Tis the Season for Writers’ Conferences

Oh my gosh, wasn’t that the


Congratulations Kris Allen!

Now for today’s post.

We’re now fully into spring and that means… writers’ conferences! Many of you are probably planning to attend at least one conference in the next few months. There’s quite a bit of information available online about preparing for conferences, but I want to discuss just one tiny aspect: your one-on-one meetings with agents and editors.

You’re going to get lots of advice about how to prepare for those meetings: what to bring, how to pitch, etc. I’m not going over all that again. I want to offer a slightly different perspective, and it’s this: Consider using your editor/agent appointments for getting honest feedback on your manuscript and asking other publishing questions a professional can help with, rather than simply pitching and asking whether they want to see more.

Now, many agents just want your pitch and that’s it. Their time is valuable, and they want to know whether you’re going to have something for them or not. They’re not much interested in anything else. This is especially true if you’re going to a conference where the pitch meetings are 5 or 8 minutes long. You’re in. You pitch. You’re out. Done.

But if your conference has 10 or 15-minute meetings, the situation might be different. You might pitch your book and quickly find out it’s not something in which they’re interested. Or you may have already learned (from a panel, a workshop, or a conversation) that your project isn’t likely to interest this editor or agent. So, in addition to your pitch, come to the conference with a short list of questions you might ask the people with whom you have meetings. You want to use your time with them productively.

I know most of you have no trouble coming up with questions! Probably any question you’d ask me on this blog would be something you could ask whomever you’re meeting with. You could also ask something specific about your book… for example, getting their opinion on whether your genre is saleable right now, or whether your topic requires a platform.

Now that we’re on the topic of conferences, what questions do you have for me? I’ll answer them in future blog posts.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Anonymous on May 23, 2009 at 9:06 AM

    >I am so glad that Adam didn’t win. He had all the packaging BUT…BUT he was way too showy. A flash in the pan. I tend to be partial to what’s inside anyways šŸ™‚ Congrats Kris You are a great singer and appear to be a great person. Good Luck sir šŸ™‚

    Angeleyes Blue

  3. Dawn Herring on May 22, 2009 at 11:42 AM

    >When Ryan announced that Kris was the next American Idol, I jumped up and said, “Yes!!” I was so glad he won. I truly felt he wasn’t given his fair share of review time; he is a very talented musician and vocalist. I am delighted for him. I appreciate his modesty and humble attitude. It’s refreshing.

    I don’t plan to attend any conferences this year; I would prefer to wait until I have a completed fiction ms. I see a writer’s conference as a valuable investment, and I don’t want to enter into that time prematurely. Plus I still have to work on the pitch for my story.

  4. Joyce on May 22, 2009 at 12:15 AM

    >Both Adam and Kris are winners to me. Adam is undeniably a good singer, and Kris has oodles of talent. They’ll both go far, and it’s great to see them on such great terms. Kris is so modest and is full of quiet talent. I’m glad he won, just as I would be glad if Adam won anyway.

    And yes, BEST SEASON EVER.

  5. christa on May 21, 2009 at 10:46 PM

    >What’s up with this “Upmarket Fiction”?

  6. Kim Kasch on May 21, 2009 at 7:58 PM

    >I love conferences and not just for the agent/editor time. I love being with like-minded people and making new friends.

    Plus, I met my critique partners at a conference.

  7. Rose McCauley on May 21, 2009 at 4:40 PM

    >Hi, Rachelle! I have a question about one-sheets. I prepared one for my current MS when I went to the ACFW conference last year. Now I am preparing for the WTP conference next month, but don’t know whether to take it or not. Someone on the loop said they had never heard of one-sheets except at ACFW. Do you think they are useful or useless? thanks!

  8. Laura Jean on May 21, 2009 at 3:35 PM


    check this out!

  9. Marybeth on May 21, 2009 at 3:27 PM

    >I have to say, that was THE BEST American Idol Finale I’ve ever seen. My attention was captured the entire time (well when I wasn’t tweeting about what was going on at least!) And I literally jumped up and screamed when Kris won. I love him!

    I am not able to attend a conference just yet, unfortunately they cost quite a bit of money…but I think I would be terrified of a pitch session. I hate trying to verbally tell someone what my book is about.

    Do you have any advice as to how to present a pitch? Do you just recite your synopsis and sound awkward or is there a better way of doing it?

    Thanks Rachelle! Great Post!

  10. Anonymous on May 21, 2009 at 2:07 PM

    >I do think Adam is a better singer (and just as handsome as Kris), but he’ll likely do better on his own w/out the Idol commitmens. He’s a superstar for sure! Kris is a cutie and will do well w/ his good looks and musical talent–both are winners!

  11. Dawn on May 21, 2009 at 12:59 PM

    >Loved, loved, loved the American Idol finale. I would have been happy with either Adam or Kris winning. But since Adam’s career will soar anyway, it was great to see Kris take the title.

    I’ve experienced conference appointments with both agents and editors. Some make it easy, while other meetings are stressful.

    Some editors/agents seem to want the one-liner get-down-to-business approach. Others prefer to chat about what I’m pitching and why I’m excited about the story.

    What approach do you prefer and why?

  12. Timothy Fish on May 21, 2009 at 10:58 AM

    >Which writers’ conference do you think is the most beneficial?

  13. Anonymous on May 21, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,

    I’m heading to my first conference in June and I’m pumped. I do have a couple of questions though.
    I’ve signed up for a pitch session with an agent, and an author friend of mine mentioned that I should include a picture of myself in my proposal package. Do agents really want my picture? I was thinking of putting my picture on the business card I’m making for the conference. Is that a good idea?
    Also, for my business card, because I have a couple of manuscripts completed, but they are unpublished, do I call myself a “writer”, or an “author”. What constitutes a title?

  14. Michael Gray on May 21, 2009 at 9:28 AM

    >Aside from going to a writer’s conference and asking an agent/editor, what is the best way to find out if a particular genre/topic is hot or cold right now? I’m not far enough along yet to attend a conference and make a pitch, but it would be nice to know.

  15. lynnrush on May 21, 2009 at 9:14 AM

    >Oh yeah, I have a thought I’d love to hear your thoughts on.

    For a one-on-one meeting, I will have picked an agent/editor who represents supernatural/paranormal, so….I feel like I just want to talk with him/her. You know, find out what he/she is interested in reading.

    Then, during the course of the conversation, if one of my six completed novels might interest them, bring it up (I’ll be armed with one sheets for each novel, just in case).

    I could mention, “Oh, ________ (insert one line summary) might interest you…”

    Or should I just go in, decided on which one I’ll pitch?

    Thanks. Oh, and BTW, Idol DID rock last night. Yeah Kris.

  16. Krista Phillips on May 21, 2009 at 8:34 AM

    >I went to my first BIG conference last year, ACFW. I was so excited, and wasn’t really nervous EXCEPT for the agent/editor part.

    Bless his heart, poor Steve Laube got the unfortunate position of being the first agent I pitched to. It went a little something like this:

    Krista: I, uah, have this, um, uh, I don’t know, ee, oh, yeah, ya see, um, I really don’t know what I’m doing. Can I just give you my onesheet to read or something like that? (picture me shaking so badly the paper rattles as I shove it across the table.)

    Steve: Sure! (Bless his heart!)

    *reads the sellsheet
    *asks questions
    *I give blubbering answers

    Steve: Well, our time is up. Nice meeting you.

    Krista: Thanks!

    My next meeting with an editor when 100x’s better, mostly because I had the first one out of the way and, well, I KNEW I couldn’t do any worse that I already had!

    Questions about pitching? I guess maybe what do YOU like to see when you’re pitched to? Do you one a one-page sell sheet? Is it handy to have a proposal available? Do you like to read a sample of the writing or just discuss the concept?

  17. Camille Cannon Eide on May 21, 2009 at 8:33 AM

    >I was allowed to attend Mt Hermon two years in a row as a gift, each unrelated in their source… though God was clearly behind both. How’s that for affirmation? This HAD to be a sign that I’m a writer! But the smart part of my brain (a portion invisible to the naked eye) suggests it’s a sign that I need LOTS of training. šŸ™‚

    I did talk to editors both times about the same ms. I was 163% more comfortable talking to them the 2nd time and was able to let go of the ‘omg what if I say something lame’ phobia and actually ENJOY meeting them in person, hearing THEM. I really enjoyed talking with those editors because I was focused on them, not on selling.

    I know, the mantra THIS IS YOUR ONCE SHOT TO QUERY DON’T BLOW IT MAN is tatooed to our skull and yet, ironically, can be sooooo debilitating. Yes, outside of a conference our options for querying are few, but if you can find a way to relax, the opportunity to talk to an editor is such a treat. The editors I spoke to struck a resonating chord with me by sharing their love of books. I’ll never forget that. The editor is not the writer’s enemy! They love (great) books! This was highly motivating and encouraging to hear as a not-so-young debutante career writer.

    Sorry, was that supposed to be a question?

  18. Anonymous on May 21, 2009 at 8:25 AM

    >I wish I’d had this advice before I went to my last conference. I didn’t have a pitch session, but I had a critique session with an editor. I brought a picture book manuscript that I had already revised and rewritten five or six times. She had a few minor suggestions for me, but not much. It took maybe five minutes and then I didn’t know what to do. She said the manuscript was ready to start sending out, but she wasn’t interested in it because her publishing house was looking for something different. It would have been nice to have had a list of questions I could have asked or something to take up the rest of my expensive fifteen minutes.


  19. Lois Lane II on May 21, 2009 at 8:22 AM

    >Where can we learn about writers’ conferences?

  20. Chatty Kelly on May 21, 2009 at 7:44 AM

    >I LOVED IDOL LAST NIGHT! The duets were the best, the dumb humor wasn't over done like in past years,and Kara dissed the bikini girl! LOVED IT! Both the guys have great careers ahead of them.

    Heading to a conference in August & looking forward to getting lots of good tips here! šŸ™‚

  21. Rachel on May 21, 2009 at 7:22 AM

    >I’n not able to go to any conferences this spring, but I am storing away this good advice till next year. Also, I went back through Tuesday’s post, and bought three great resources off of Amazon that were mentioned repeatedly by different authors. This blog is the best. I like it even better than American Idol… (hahaha)

  22. Janna Qualman on May 21, 2009 at 7:13 AM

    >It really was such an amazing show last night. I can’t get over what was the highlight for me – which was Danny Gokey (still my fave) with Lionel Richie! Oh, just amazing.

    Conferences are something I’m really beginning to keep my eyes open for. Thanks for the peep at what to expect!

  23. Jessica on May 21, 2009 at 6:08 AM

    >I’ve only been to one conference years ago with my baby (first unfinished manuscript, lol!)
    The agent I met with was really nice and more than happy to give me some great advice.
    I’ll never forget that agent!
    Great post! I’m looking forward to meeting people at ACFW and asking TONS of questions! LOL

  24. Katie on May 21, 2009 at 5:20 AM

    >I didn’t watch it this year – but I wish I would have watched the finale. A radio announcer was saying yesterday that the match up was like David and Goliath. Looks like David wins again. šŸ™‚

    I’m going to the ACFW conference (my first one) and I’m both very excited and very nervous – especially for the agent/editor appointments. I like your idea – about asking questions. My mentor suggested the same thing. I hate sounding like a door-to-door vacuum salesman. And that’s what the pitch sort of sounded like to me at first. “Hello, my name is Katie and here’s my book.” This approach is much more my style – less nerve-wracking!

    – I’m confused about the actual pitching. Everybody talks about elevator pitches. After I’ve asked some questions, do I just come right out and tell the agent/editor my elevator pitch and then wait for him/her to ask more about it? That seems awkward for some reason! And when I get nervous – I ramble. Oh Jeesh, I don’t want to start rambling!

    – Is it okay to just come right out and say, “This is my first time doing this and I’m very nervous?” Or is that unprofessional? I ask because sometimes when I get everything out there, it calms me down.

    Thanks Rachelle!

  25. Yamile on May 21, 2009 at 1:50 AM

    >I just barely finished watching the finale; I’ve been offline all day trying not to get spoiled. I love Kris!
    Well, in a few days I’m going to my first conference ever and I’ll humbly come back to check on the comments more experienced writers than me have to offer.