Monday, September 19, 2011

My First Conference by Andy Scheer

This week I’m getting ready for my first writers conference—as a literary agent.

Yes, it’s not my first writers conference, or even my first time to attend the San Diego Christian Writers Guild’s annual fall event. I attended my first conference in 1988, when I was an editor for a magazine then called Moody Monthly. And I’ve taught and taken appointments at San Diego both when I was acquiring articles for Moody and when I was coaching writers for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.

But even after more than twenty years, it’s still easy for me to catch the pre-conference jitters.

To get ready for San Diego, I’ve tried to do my homework. I’ve studied the online faculty list to see which acquisitions editors I can renew acquaintances with, and which I’ll be meeting for the first time. As I send out proposals from my clients, I appreciate when those recipients are people I know.

I’ve also reviewed Jennifer Hudson Taylor’s Hartline blog entry from September 2: “Tips on Preparing for Writing Conferences.” Then I followed the link to one of Jennifer’s previous blog entries: “Surviving the Pitch to Editors & Agents.” She sold me with the title.

As I anticipate my upcoming appointments (which I hope to survive), I remember the scenarios I describe when I teach about writing query letters.

A successful pitch is not necessarily one to which the agent says yes. That’s true only if the underlying project and proposal are indeed ready for prime time. If they’re not ready or inappropriately targeted—and the editor sees that and so informs the writer—then the process has also been successful. Especially if the editor or agent, as most of them will, use the rest of the appointment time to explain how or why the writer can strengthen her work.

Where things get tricky are those situations in which the concept and the manuscript are good—but the pitch or proposal falls short. So if, during our appointment, I ask a lot of questions of the kind Jennifer mentions that agents may ask, don’t assume I’m trying to put you on the spot or that I think your concept won’t work.

Like manuscripts, usually the best pitches and proposals are ones that have undergone considerable revision. Compared to simply dismissing something, it takes far more work for the person across the appointment table to identify a piece’s most significant shortcomings and then to suggest how to remedy them.

As I meet with people at San Diego and other conferences, I hope and pray I’ll do my best to listen critically and well. And that when I respond, they’ll return the favor.


Rick Barry said...

I'm sure it will come as a revelation to many blog readers to learn that an agent or editor can get pre-conference jitters. Writers tend to think of jitters solely as an author's affliction, since they are the ones who must hold up their new baby and say, "Here she is. Do you think she's pretty?"

May you have the gift of thoughtful articulation with each writer who must hear that the newborn isn't quite ready to graduate and receive a diploma. And may each of those writers take advantage of the chance to receive advice from experienced, non-biased voices at their appointments. Have a great conference!

Diana Prusik said...

Conference success comes in all forms, and constructive criticism offered by professionals like you is more valuable than receiving a "yes" for a proposal or manuscript that isn't ready for readers' eyes. "Not yet" is sometimes one of the best answers to prayers, even when we're disappointed to hear it. I pray authors who meet with you at this conference soak up every bit of advice you offer them, Andy. I certainly appreciate all you offered me!

Diana said...

Break a leg Andy! I chose this definition off of Wikipedia for origins of the expression:

To "break the leg" or "break a leg" is archaic slang for bowing or curtsying; placing one foot behind the other and bending at the knee "breaks" the line of the leg. In theatre, pleased audiences may applaud for an extended time allowing the cast to take multiple curtain calls, bowing to the audience.[11]
Hope you are wildly successful!

Linda Glaz said...

I'm right there with you! I'm excited, but a bit anxious myself. This will be the first conf where I'll rep Hartline, but what better group to rep, right?

Jeanette Levellie said...

Aha. Before you were the one who baked the cupcakes; now you are on the other side of the sparkling glass case, telling the bakers which cupcakes might please the tastebuds of customers and, if not, why not, and what they can do to make them tastier and prettier. Am I right?

I think it's great that the Lord has aloowed you so many various job titles in this yummy bakery we call writing...

Andy Scheer said...

Not the metaphor I'd use. Because I'm the household designated dishwasher, I'm not big on cupcakes. It's too hard to scrape and scrub the blobs of baked-on batter that always spill onto the tin.

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Have fun, Andy! You and Linda will do great, I'm sure.

See you there!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Oh, all right then. You are the one who painted the canvases; now you are the art buyer for the galleries. Better?

Jean C. Gordon said...

Hope to see you and everyone else from Hartline there (disappointed Diana can't make it). Although it's not my first conference, it's my first time at the ACFW Conference.