Agent Quest Part 1

I attended the Willamette Writers Conference last weekend. Wow, what a three days! I was told by a fellow attendee that this is the largest writers conference on the west coast. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but the dense, rich selection of activities surely made it the best cheesecake of a general conference I have ever attended.

As I have posted in the past, I am at that stage in my writing career when it is time to find an agent, and this conference had an entire ballroom full of agents—agents for screenwriters and every genre of writing you can imagine.

However, in addition to opportunities to pitch agents there were workshops, a minimum of 7 new-every-time offered four times throughout the day. And there were some time slots where I wished I had the magical ability to attend as many as three. I could have happily just attended workshops all weekend and felt I’d got my money’s worth.

However, I had committed to this conference as the first step in my agent quest. Therefore, appointments with agents had to take precedence over even the most enthralling workshops.

I met with six agents, and pitched a seventh after she had finished teaching a workshop on young adult literature. All seven invited me to submit pages (ranging from 10 to fifty, although one asked for the complete manuscript. (Don’t get too excited for me, however, because she asked everyone in the group pitch to send the whole thing. She said that was just her style.)

There were two ways to pitch: one-on-one appointments and group pitches.

A one-on-one was just like it sounds—you and the agent. There’s just enough time to deliver your pitch (the equivalent of the blurb on the back of a book) and answer the agent’s follow-up questions, and maybe ask a few of your own. People were pretty worked up before going to these, but honestly, all the agents I talked to were pretty nice. They were at the conference because they wanted to meet authors and find good stories they would like to rep.

The group pitch seated us around a table with about six writers and our chosen agent. Each of us had the opportunity to make our short, blurby pitch. Sometimes the agent gave feedback immediately, sometimes he or she waited and responded after hearing everyone. These took a little longer (twenty minutes out of workshop time, instead of ten :-( ) However, it was useful to listen as others pitched and determine what they did well (to imitate) or poorly (to avoid).

In addition to attending workshops and pitching agents, there were lunchtime speakers, and you could go for manuscript and film critiques, pitch practice, book signings, massages—for those who need to have the stress kneaded out of them, and an awards banquet.

I came home exhausted—satisfied, but exhausted. I’ve mailed out my pages to each agent as requested. Now its time to thoroughly research the agents for round two, which begins next Monday. Look out Oregon Christian Writers Conference, because here I come.

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Reading Logs for Writers

Aspiring authors are encouraged to “read like a writer.” As a Language Arts teacher, that was one of the concepts I was encouraged to instill in students. However, as a lover of reading, first, and as a teacher who wanted to promote a love of reading in her students, it is a concept I often resisted. When I read, I want to sit down and enjoy a book. It is my most beloved pastime, and I do not want to have to work in the little amount of time I have each day for leisure.

However, since starting my reading log, I have been inspired to use my logging process not just to celebrate my progress through the wonderful world of books, but to log like a writer. And so, I am expanding my logging process, not here in the blog, but in my writing office, to incorporate some of the practices of reading like a writer. My plan is this:

  • Read all acknowledgements, introductory material, and back matter.
  • Record the names of agents who represented any novels similar to mine.
  • Record the names of editors who have worked on novels similar to mine.
  • Update my publisher records with the title, author, and genre of the book.

I am presently in search of an agent to represent my two completed novels, and so making note of agents who have worked on similar projects can help me narrow down the pool of possibilities and submit to someone I know represents my type of writing.

Recording the names of editors and publishing houses will be useful in two ways:

  1. When I want to submit directly to those houses that will look at unsolicited material, I will have a name of someone interested in writing like mine.
  2. When I need to make a list of comparable titles for my queries, or cite a work an agent or editor worked on in crafting my query, I can have instant recall of authors and titles through my records.

As an added bonus, it makes me at least think about my reading like a writer after I have finished the book. As I make my various notations, I need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the novel, pinpoint genre or genres, and determine if the book is truly of a caliber to which I would want my work compared.

So at last, I have graduated to the writing class! Through my logging I will practice reading like a writer, and my querying process will be supported by the foundation of targeted information I will build.