Agent Monday: How to do a Writer’s Conference Right

MP900227683Happy Monday, all!  February has almost bit the dust (kudos to the wise one who made it our shortest month). The birds are reemerging, everyone is itching to go to the store and buy pastel colored clothing for some reason, and this can only mean ONE thing: It’s Writer’s Conference Season!!!

Yup, something about springtime rolling around makes writers want to clutch paper cups of tepid coffee and sticky danishes wrapped in napkins and scurry for seating at an assortment of workshops and panels.  The appeal is clear: you get to see that, damn, you really aren’t the only nut who has been squirreled away for months on end lost in your head making up evil plots for a novel. And you also get to see that, hot damn!, there are, in fact, editors and agents out there who want to see what you’ve created.

It’s inspiring and seeing all the excitement can really get your creative sap flowing. If you do it right, you will emerge from your conference more focused, full of inspiration, and with a notebook full of tips and ideas. That’s all great!

But if you do it wrong, you’ll emerge feeling disappointed or down on yourself. Blah. Not cool.

I’ve been to a ton of writer’s conferences over the years as both a new writer, an established author, a presenter, and as an agent taking pitches. I well remember being unsure and nervous at my first few conferences, plus I’ve seen my share of stuff.  So in today’s Agent Monday post, I thought I’d give you two things to keep in mind as you visit your first (or fortieth) writer’s conference.

KEEP THOSE EXPECTATIONS REALISTIC!

THE BAD: You come sure your dream agent is at that conference. Your purpose is clear. You are going to bee-line it for that agent, you are going to wow that agent, and by the end of the conference, that agent will be in the bag. THAT is why you are going to this conference.

Yikes! First of all, the term “dream agent” is a little messed up, don’t you think? I hear that bandied about a ton by writers, but really? An agent is a business partner, not the love of your life ;)  And a dream agent?  Hm. The only legitimate use of that term is when you have been working with your agent for a length of time and they actually meet and exceed your expectations.

But anyway, you see where I’m going with this. If you are setting an impossible goal for yourself, chances are you will be disappointed. I have seen authors come into conferences, hell-bent on success. They can be a little scary. Especially when things don’t go exactly as planned (and, really, what does?).

THE GOOD: Expect to hear agents and editors speak, and to take a ton of notes and to get closer to your goal of publication.

That’s a realistic goal, right? The more you learn, the more professional you’ll be (making both you and your manuscript more attractive to folks who are looking to work with you).  You’ll gain insight into what really interests a particular agent or editor – things that will truly help you target submissions and flavor your queries.

So try to sign up for a pitch session with an agent you are interested in, but understand that it might not work out. Still, know that what you may learn about that agent can help you to sharpen your query to that person after the conference. Did she say something in her talk that resonated with you? Then mention that in the query. I respect when writers do their homework and aren’t just sending me any old manuscript just because they found my email address.

DON’T BE ALL ME ME ME!

THE BAD: You go to the conference and tell people stuff about you, your book, your writing…  At panel talks, you raise your hand over and over and over again, not really to ask questions, but to mainly stand up and have the floor and interject you, your book, your writing.  At the end of the conference, you come home feeling a bit smug. Now everyone there knows all about you and your book!

But guess what? If you come out of a conference with no notes, with no new acquaintances, with no new knowledge, then you’ve done it all wrong.

THE GOOD: You attend the conference eager to learn. You take time to meet fellow writers and ask them what they write and about where they are in the journey, and you learn a ton from them! You share helpful stuff with them.  At panels and workshops you listen, take notes, and, yes, raise your hand if you have a legitimate question.  You go home knowing more, with new connections.

And guess what? Plenty of people asked you about your writing without you needing to pull out a bullhorn.

If you keep these two things in mind, hopefully your conference experiences will be ALL GOOD!

My upcoming conference appearances can be found here.  And if you need help working on your query letter and your verbal pitch, I’m offering a QUERY AND PITCH CLINIC through The Word Studio in Chestnut Hill, PA in April. Registration is very limited (to 8 people) for this 2-day workshop, so you know you’ll get plenty of one on one advice from me.  Info about this workshop can be found by clicking here.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: Looking Back over the Year

YLast Thursday, I sat around a table with folks from The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, feeling so at home as together we celebrated our year of achievements. So in this Agent Monday’s post, I thought it’d be fun to reflect on 2012 from my own perspective as an Associate Agent there.

This was definitely a huge year at the agency. So much going on, but with Christmas around the corner, let’s start with the amazing success of ELF ON THE SHELF. Last year, the animated Christmas special premiered, and this year, this book’s success has grown so much that it actually became a balloon at the Macy’s Day parade. WOW. That’s all I can say.

Among the other many successes at the agency, soap star Jeanne Cooper‘s memoir NOT YOUNG, STILL RESTLESS has been cruising through The New York Times bestseller list. And amazing author Matthew J. Kirby’s mid-grade novel ICEFALL has won both the 2012 PEN Award and the 2012 Edgar Award. Also in 2012, filming just wrapped up on the movie GEOGRAPHY CLUB based on the book written by our acclaimed author Brent Hartinger! And this year we welcomed to our agency Associate Agent Roseanne Wells, who is awesome.

During our agency celebration we also raised our glasses to the many deals made and the great clients who have become part of our agency family. There’s excitement in the air, and tons of stuff happening, but above all, I’m struck by how smart and decent people at this agency truly are. And how happy I am to belong to this special group.

As for me? In 2012 I read hundreds upon hundreds of queries. I took pitches and spoke at conferences. I’ve read a healthy number of requested full manuscripts, and passed on most of them, but not all….

This year I went from having 0 clients, to a great list of 7 clients. I’ve sent novels on submission, deals have been made (note to you folks researching on Publishersmarketplace.com to see which agents are making which deals…some deals that have been made take months to appear on this site until contracts are officially inked and finalized…just something to keep in mind!).

And I’m so pleased to tell you about my own posse of talented clients:

Tracey Baptiste: Her debut novel ANGEL’S GRACE (Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books, 2009) was named one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by NYC librarians. Her newest novel GROWING MAGIC is a stunning and dark middle grade based on a Haitian folktale, and is sure to give readers the shivers.

M.P. Barker: Her debut A DIFFICULT BOY (Holiday House, 2008) was called, “a memorable tale of friendship and a fascinating glimpse into mid-19th-century Massachusetts” by School Library Journal.  Her newest novel, MENDING HORSES is a gorgeous historical that follows an orphan boy, newly freed from indentured servitude, as he struggles to find his place and a home.

Jon Price: Jon is a a commercial, television and film editor whose credits include Nickelodeon’s series The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, and feature films The Ant Bully, and the Academy Award nominated film Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius. His debut middle grade novel CREEP VIEW ACADEMY is the hilarious adventure of Kevin Lester, liar extraordinaire, who accidentally gets shipped off to a school for monsters.

Jim Kristofic: Jim’s debut is the highly praised memoir NAVAJOS WEAR NIKES (University of New Mexico Press), and he’s also author of the audio book COYOTE TALES (Blackstone Audio). His new project is an exciting middle grade fantasy called THE FIRE TREE CLAN where a boy battles against all too real Native American mythological monsters.

Carmella Van Vleet: Carmella is a versatile author of children’s non-fiction, including Nomad Press top-sellers  SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD: DISCOVER AMAZING MONUMENTS TO CIVILIZATION and GREAT ANCIENT EGYPT PROJECTS YOU CAN BUILD YOURSELF. Carmella’s hilarious and touching debut middle grade novel is ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER about a girl with ADHD who must prove she can stick with something to the very end.

Harmony Verna: Harmony has worked with all media facets: radio, television, magazines, newspapers, public relations, advertising and marketing. Her debut is the dazzling historical novel FROM ROOTS TO WINGS, a sweeping saga in the tradition of THE THORNBIRDS, that explores passions, love and loss against the backdrop of harsh early 1900′s Australia.

Stephanie Winkelhake: Stephanie’s debut is the passionate and engrossing YA novel FOLLOWING YOU, about a dying girl who follows her dead boyfriend instead of the heavenly light, only to learn there is hell to pay. Her novel was a 2012 finalist in RWA’s  prestigious national GOLDEN HEART AWARDS.  Stephanie also has a story in the new anthology CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: I CAN’T BELIEVE MY DOG DID THAT! 

It’s truly been an exciting year, and I know that 2013 will be even better. Looking into my crystal ball, I see book deals, exciting new manuscripts arriving in my inbox, and the fun of meeting new editors, authors, agents and book lovers. And I see a number of conferences in the future, as well (no crystal ball needed for this). For starters, you’ll find me at the Writer’s Digest Pitch Slam, at the Liberty States Fiction Writer’s Conference, doing a full-day agent workshop at Push to Publish, and a two-day query/pitch clinic at The Word Studio. More stuff will surely pop up, so check in at my Appearances Page for up-to-date info and details.

I wish you all a New Year full of creativity and productivity. Dream big, everyone, and go for it!

warm wishes to you all,

Marie
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.