Wednesday, July 21, 2010

My Work Was Requested at Conference -- Should I be excited?

At conferences, excitement and anticipation electrify the air. You may be meeting a big-name author whose books you've been reading for years. Your hands may shake as you meet that all-important editor or agent for the first time -- or maybe even the twenty-first time. You can see you future before your eyes, and you want everything to be perfect.

Let's say everything does go perfectly, and your work is requested by editors and agents. Should you be excited?

Yes...and no.

Usually, appointments last fifteen minutes. Most conferences have monitors who keep the appointments moving so no one is kept waiting, so don't count on sneaking in a few extra minutes unless your agent or editor happens to have the next slot open -- an unlikely occurrence. By the time you spend a few moments in pleasantries, you are down to 12 minutes to pitch one or more proposals. This might mean the editor or agent must sit and read a one-page summary or you might share your plot. Not much time is left for anything else. Sooo, the agent or editor says, "Sure, send me the proposal." Of course you can't help but feel excited.

Some excitement is warranted. When I ask to see a proposal at conference, that means I have determined it has enough merit not to reject it outright. I have seen proposals at conferences that I've had to reject outright, and believe me, it's not something I enjoy doing. In one instance, the author had a good story, but her theology clearly wasn't in line with the CBA publishers with whom I work. I gave her suggestions on how to introduce traditional theology into the plot, but she said she couldn't change the story. Later, she told me how grateful she was that I was honest. I'm not sure if she found an ABA publisher, but at least I helped her find her direction. This type of meeting is rare, however.

Authors spend a lot of time and money to go to conferences, so the ones I meet are serious about their work. They have researched the market, have honed their writing skills, and their work reflects traditional religious views. Twelve minutes is enough for me to see if the plot can be workable for CBA, and if their one-sheets are written with vim and charm, I'm encouraged. So I'll ask to see the entire proposal. In fairness, I want to go back to the office and take my time reading the proposal, away from the author's warmth and personal charm, so I can read the book itself with a more critical eye -- as I believe an editor would. Sometimes I am then forced to take a pass on the project. These are the hardest to reject, because I have made a personal connection with the author and really hate not to accept the author's work. However, this part of the process is necessary. The Bible doesn't promise that life will never be painful. However, at least this way, I have given an author's hard work and effort more than 12 minutes of my time, and can reach what I hope is the best decision for us all.

This is how I see meetings, and I imagine my viewpoint is in line with many other agents and editors. I can sympathize with how discouraging it must be for an author to come home with four or five requests for proposals, only to have them all rejected in the end. I don't feel editors and agents ask for proposals frivolously. We don't have that kind of time to waste. And neither do you. Even if you don't come out of conference with requests for manuscripts, or if your work is ultimately rejected, you have still made personal connections, and perhaps friends as well. And, when you or your agent submit future proposals, you can refer to your meeting at the conference to reinforce the priceless personal connection you made.

Until next time,

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