Last year I attended the 2011 James River Writer’s Conference full of self-doubt. I was nervous that I wouldn’t fit in with the scholarly, eclectic, and creative world. I’m an Army Officer. I’m not a writer. Could I be both, though?
I had written my first book while in Afghanistan. Big deal, right? I mean this conference was going to be full of serious writers. Surely they would look down on me. For the entire conference I was timid, stressed, and constantly trying to sell myself to possible literary agents and publishing folks.
Of course, I was wrong on all accounts. I met tons of great people. I made great contacts that eventually led me to landing an agent. Yes, the 2011 James River Conference led to me getting that hard-to-land agent many writers strive for.
So this year as I drove up Route 64 towards Richmond for the 2012 James River Writers Conference, I listened to the fantasy football channel on my Sirius radio contemplating some lineup changes. I had no idea what agents were available for the one-on-one pitch session. I hadn’t spent hours writing and practicing a pitch for Pitchapalooza. I hadn’t even looked at the conference agenda to see which workshops I wished to attend.
I simply wanted to spend the weekend being surrounded by creativity. I also wanted see my editor and writing coach Ginger Moran and reconnect with the fabulous Book Doctors, Dave Henry Sterry and Arielle Eckstut. Ginger has been with me since the beginning, from editing the first draft to coaching me on the search for an agent to helping set up my website.
What a difference a year can make!
So this is what I learned at the 2012 James River Conference:
- The more you as an author do and are prepared to do to market your book, the better.
- Literary agents command respect when negotiating the sale of the book with publishers. They carry the weight of the agency and all its authors on their shoulders. Agents have established contracts with publishers.
- Independent authors sell an average of 345 books. Independent authors that self-publish have a tough road.
- I need a downloadable Press Kit on my website.
- I can use a lot of the material in Paws on the Ground that I cut in the revision as bonus material someday.
- I should place an actual email address in my contact link. It is easier than the form.
- I need to start collecting blurb commitments for my debut novel.
- (I gleaned a bunch of writing techniques and tips but will share those another time.)
I spent twenty minutes talking to the terrific and talented David Henry Sterry. Last year when I sat down with David I was sweating profusely and full of trepidation as I pitched him my book. This year I received a 20 minute lesson on the publishing world. What I love about David is his energy and passion for authors. He genuinely cares about authors. We discussed strategies to position myself for the best deal when my book is sold. I took copious notes!
One thing that annoyed me at the Conference this year:
I heard countless questions from aspiring authors in varying sessions about how to land representation from a literary agent. I was in their position last year. I understand.
So at first when several relatively new authors were on a panel talking about firing their agent or not signing with the first agent that offered them representation, I was aghast. Here they were on their perch, literally looking down on everyone, telling people who would kill for an agent not to take the first offer of representation. It pissed me off that they were talking about jumping to a new agent like it was as easy as changing dentists.
I say bullshit. I took the first offer and am quite happy.
After learning more about their situation, I understand what these authors meant. Two of the authors seemed to have started this journey with fringe agents. I only sought representation from credible agents from agencies with excellent reputations. That is my advice.
I was amazed when one of the literary agents attending said that she accepts only two new clients a year. She receives 150 queries a week. That is nearly 8,000 authors a year who are hoping she accepts them as a client. Two out of 8,000—those aren’t great odds.
Someone asked me how I landed my agent. Sure I won Pitchapalooza. But that didn’t guarantee me landing an agent. I was guaranteed an introduction only. The rest was up to me.
So here is my advice:
- Make your book stand out.
- Submit a finished product if you’re writing fiction
- Have a plan of attack for seeking an agent. (Here was mine)
- Start building a platform NOW
- Work your ass off and don’t stop
You are going to get rejections. Deal with it. Literary agents that request a submission are probably going to reject you. Deal with it. I kept all my rejection letters and emails. I even have a couple nasty ones that motivate me.
One last thing: You have a better chance of landing an agent when you receive an introduction. I actually had a few introductions from people I’ve met in the industry. What that does is move your manuscript higher in that agent’s slush pile. They will actually get back to you. Again, this doesn’t automatically mean that this agent will sign you.
Also, get your ass to a conference and meet the agent yourself. Pitch them. If your conference has a pitch competition, participate. Ask to pitch agents you aren’t meeting with anywhere except the bathroom. Use your exposure to them to get your project in their face and mind. Don’t be annoying or act like a nut, though.
OK, enough ranting about the Conference and landing an agent. Please feel free to post your link to any of your lessons learned or reflections from the conference.
What have you learn at a writer’s conference that really helped you?
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