Monday, July 26, 2010
At my first writing conference, I had high expectations--too high. Like most newbies, I hoped to pitch my manuscript to an editor and have them offer me the "standard rich and famous contract" (as mentioned by Orson Wells in The Muppet Movie). By the mid-portion of the conference, I could see that wasn't going to happen. Fortunately, I realized before the conference ended that it was more important to try to learn the craft and make friends in the writing community than to buttonhole an agent or editor and get that longed-for approval.
What should be a writer's expectations when meeting with an agent or editor at one of these conferences? I asked several agents and editors to tell me about how many appointments they might have, how likely they were to ask for additional material, and how many writers they might ultimately sign as a result of the conference interview. According to the agents I asked, of the 25 to 30 people with whom they typically meet during a conference, they may request material from 20 to 40%. (Realize that they don't want to carry a hard-copy proposal home on the plane--they'd rather you send it, in whatever form they specify). Of course, that doesn't mean they'll get proposals or even requested manuscripts from this many. You'd be amazed at the number who get cold feet or fail to respond to such an invitation. However, in the final analysis, an agent will generally sign only one author out of all those who pitch to him or her at a conference, and sometimes they don't sign anyone.
What about pitching directly to an editor? More material is requested about 20% of the time by editors. By the time the dust settles, the editor may acquire one project from all the folks with whom they meet, both in structured appointments, around the lunch table, in casual conversation, etc. (And, please, don't pitch to an editor in the bathroom or during worship services! But I've already blogged about that.)
During the 36 years of my medical practice, I tried to guard against unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient (or myself). Before scheduling surgery or embarking on a course of treatment, I would often ask, "What will be your indicator of success?" If your conference experience won't be a success for you unless you are signed by an agent or get a contract with a publisher, I'd suggest you adjust your expectations.
My thanks to Rachelle Gardner, Chip MacGregor, Barbara Scott, and Nick Harrison for responding to my questions. I also asked these agents and editors for their best advice for writers who are preparing for a conference. That comes in the next post.