BEWARE: AGENTS AT WRITERS CONFERENCES (RANT ALERT!!!)

Somewhere I saw a blog about an upcoming writers conference, which, not incidentally, has scheduled short pitch sessions with several agents who have agreed to attend. This is not uncommon at conferences, since it brings unagented writers out of the woodwork in hopes of scoring an agent, who will then presumably land them a major book deal, followed by months on the bestseller lists, culminating in the inevitable movie deal, which of course will star Brad Pitt.

I’ve been to a lot of these conferences and have sat through a lot of these pitch sessions with agents, all of whom were clearly interested in being somewhere else. Glassy-eyed, they sit there listening to my pitch, then like clockwork, they invariably say, “Send me the first fifty pages,” and give me their card. Next!

And guess what? The next person has the exact same experience!

Every time I do this at a conference, I always make a point of asking lots of other writers how their pitch went, and they all say, “He/she wanted to see my first fifty pages,” or three chapters or whatever. I’m talking every single one of them here. Same response. Wow. Must be some pretty high-powered writers at these conferences, right? Good thing the agents were there to lap up this gem-in-the-rough talent, right?

One thing you never hear at these conferences, though, is how many agents from the previous year actually signed anybody they met in the pitch sessions. My guess is the number would struggle to exceed zero.

This is my take on the whole circus-like scene: The agents, dying to get out of New York for a little r&r, gladly accept invitations to conferences, which are quite frequently held in attractive tourist destinations. Sitting through endless pitches is the price they must pay for these little weekend jaunts. Then, when they get back to New York and all the conference submissions start pouring in from out there in the flyover, they hand them off to their just-out-of-college junior trainee, who promptly fires off rejection notices to all of them. After all, the trainee certainly wouldn’t want to recommend anything the boss thought was bad writing, right? Do that and he could kiss his career goodbye right there.

At the Las Vegas Writers Conference in 2010, I walked up to a New York agent to introduce myself and she wouldn’t even shake my hand. Instead, she said, “If I talk to you, I’ll have to talk to everyone,” and then walked away from me. Talk to a writer? Certainly wouldn’t want to do that at a writers conference, right? If I could remember her name, I would put it here, along with an unflattering photo.

Now, I have to say that in the past, I’ve briefly brought this point up on other blogs and I was instantly swamped with responses from published authors, all of whom heatedly claim to have gotten their first agent at one of these speed-dating-type pitch sessions. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. There may be a precious few out there, but from where I sit, it doesn’t look like it.

Rather, it looks like one big charade designed to attract throngs of paying conference-goers.

 

 

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13 Responses to BEWARE: AGENTS AT WRITERS CONFERENCES (RANT ALERT!!!)

  1. I agree. I have friends who talk up a conference is there will agent pitch sessions, deciding which to go to, and I feel sorry for them. I may never get published, but I have more self-esteem than to put up with that.

  2. Mike Dennis

    Way to go, Dana.

  3. I couldn’t agree more. For the agents, I think it is a ego thing to go to a conference. Publishing as we know it is dying and agents will soon be irrelevant. I’m working on a post on the very subject,

  4. Joyce Ann

    Did you really try “speed dating”?

  5. Mike Dennis

    Robert–let me know when you put your post up.
    Joyce Ann–“speed dating” refers to the type of pitch session you have with an agent. You sit across from him/her for five minutes or so and pitch your novel.

  6. Patti Abbott

    The worst one ever was a conference on finding an agent. Every agent basically said we would not. Horrible people.

  7. Mike Dennis

    Patti, if the new world of publishing succeeds in marginalizing agents, I think a lot of people will be celebrating.

  8. “If I talk to you, I’ll have to talk to everyone.”

    Whoa–she sounds like one truly miserable human being! It’s really difficult to understand people like that. Why bother attending if that’s how she feels? Sheesh…

  9. Mike,
    I could not find an email address contact. Just wanted to let you know that Bloodstains On The Wall is being featured this week on DigitalBookToday.com.

  10. What a joy to find soemnoe else who thinks this way.

  11. Karl

    Mike,

    What are your thoughts on “Bouchercon”? I am considering attending (1st time) and would appreciate your thoughts on the agent/publisher atmosphere there.

    Thanks!

  12. Mike Dennis

    Karl–I went to my 1st Bouchercon two years ago. Frankly, I felt like the only Red Sox fan in Yankee Stadium. Everyone seemed so cliquish.

    However, I did manage to break the ice and make some good contacts, one of which led to my first novel being reviewed in Booklist, a very long-odds proposition.

    It’s basically a conference for readers, who can go there and meet their favorite mystery authors. But it is a sort of must-attend for authors, who will invariably be found at the hotel bar every night.

    All in all, I would recommend you go. It’s in St Louis this year, so there certainly won’t be any distractions outside the hotel.

  13. Karl

    Mike,
    Thank you for the insight/advice. Schedule, etc permitting, I will try to attend.
    Again, thanks.

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