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The Real Cost of Conferences for Agents

My final post during Conference Week is an explanation of what conferences are for agents. Not something that is often discussed in the writing community.

Most conference organizers tell themselves their conference is a coup for agents. I can’t tell you how often I’m told I’m going to find “great” talent at the conference. And yes, I have found talent at conferences. Probably five authors in 20 years of conference attendance. Okay, let’s be more optimistic. Ten authors in 20 years, roughly 100 conferences.

Why I Attend Conferences

I don’t attend conferences with the intent to find a new client. Certainly, I hope that could be the case, but it’s often not. I attend conferences to give back to the writing community and because I like authors.

What I love most about attending conferences is the energy and meeting new people. I enjoy talking about what I do and teaching the business of publishing. I love conferences because I love my job and people and writers.

The True Cost of Conferences

Conferences for agents are hard-working weekends. Often we are expected to have our game faces on for 8 am breakfasts and keep them on through 8 pm dinners. On the weekends, away from our families.

When I attend a conference I am giving up a full weekend and anywhere from one to two days in the office. And most agents and editors don’t get comp days for this time away. In other words, we are all showing up in the office on Monday, often a little bedraggled, but always inspired and motivated.

Most agencies, BookEnds agents included, don’t accept conference invitations unless expenses are paid, but those expenses usually don’t extend beyond a hotel room, a plane ticket and some meals (not all). That means that for the work I’m providing, I am still paying. 

I’m not complaining. I’ve already stated all the reasons I attend conferences. I’m just showing both sides. Facts are facts and so are added costs.

Plane tickets and hotel rooms are expensive. Ubers to the airport, meals, and all of those weird extra expenses that arise during travel are too. It adds up. I can honestly say every conference attendance costs me in the range of $200-$500.

If I am paid any “bonus” money for taking pitches (for example) it goes to pay for my extra expenses.

So to go back to the question that started the week. While I do understand the concern about the ethics of extra fees. I also think there’s an argument for an agent getting paid for the consultation, advice, and services provided. This is no different from paying a professional speaker to come into your organization. You would not expect Tony Robbins or Barbara Corcoran to come into your group and speak for free. 

Category: Blog

4 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing, I always wondered about the agent side, and never thought for a second that the fees were anything but fair. I think the writer perspective is actually the same, do we expect we’ll get our agent (we hope), but we really go to network with people like us and learn awesome stuff from you guys! Bonus: we get to meet people who may one day be our agent or who will give us the advice we need to get an agent!!! Woohoo!❤️

    Thanks for always sharing honestly. I don’t think you know how many of us it helps and inspires!

  2. Those who sponsor the workshops are charging large fees for attendance. If they can promise attendees that agents will be there to listen to their pitches (for an additional fee), their attendance rates go up. I hate to sound callous, but it seems they are using agents as “bait,” yet they are not willing to cover an agent’s expenses 100%, let alone actually compensate them for the enhancement they bring to their money-making endeavor. Your time is too valuable to give away, especially when your attendance at 100 conferences over 20 years has not yielded a good return on your investment of time and energy. I admire your commitment and reasons for attending these conferences, but you shouldn’t feel bad about forgoing future opportunities to find “great” talent there. Without leaving the comfort of your home or office, you will more likely find that great talent in your inbox under “QUERY:”

  3. I’m shocked conference organisers would say that to agents! Unless they’ve read the work of all the unpub’d writers attending they wouldn’t know – and if there was a honey pot to be found at conference they’d be turning agents away, not having to seek them out.

  4. I can’t say enough good things about agents. All of them are top notch. Some of the best conversations I’ve had took place away from the conference. Elevators, parking lots and so on. They always found the time.

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