Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Conference comments by Terry Burns

Writing from the Write to Publish conference at Wheaton College in Wheaton Illinois. Great conference, good attendees and faculty as well as lots of great content.

A number of faculty have been talking among ourselves about a trend we have been noticing the past couple of years, however. Signup sheets for appointments used to be packed, but lately, not so much. We've been speculating on why.

Some of it is probable the emerging ease of being able to take a book straight to ebook or to self-publish. I've blogged on that several times and have no problem with self-publishing as long as it is a business decision and not a knee-jerk reaction to the rejections that we all have to face. But it could be part of the trend I'm talking about.

At recent conference there seems to be a greater percentage of new writers and this might account for some of it. Often they don't realize you don't have to have a project ready to pitch to speak with an editor or agent. If someone sits down and says "I don't have anything to pitch but I do have a few questions" most editors and agents are fine with that as long as they know up front what is going on and aren't sitting there waiting for a pitch that isn't coming. Most of us enjoy a teaching appointment.

The numbers are smaller at recent conferences but the rules for handling appointments doesn't reflect the smaller number resulting in a lot of wasted appointment slots. This is a hard balance to hit, however, and still give people an equal shot at appointment time.

Great content in the courses and workshops is really good for attendees but it also makes it difficult for them to leave something they are really enjoying to go do an appointment , , , or maybe not schedule the appointment in the first place. This one adds to the number of times we are "stood up," and I get that.

These are some of the things we've come up with among ourselves. Do you have thoughts on it?


Adam Blumer said...

Hi, Terry. Wish I could have been there and met you. About Write-to-Publish, I went in 2009 and realized right away that I was wasting my time meeting with an agent or editor unless I had prepared something to pitch. After all, why else would you meet with an agent or acquisitions editor? They are EXPECTING you to pitch, aren't they? I suppose you could park yourself for ten minutes and just ask them questions, but why? Most stuff they share you can find in books or at blogs like yours. Maybe I'm missing something.

I was a bit irritated that the meetings were often scheduled during or right in the middle of a session I wanted to attend, so I had to miss part of the session if I wanted to have a meeting. And my sessions were with Chip MacGregor, and I didn't want to miss a single word, but I had to. (And to get session recordings requires more cash.) I had no choice. Then there's the embarrassment of going back to the session and walking into a session already in progress. Embarrassing for me and distracting for Chip and others. (Write-to-Publish folks, here's some honest feedback.)

I did have a wonderful time while there; the fellowship was awesome, and I met with three agents and three editors. One contact led to my contact with you, if you recall. One of the three agents I met with about a project still to this day has never gotten back to me. Oh well. I would hesitate to pay that much money again, miss work (I'm self-employed and get no vacation), and pay for the gas unless I had a project to pitch. Given the current economic pressures for so many, these reasons may explain the lower numbers and the lack of full schedules for meetings. Just my two cents. Maybe someday I'll get back there. I'd like to, but it's a big financial and time commitment, and many of us are short on both.

Audrey said...

Terry and Adam, I appreciate the honesty of both of you.

If I hadn't read Terry's post today, I wouldn't have known that I could meet with an agent without having a finished product ready to pitch. Without a doubt,attending a conference is a big investment in both time and money. But, an opportunity to pick the brain of an agent like Terry would be worth it.

Terry Burns said...

I understand what you are saying Adam. I go to conferences to find that next great project, but I also go to teach what I have to share. I do teach programs and workshops but I also have "teaching appointments."

People may go to workshops where they hear what they need to do, how to prepare for a pitch, what an agent does, a myriad of other topics. But sometimes they have trouble relating what they are hearing to internalize it into their own situation. Sometimes a short one-on-one with an industry professional can help bring it into focus so they understand what they are hearing and how to apply it.

I think your comments reflect what is right for you. But I do upwards of a dozen conferences a year and have helped a lot of people internalize what they were hearing in the conference and understand how to apply it. This often happens over meals and in hallways as well.

A lot of years ago I took a test as part of trying to use my faith in my writing. It turned out that one of my spiritual gifts was the gift of encouragement. I am an agent as a means of trying to use that gift and I particulary go to conferences in order to do that.

Terry Burns said...

There are those who say they love my western dress and demeanor. But on occassion I find people who didn't pitch me because they thought I just represented westerns and they wrote something else. Actually I only have one client that even writes westerns (along with some other things). I wonder if this is more of a problem than I think and if I should perhaps tone down the image a bit?

Audrey said...

Terry, don't tone down your image... it's an important part of who you are.

As I mentioned in my comment above, I'm not sure that I (we) totally understand how the whole "pitch to an agent" process works. I would love to be able to present my idea/s and a sample of my writing and see if it makes sense to move forward to completion. If this is something that is possible, then I think more people would be glad to leave a workshop,

As for the cowboy gotta love a man with a big hat and the self confidence to wear it!

Traci LeBrun said...

Love the western look that you have as that is who you are. I didn't even know you took appointments and I asked about you on Weds. and someone said you were an agent. Being the novice that I am, I just thought you were this elusive creature that roamed among the editors talking with only the 'special people.' Was glad to see you sitting alone and grabbed the opportunity to tell you about my future book! Otherwise, I thought I was going to have to throw my stuff at you in the hallway ;) Thanks for listening and thanks for the encouragement today. Will soon have a manuscript for you to look at if you are willing.