Friday, July 25, 2008
I’ve been doing a couple of film deals recently and that always intrigues authors. The thought of having an author’s work optioned is very sexy and exciting, but it’s a tough industry to get into. I’ve asked industry veteran Steve Fisher from APA to answer a few questions for me and thought I’d share them here with all of you.
1. PW: At what point do you like to see projects from agents/writers? Before the book has been sold; right after; or once it has published?
SF: I generally like to see projects immediately after they’ve sold to a publisher. That sale gives the project the “value added” that studios and networks like to see. It’s not necessary to wait until a book is published, though often that is when the sale happens. Since a sale to the film business is less about polished prose and more about a concept and characters, its expected that books will be shown around town in it’s early manuscript form.
2. PW: What is the market like for Film? TV movies? TV series? Is there a current trend that's selling well or being produced at the moment?
SF: the marketplace for books at the moment is reasonably good, but cautious. Increasingly over the last half dozen years or so, I’ve seen books sell after publication, on the heels of a great review in the NY Times, or with some packaging involved. Studios very often want to know who would adapt the book, who will star, etc. If there is a current trend, it is the appetite for graphic novels and comic books. Everyone wants to be, needs to be, in that business.
3. PW: What is the "average" range in option money? Has this changed in the past 10 years?
SF: “Average” money for an option is hard to say, because prices are really all over the map. What a book can demand for an option price is dictated by so many factors, not the least of which is interest/competitive bids from other buyers. In the absence of that feature options tend to be in the $20K to $50K arena typically. Obviously if the author has real name value, or the book is a big seller those numbers increase exponentially. The price for books has generally decreased over the last 6-8 years unfortunately. There are fewer 6 figure option deals around town, and studios have gotten more conservative with what they’ll spend on books.
4. PW: What's the likelihood that an option project will go into production? How about that the production actually gets distributed or aired?
SF: it’s really challenging to say how likely a project will go forward into production. There are, again, so many factors that come into play here. I’d say odds are generally in the 1 out of 10 or 15 range.
5. PW: Can you give me some examples of great projects you've worked on?
SF: one of the projects I’m most proud of was Patrick O’Brian’s MASTER AND COMMANDER, a project I sold 3 times before it got made. A real labor of love. More recently I’m happy about the Jim Sallis project DRIVE at Universal, which I set up with Hugh Jackman attached to star. Screenwriter Hossein Amini is currently adapting, and Neal Marshall has signed to direct. We’re hoping for an early ’09 start date (fingers crossed).
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Yesterday a manuscript landed on my desk and it was perfect. I signed the client, created a cover page for the novel that included all the Folio contact info, started calling editors to talk about the amazing project and began emailing it their way.
Then I woke up! (1)
Yes, it’s a dream of mine that a perfect manuscript gets handed to me. I’ve heard such a thing is possible, that it’s even happened, but never to me.(2) So until my fantasy comes true, I choose the projects that I find interesting/appealing, the writers I see the most potential in, and those are the clients I sign (3). Then, I push up my sleeves and get to work. And, you, dear author, must do so, too.
Here’s the deal: By the time a project lands on my desk, it’s likely that the author has been eating/sleeping/breathing that project for quite some time and feels it’s perfect, which is exactly the way the author must feel. (Never, ever send out what you know is less than your very best!) But, because of this complete immersion in their project, the author has lost much, if not all, of his/her perspective. Agents – good agents – bring fresh eyes and new ideas to the party, so we’re often able to see things that our authors miss. (4) My requests for revisions are typically to enhance characters, improve pacing or to get to the story faster. Sometimes I’ll find something confusing and ask for clarification, and other times I’ll suggest whole passages be deleted. Sometimes the plotting is too simple and other times, new threads need to be developed. But whatever my request, I make sure the author knows that my thoughts are only suggestions (5). Ultimately, it’s the author’s project and they must be happy with it. (6)
HOWEVER (yup, it’s a BIG however), good agents are much more than gatekeepers to the editors; we’re professionals who see thousands of projects from authors and wanna-be authors each year. We pay attention to what editors are buying, what they’re turning down – and why. And guess what? We want to share all our wonderful knowledge and experiences with you because our know-how can help make your projects stronger, more likely to sell, and to sell for larger advances. So when I talk to my authors about revisions, I don’t do it to create more work for them, (honest!) but to help elevate their already good work to an even higher level. But don’t think just because you and your agent are thrilled with your work it means the revision process is over. (7) Editors, too, will have their own ideas about how to further enhance the project. So, (you guessed it) you’ll be asked to revise still again. That’s just the process, ladies and gents. And it results in better books.
(1) Funny. I like this!
(2) "to me" repetitive
(3) delete "sign" insert "take on"
(4) Smooth this transition:
(5) Italicize "suggestions"
(6) Can this be tightened a bit more?
(7) explain this a bit better, please
Monday, June 30, 2008
One of the things any publicist worth her salt will tell an author is to 'make contacts' with his or her area bookstores. "Just go in and say hi," I generally urge my authors. "Booksellers love it when you let them know you're local!"
I recently realized that the last time I asked a bookseller what they do and do not love was most likely in 1999, when I was working at a (now-closed) indie bookstore in
Jessica currently works as the events coordinator at McNally Robinson in NYC, and she's on quest to open her own bookstore in Brooklyn, which you can help her with by clicking here. She's also the brains behind The Written Nerd bookseller blog AND the sweet t-shirt pictured on upper left. Because she's clearly now the hardest-working person in show business (R.I.P. James Brown), I'd really recommend following all of her suggestions below. Just a note: all of the boldface below was inserted by me.
AG: What is most effective for an author to leave behind with a bookseller? Is leaving a book at a store full of books just a ridiculous idea?
JSB: Bringing a reading copy with publisher contact information is a good idea. Include the publisher's press release inside if you like. If you bring in just a press release, bookmarks, folder full of glowing reviews, etc., it will probably get lost, accidentally or on purpose. We have a lot of books, but books we'll make room for -- almost any other piece of paper gets tossed, unless it's something we've asked for.
Be polite and clear about who you are and what you want. Don't ask if we're carrying the book, then reveal you're the author. Let us know you're the author, and ask for the buyer (not necessarily the manager). If you say that you're an author, that you have a book that you wonder if we carry, and that you'd like to give us a copy for the buyer (or whomever might be interested), that's usually perfect.
You should be aware of how your book is distributed, if asked: direct from the publisher, through a distributor like Small Press Distribution or Perseus, and/or from wholesalers.
One great thing to do is call the store in advance and ask if you can speak to and/or drop something off for the buyer. Then when you do come in you can ask for them by name, or leave something with their name on it. And even if you're trying to contact a bookstore not near where you live, mailing something to a a specific person is always better than mailing it general delivery.
Most of this is just common sense and politeness, along with a small bit of awareness of how bookstores work. One thing that always helps? -- letting us know that we're your local bookstore, and that YOU SHOP HERE. If we recognize you as a customer, you're already in our good book.
AG: Are there times of day or days in the week that it's best for an author to stop by?
JSB: Never last thing before we close, when we're busy setting taking down the store and in a hurry to go home. Not Saturday or Sunday in the middle of the day, when we're most busy with customers. Quieter times -- mid-morning to late afternoon, and especially weekdays -- are the times you'll have the best chance of finding someone who's not too busy to really give you their attention.
AG: What should authors NOT do? For instance, is it good for you to know that the author is game for in-store appearances, or do you prefer to hear that from the publishing house? Do you want to hear about blurbs or planned upcoming reviews, or is that too much information?
JSB: If the bookseller you're talking to seems interested in looking over your book, feel free to tell them a little more about it -- the plot, themes, other books it might compare to, reviews, etc. Timing is very important with this - if the person you give the book to is quite busy with customers, don't monopolize their time.
The worst thing (I think) an author can do is to demand an answer on the spot. "Do you think you'll stock my book? Do you think I can do an event here?" It feels confrontational, and puts the bookseller in an awkward position, even if they're disposed favorably toward the book. Just make yourself and the book known and let the bookstore make their decision on their own time. Feel free to follow up.
As the events coordinator, I kind of dread having authors come in and ask for me -- usually, if their book is the sort of thing that would be a good fit for us, the publisher has already contacted me. But it's not unheard of that I'll arrange an event directly with an author, and here's how it usually happens:
- They introduce themselves to someone at the store and ask if they can contact the events coordinator.
- They send me an email about themselves and the event. (Even if I talk to them in person, I'm going to tell them to send me an email!) If I don't write back, they follow up with a phone call (and another email, and another phone call... I can get super busy and need reminders!)
- They're aware (or open to the possibility) that we book events three or four months in advance, and don't expect to arrange something for next week.
- They have a good mailing list of their own, and/or friends and fans that live in the area that they know will come out for an event.
- They fit with the overall vibe of our event series. (One can find this out by checking our website for past events, or picking up a flyer, or attending events...)
- They're willing to consider a joint reading, a panel discussion, etc. if their book might not be a big draw on its own.
- If we can't fit them in for whatever reason, they are gracious. That's big points for next time, and increases the chances we'll stock the book anyway.
The gracious thing is actually the overall kicker. The way an author speaks to people can be as much of a factor as their book itself in whether the store is going to get behind it (why else would publisher author dinners be so effective)? Don't be pushy, don't be apologetic -- be gracious. And write a great book. =) Then your publicity efforts will be able to have the best possible success.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Dear Steve Jobs,
Yes, we are all excited about how fast the new iphone is!! And it’s cheaper. Yay! But please, please whip me up an ereader (and could it also have the internet and my Outlook calendar?). I promise people still read books, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and their own documents. It doesn’t even have to be called an ereader: call it the iphone and make the ereader an application for all I care! Just please, please give me something portable that I can read and write on!
Over the past year, I have been on a quest for the perfect ereading device. I have had visions of my scouring the world of electronics and uncovering the golden ereader: perfect size for my tiny hands; let’s me edit and email; touch screen; impressive battery life; memory, oh does it have memory for all of my manuscripts and queries. I have imagined my importing some obscure contraption you can only find through hearsay from a guy who knows a guy who works in the depths of North Korea or finding parts I can order online from around the world and are welded together like a transformer by some NYU graduate student. I imagine my heading to a publishing party after work, no dirty, heavy manuscript bag to pile with the others taking up three or four seats at the table. A few people would bring up the Kindle or Sony reader, and I would smugly pull out my perfect little reader tucked away in my purse, glowing like the Pulp Fiction briefcase (yeah, you want to know what was in that briefcase—my ereader, suckers!!)—a device no one knew existed or ever thought to use as a reader. People would see me reading on the train and wonder, what is that wonderful toy?
The thing is, I am not one of those people, who has read everyone of your Apple development packs or subscribes to Wired or any of that. I have the electronic foresight of a mild-mannered consumer. So what I want in laymen terms:
• Size does matter: I want it to be about 7” by 3” and be all screen. It should fit in my purse and be able to be held securely in one hand. I could deal with one the size of a notepad, if it were light, and I could Velcro it into a trapper keeper, because I love trapper keepers. They keep things so neat and tidy. Ever thought of an itrapperkeeper, Steve?
• Screen: I don’t care about the special ink screen. I already do the majority of my reading on a computer screen. And just as I was willing to give up the sound quality for my mp3’s, I’m willing to give up paper quality for the mobility and convenience of not having to carry hundreds of pages. I just want it to be about the same size as the device, so it is readable, and I would love to have a touch screen, like the iphone.
• Memory: I want to be able to store at least 4 manuscripts at a time. More is even better. PDF’s would be great, but most of what I read is Word and I usually bring home 4 manuscripts/proposals at a time. I am sure there are more technical ways to discuss memory capacity, but in my world, this is how I measure memory.
• Applications: I want to be able to edit these manuscripts since a good portion of my reading is interactive (not in the computer sense but rather the editing sense) for projects I am going to sell or have already sold and are getting in shape for delivery. So I want Word. I want email too, but if I had to plug the device into my computer and download the manuscripts, I could make do with that. And I would love the internet, so I can look up information for the proposals I am editing. But again, I could live without it.
Steve, I’m not haphazardly begging you for an ereader. I have enlisted help from some friends—some members of the Facebook generation, Mac heads, other agents, publishers from Scandinavia and beyond—to research the competition that is out there already, and there is so much room for you to come in and clean up. We have visited tons of stores and sites around the globe and scoured ebay. Here are some sound bites from along the way:
• The Kindle: Let’s be real, Steve. It is so lame looking and retro (in a bad way). I just can’t believe in a million years that this is the best technology we can come up with. It is so Beta in a VHS world. (1.)
• Sony E-reader: Philip Sane, our fabulous co-agent, swears by the Sony ereader if you don’t want to look at PDF documents, which are troublesome to convert. Maybe it’s my own prejudices, but I’m not hugely confident that Sony is at the cutting edge of these ereaders. And you can’t write on it. Why can’t I write on it?
• The Iliad Ereader: I really like this one. It’s a lot more expensive, but the reviews are tremendous. But it seems like the writing function, which I love, is a little too Palm Pilot, but maybe I’m wrong. I’m leaning toward this one though.
• The Tablet: For months, I was convinced I wanted a tablet. A little bigger than the ereaders, in the same price range, but the touch screen and editing potential would give me a lot more of what I want. But when I played with them at the store, I left feeling unsatisfied. They were just too big and kinda annoying to maneuver.
BUT THEN, Steve, on a site called www.techcrunch.com, my techy friend found something totally cool: Next Generation OLPC.
Steve, could you make me one of these please—but iphone the heck out of it! Right now I’m rooting for Bill Gates, but if you make this for me, I promise, I promise I’ll trade in my PC for a Mac.
1. Laney Becker just got the Kindle for Mother’s Day, and since she and I share an office and her first blog ever was such a hit, I thought I would bring her back for a guest appearance:
Me: Hi, Laney! How do you like your Kindle?
Laney: I love its portability. I love, love, love that I can transfer submissions from my laptop to my Kindle so I can read electronic manuscripts anywhere and everywhere...including outside in the bright sunlight! I love the fact I can easily access amazon.com and download the first chapter of most books to sample for free.
Me: Any complaints?
Laney: I HATE the fact that there's no place along the side of the kindle that I can grab without turning a page. This is a *huge* design flaw IMHO. I'm still a little confused about how to take notes, access them, etc., and how to get the most out my Kindle, but that's just me. It's too expensive and am afraid someone is going to swipe it on the subway.
Me: Thanks, Laney. And congrats on the auction for Naseem Rahka’s new upmarket debut novel!
2. One Laptop Per Child Foundation (OLPC) founder Nicholas Negrponte unveiled the design for the foundation’s second-generation laptop, which isn’t really a laptop at all but a double-screened, fold-up electronic book!! And it is supposed to cost $75!!! The press release was only last week, so I don’t know much yet (would love to know if you know anything more about this device’s capabilities—I’m nervous there is no memory on it). But it’s not going to be available until 2010!! But there must be one—where is that one that little boy is holding?!! I must have it!! I just must have it!! Maybe the developers want some people to test it out?
3. If anyone has any thoughts on other devices that I should look at or how right or wrong I am about the Kindle, the Sony ereader, or the others, or any ideas on how I can get this fabulous OLPC today, please, please let me know.
4. Some other interesting readers: Hanlin V3 (mostly because I love this guy's accent) and the Livre.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
I was originally supposed to write about that elusive subject, “voice” and how writers can find it--a good and important topic, to be sure. However, I received something in today’s mail that made me change the direction of my blog posting. Today, I received an invitation to the graduation of one of my author’s daughters. This author has been with me for eleven years when her daughter was only seven years old. It’s amazing how time flies. It’s even more amazing the relationship that I’ve developed not only with my author, but with her family as well. We have shared personal ups and downs over the years, I’ve watched her family grow and I’ve guided her career as well.
It’s the same for the majority of my clients. They start off as clients but they become friends. It’s important to nurture this relationship from both sides, because it IS going to be a long term relationship. Once the agent sells the book, you’re working with that agent for the life of the book contract. Even if the two of you part ways, royalties still have be paid out, correspondence exchanged, and foreign rights have to be sold. It behooves BOTH sides to follow some simple guidelines to ensure good communication between agent and author. I’m going to outline some of them below.
1. Make sure both of you agree how you like to communicate. If it’s by email, confirm that you have the correct email address (many people have multiple addresses). If you change your email address, make sure this is communicated as well. Also, keep your agent updated on all of your points of contact. That means your phone number, email address and mailing address. This is even true once you part ways. Your agent must continue to send you royalty statements, 1099s, and other important information for the life of the book contract.
2. You may want to casually inquire how frequently you should expect to be in contact. You can expect to be in fairly close contact when your agent is giving feed back on revisions, shopping your material around and negotiating the deal. Once she has sold your book and the contract has been signed, she may leave you alone to actually write the darn thing.
3. Both the author and the agent should be attuned to how the other likes to communicate, whether it is informal and chatty or strictly down to business. This will probably vary depending on demands on both parties, but pay attention to cues in how communication is exchanged and respond accordingly.
4. How long is too long to wait for hear back from your agent? Or better yet, when should you start to panic? This will vary from agent to agent. But before you panic, realize that emails go astray, computers crash, people get sick, messages get erased, and calls made from a cell phone may be too distorted to comprehend. If you haven’t heard back try again and then a third time. After the third time, then you may want to get concerned about the lack of response.
5. If you’re going on vacation, let people know. This is true for both sides. For authors, leave contact information so that your agent can reach you. Agents who are leaving on an extended trip usually inform their clients and indicate a person to contact in case of an emergency.
6. Show appreciation for each other. Remember each other at the holidays and, if possible, birthdays (although I’m horrible at remembering birthdays).
7. Realize that you’re not going to agree on everything all the time. Your agent probably won’t love everything you write. If she’s good, she’ll let you know that it’s not your best work. That’s her job.
8. Make sure you both understand your goals. Do you want to write a book a year? Make a bestseller list? Reach a certain print run? Move to another publishing house?
9. If things aren’t going well, don’t dwell on it by discussing it only with your writing buddies but not your agent. If there is a problem it should be addressed directly. This is true for both sides. If the agent has issues, she should bring them up as well.
10. Realize that this is a small industry and gossip travels quickly. http://www.mediabistro.com/GalleyCat/ Above all, practice courtesy and be professional. Treat your agent the way you’d like to be treated and she should do the same.
Bottom line: keep the lines of communication open, don’t hesitate to bring up any concerns, and make sure you both have a clear understanding of your goals and responsibilities.
Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Before I begin, I’ve got a confession to make: This is the first time I’ve ever blogged. I swore I’d never write a blog, but when you’re part of a team sometimes the majority wins. So, here I sit, doing what I promised myself I wouldn’t do. It’s not that I have anything against blogs, but to be honest, it’s not the sort of thing women my age are doing. In fact, if I stopped typing right now and phoned, oh, say, six or seven of my friends, I’ll bet that only one or two of them would even know what a blog is.
OK, I’m back. I was wrong. I guess my friends are more hip than I give them credit for.
Even still, let me make this clear:
One. I stand behind the sentiment I expressed in the opening of this, my first ever blog. This blog-thing isn’t something I wanted to do; it’s not something I’m comfortable doing, in fact, I don’t even know what I’m doing, so, please – be kind.
Two. The topic for this, my first ever blog, Characters that get me every time – and why, wasn’t something I chose. It was assigned to me by my colleague Rachel Vater. (Hey, if I voted against doing this blog, I certainly wasn’t going to suddenly get all enthusiastic and passionate by proclaiming that there was some topic I was just dying to write about. So I asked for topic ideas and then I did what I was told.)
Three. I’m a totally unreliable narrator. I mean it. I never, ever, voted against this blog. In fact, I think it’s a great way to help writers understand more about agents, and what we’re looking for. I *love* new things, so doing a blog is something I’ve been looking forward to.
So, how am I doing so far? Do I have your interest? Better yet, what kind of “character” do you think I am? Yup. This rant of mine has all just been a rather elaborate way to demonstrate what “gets me” and why.
Clearly, I’m a huge fan of the adage “show, don’t tell.” As a reader I always bring my brain. Or at least I try to. I’d much rather figure out who you are, (“you” being your character) and what makes you tick, than have you spell it all out for me. I also appreciate it if you have dimension; after all, who in this world is wholly good or wholly bad? You’ve got flaws? Good. Me, too.
If you’ve got personality, then I’m *really* likely to sit up and pay attention. I love characters with “voice.” The fresher the better. That, however, does not necessarily mean I like characters who are quirky, unless such quirks are there for a reason, and (big and) are believable. If I can hear you correctly, (again – I’m talking about voice), then I can understand what motivates you. That’s good, because once we form that connection I’m much better able to walk in your shoes, and I totally love trying on other personas. But, be forewarned: If you’re being different just to be different, or if you’re acting quirky just to be quirky, well, I’m likely to see through that and I will probably just find you annoying. Authenticity is something I value.
If I find myself smiling while I’m reading, chances are I’m enjoying your tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. If your struggles and challenges make me cry, I’ll hate you for giving me puffy eyelids, but I’ll love you for touching my heart. If your kindness renews my faith in my fellow man, then you’ve motivated me to rethink my skepticism.
The bottom line here ladies and gents: Make your characters real, multi-faceted and give them depth. Then, through you, they will speak to me. And once a character has been brought to life, that’s it! You’ve got me – every time.
P.S. I really did vote against this blog.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Those of you who have read some of the articles I’ve had published on how to find an agent (see, for example: http://www.writersdigest.com/article/The_Top_Five_Ways_Not_To_Get_A_Literary_Agent/) know that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of trying to land a literary an agent by sending blind query letters. Does it work on occasion? Sure. We’ve gotten some of our best clients that way. But there’s something so… passive about the process. There’s some element of ceding control that I know that I wouldn’t be comfortable with if I were in an author’s position. To me, the whole process seems to evoke bad memories of high school, sitting by the phone, waiting for it to ring to see if you’re going to have a date on Saturday night, when you should have just been out having a good time with your friends anyway.
Besides, what do you do if your preferred agent or agents aren’t accepting unsolicited queries in the first place?
That’s where writers’ conferences come in.
As an unpublished author, attending a reputable, well-run writers’ conference can be the first step to launching your brilliant professional writing career. But it can also be an intimidating, frustrating experience if you approach it the wrong way.
For agents, writers’ conferences are a mixed bag. They can be very positive experiences, full of promising new talent—or they can be grueling experiences that leave us vowing never to volunteer our time ever, ever again.
Here are a few tips to ensure that you get the most out of your writers’ conference experience.
1) Develop a plan for the conference ahead of time. There are as many different reasons to attend conferences as there are attendees. What you can get out of a conference, however, is often a function of where you are in the publishing process. If you’re still in the process of writing your novel or putting together a proposal for your nonfiction book, the craft seminars at the conference are probably where you want to spend most of your time. Figure out which authors, editors, and agents are teaching, and attend the sessions that are taught by the people whose work you most respect. (It’s been my experience that, regardless of the purported subject of the lecture, speakers are going to talk about what they’re best at anyway—so rather than choosing which sessions to attend based on the title of the talk, I suggest you go to the sessions taught by the coolest people—the best agents, authors, and editors. Even if a workshop is on plotting in science fiction and you’re writing romance, what you’ll learn from a master like Orson Scott Card, say, is likely to make you a better writer.
If you’ve already got an agent you’re happy with, or if you’ve sold a book, or are a published author, conferences can still be tremendously valuable. They’re an opportunity to promote yourself and your work, make additional professional contacts, and learn what other successful authors have done to take their work to the next level. The most important thing you can do at this stage—listen. Let the pros know you’re a rookie who’s past that first stage of the game, and ask each one for their one best tip on how to succeed in the business. You can sometimes learn as much as you would in a master class this way.
If you’re at that stage where you’ve written a novel but are still looking for an agent, however—you’re in luck. Conferences are tailor-made for people like you. Take the rest of the tips in this section to heart.
2) Ignore the one on one meetings. I know this is going to be controversial advice, but I’ll stand by it. I don’t like formal author-agent pitch sessions for a couple of reasons. First, most conferences schedule too many of them. If you’re one of the agent’s first pitches you might be in good shape. But if you’re the agent’s 30th pitch in two days, honestly, you would have been better off sending a query letter. As to pitching editors directly, unless you’re writing romance or science fiction, they’re probably just going to tell you to get an agent anyway.
Here’s an inside tip on how agents deal with conferences. Most agents are too polite to say “no” to your face. You can pitch them a book that they KNOW—100% KNOW-- they would never in a million years sign up. But rather than deal with the pressure of rejecting you to your face, they’ll say something like “Well, I don’t know. For something like this it’s all in the writing.” They’ll ask you to mail them the first three chapters and then they’ll glance at them for about 5 seconds and then pass, politely, with their standard rejection letter.
Here’s a statistic from experience: in the past three years, I’ve sold about ten books from people I met at conferences. Not ONE of those authors did I meet at a one on one pitch session. So, how did those authors get to me? After my workshop. In the elevator. In the bar after dinner. Basically, in normal, organic situations that aren’t terribly forced like those awful one on one pitch sessions. In ways that proved to me that they would be effective advocates for their work once it hit the shelves.
3) Ignore what the conference organizers tell you what to do. Conference organizers are going to get mad at me for this one. But I’m on your side here, so I’m going to give you the straight dope. I’d say about half of the conferences I’ve been to are not particularly well run. They try their best, but they’re usually volunteers with jobs and lives and families and don’t always know what to do to help your career prospects along. So, regardless of what the conference organizers tell you, there are a few things you should always have with you at a conference:
• A memorized, one sentence explanation of what your book is about that’s catchy and explanatory. “It’s a literary retelling of the Noah’s Ark story.” “It’s about a young Japanese-American man and woman who fall in love on the eve of World War II and are torn apart by the war.” Practice this one in front of the mirror. I promise you an agent is going to ask you what your book is about when you’re not expecting it. This is your chance to differentiate yourself.
• A one page synopsis of your novel (if you’re writing fiction) or your completed, polished nonfiction proposal if you’re writing nonfiction, and a one-page bio of yourself.
• The first three chapters of your novel, double-spaced.
• A copy of your manuscript—just in case.
Carry these with you at all times. Chances are nobody will ever ask for them—but if they do, bam. You have them. Don’t ever try to foist them on agents or editors, but they’ll be your secret weapon. And you’ll be more confident knowing you have them if you need them.
4) Understand why agents go to conferences. For agents, going to conferences is as much about the opportunity to bond and network with other agents and authors as it is about finding new literary talent. Remember—it’s not an agent’s job to read your query letters. It’s an agent’s job to sell books. We read query letters and talk to unpublished authors in order to find great books to sell—it’s a means to an end, not an end unto itself. So when you see agents and editors hanging out together, understand that if we didn’t have these opportunities, we might not be at the conference at the first place. The best conferences understand this phenomenon and schedule formal time for the faculty to interact with each other.
5) Don’t do something that’s going to put you in the LTS pile. Every agent has one. LTS stands for “Life’s Too Short.” So, although I really shouldn’t have to say this, there are a couple of times that agents are absolutely, positively off-limits. Don’t bug us when:
• We’re on the way to deliver a talk. We’re thinking about how to best deliver that talk, not about your specific project. After the talk, however, absolutely, positively buttonhole us.
• We’re in a situation where we can’t comfortably shake your hand. Examples: in the buffet line. In the pool. At the gym. In the restroom. (You’d be surprised. Every agent has horror stories, believe me.)
• Understand that no means no. If an agent tells you no, that’s it. Move on. There are lots of good fish in the sea. No stalking allowed.
It’s probably possible to write a whole book on what to do and not to do at a writers’ conference. But I’ll wrap it up here.
Hope this information has been helpful. If you disagree with anything I’ve said (including all the rest of you folioites!) that’s what the comment section is for.
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