salmon at restaurants, and visited a cider distillery (yum!!). All while talking business. And with each new venue, I had new energy to talk to new people. So much better than hotel air.
  5. Downtime. We might have worked 8-hour days, but there was a lot of time to run to the bathroom, wash a face, or just sit and talk. No one expected to fill our days from 9-9. That meant that each workshop I presented and each one-on-one I had came with energy and a smile and not exhaustion.

Agents and editors are the forgotten when it comes to writers conferences and I get it, we aren’t your paying attendees. In fact, we cost you money, but by forgetting the agents and editors you forget to support the very people your attendees are often coming to see. I was tired when I left Alaska, but I wasn’t burnt out. In fact, I was inspired and excited to get back to the office and find a way to work with these amazing people who had done so much to make my working trip a whole lot of fun.

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11 comments

  1. I need to head to Alaska or better yet…….we need conferences to study and copy Alaska’s system.

    I pitched a few years back and all I could think of was the movie ‘The 40 Year old Virgin’. There was a part in the movie where they were speed dating. I kept thinking how much of a joke this is.

    A conference should be all about connecting. Us writers connect with each other but when it comes to agents we don’t. We do not connect with you. You are isolated.

    Somehow this has to change. At least Alaska is doing something for you, the agent. That’s how it should be.

    1. Hey Bryan–I think you connect with BookEnds pretty well. I don’t think pitching is the best way to connect with agents. When you’re at a conference, cocktail parties, dinners, and those sort of events really are the things that make for the best connections. IMHO

  2. It sounds like a wonderful conference. I was visiting with a friend who approached one agent at a conference, but she said the agent looked so wrung out she didn’t even have the heart to pitch, so they just visited.

    Kudos to Alaska for getting it right.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This was so unexpected and enlightening, as both a conference attendee and conference organizer. I didn’t think about how excursions could be relaxing instead of being just one more thing on the agenda. I’m wondering how many attended the Alaska conference and how you think the number of attendees plays into this.

  4. It’s always wonderful when you are reinvigorated about something. That’s why I love conferences, because they “top up the well” of my enthusiasm for my writing. Sounds like Alaska did it right.

  5. Jessica,
    Thank you so much for coming up to our conference in Alaska! I loved our roundtable critiques with you, I learned so much! Glad you enjoyed it. We love Alaska, that’s why we live here <3

  6. I’m so pleased that the conference was inspiring for you. I know the conference organizers were encouraged by your gracious post. For me, one of the best parts of the conference was getting to meet my agent!

  7. Thanks for sharing. This is an eye-opener for me. I will be more attentive to the needs of speakers at conferences. It is a tough full day and I can imagine how exhausting you must feel at the end of the day, but didn’t realize some might want to get out of that hotel air.

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