The Effectiveness of Conference Critiques
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: May 07 2020
At a writers’ conference, there are typically two ways an author can (guaranteed) meet face-to-face with a literary agent. One is through a pitch session, the other through conference critiques.
A pitch session is usually a 3-10 minute meeting with an agent with the sole purpose of pitching your book. This means describing your book and giving the agent a chance to request or reject it.
A critique is when an agent is given a partial of your work–typically the query letter and up to 10 pages. These sessions also last about 10 minutes but are used to receive feedback on the work or query from the agent.
The Effectiveness of Critiques
I’d love it if some of my readers chimed in on their experiences with critiques. As for whether they are truly helpful, that would depend on the agent and the author.
I see pitch and critique sessions as a combination of all three. I will give a critique, even if it’s just on a pitch, I will respond to the pitch, even in a critique, and I will encourage conversation.
The most effective meetings depend on the author. Authors who come prepared with an open mind and list of questions leave with the most information. Authors only looking for a request and positive reinforcement typically leave frustrated.
Critiques can be immensely helpful, but not always what you expect. The agent might not have specific feedback on your book, but you might get a tremendous amount of information on them, the market, or their agency.
Thanks Jessica. I recently had an NESCBWI critique with agent Charlotte Wenger of Prospect Agency. It was on zoom for 15 minutes because our conference at Springfield MA was cancelled. I submitted a board book dummy, my first generated on PROCREATE. Charlotte liked my rhythm and rhyme but wanted more at the end so the ending wasn’t so abrupt. She also suggested using multicultural babies all the way through. I only had them at a birthday party in the beginning. She was gracious and friendly. Her comments were spot on and I came away encouraged and wanting to make the changes. Our session yesterday at the CBA children’s writing course was on agents – how they can help – how they have a great passion for books- and how to approach them with your best work. Keep up your postings. They are helpful! Thank you.
I have done many a pitch, which I’m not particularly good at, and some critique sessions. the results have been mixed. Oddly, I seem to have better luck with editors. The best system I have been part of was the one they used at the new defunct Crested Butte conference.
Prior to the conference, you submitted your material. All the agents and editors had access to it and those who were interested asked to talk to you and set appointments. I liked this because you didn’t waste your time talking to a person who had zero interest in what you were working on. At another conference I was assigned an agent who didn’t represent fiction even though I only write fiction.
I do have to admit I only utilized this method once as I wasn’t aware of it the first time I attended this conference, but the second time I had good results with an editor who did offer some suggestions.
Crested Butte was a smaller conference. This method probably was a bit more initial work for the agents and editors but the tradeoff was a promise by the attendees NOT to approach them at other points in the conference. It made for a more relaxed conference for attendees, as well as the agents and editors I hope, as you didn’t have to constantly be on the lookout for people ready to accost you in the rest room, etc.
I have only had one conference critique and after that experience wouldn’t do it again. It cost quite a bit of money and I chose the agent who represented my genre as requested. The agents didn’t supply the genres – we were advised to check their websites.
My conversation with the agent was incredibly frustrating. She told me she didn’t represent the genre anymore, just hadn’t updated her website in a long time, that I should not bother writing cozies and should try something else because cozies weren’t selling and all she made comment on with regards to my writing was a few commas. Not the purpose of the critique. During the discussion I tried to find out what she thought of my opening, plot etc but nada.
We’d had to submit our pages months in advance. I wish she’d handed mine back alerting the organisers to the fact she no longer repped the genre and wasn’t able to assist. *sigh*
But that was just one instance. I am sure there are many who have had amazing experiences from a conference critique.
I remember my first conference fondly. I have never been to one before. I only came to see what agents were like. But, I sent my pages for critique anyway. The things they said to me were shocking. I had three full requests that day. Too bad I didn’t have the book. I only had 32 pages and thousands of pages of partial chapters and notes. So being ignorant I hurried and finished the book and sent it off. I didn’t even say it was a first draft. The only agent that actually read it said “she loved the premise and the feel of the characters.( I didn’t even know what a premise was. ) However, she didn’t get deeply enough in it to represent it. ” So, I worked my ….off and really finished, I don’t know that I would have ever finished if hadn’t been for their encouragement. When I get discouraged I go back to those days and remember what the agents said. That conference was invaluable to me. So, agents remember even one word can change a life.