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.