“As an agent, what percentage of your new clients come from meetings at conferences vs. general email or postal proposals? Can you address the importance of conferences?”
Thanks to Scott for the question. It is a good one. Another way to frame it is “Where do you find new clients? Blind submissions or conferences?”
The answer, as always, is “It depends.”
Meeting someone at a conference is a marvelous way to get to know someone and hear their heart’s desires. In the beginning of my career as an editor it was the conference circuit where I discovered dozens of new authors. When I became an agent, I had already developed a number of relationships that helped build the client list rather quickly.
Today it is a mix. I recently signed a new non-fiction client that was done completely by email and phone. His writing is fantastic. He sent me his proposal via the recommendation of a mutual friend. What the author didn’t know is that I had been following his blog for quite some time so was already familiar with his skill as a writer.
The Writing Skill is Key, Even at a Conference
The relationship can begin at a conference but it is still the book itself that lands our representation. I’ve often met someone and am impressed. We can brainstorm ideas, but it is rare to be able to read very much of any manuscript while at a conference. There simply isn’t enough time. That is why the agent or editor will say “send it to me.” The agent or editor knows that it is back in the office when the manuscript or proposal will be properly evaluated.
I know of some agents who offer representation on-the-spot at a conference. I’ve done that too, but very rarely. Maybe a half-dozen times over the years. Yet I still prefer to read the material more closely. However, meeting that author at an event can help sway my opinion. I may think “This material needs work, but that author is a gifted communicator so I’m willing to work with them to make the book idea sing.”
Why a Conference?
We’ve written at length about conferences (a list of 54 articles can be found here) but the questions still surface.
Consider the conference expense as an investment in your future. A place to get a better picture of the scope of the industry and the variety of opportunities. So many come to a conference with book in hand hoping to land the big deal. They come away with a dose of reality but also an understanding of how big the industry is and that magazine or online writing is a great way to grow as a writer.
Rubbing shoulders with quality faculty and other veteran authors can only help your own journey. I’ve seen life-long friendships develop at a writers conference. It is a place to meet those who are wired just like you are. To learn that you are not alone in your calling.
And yet not everyone can afford the time or the money to attend. This is one reason I worked to form The Christian Writers Institute (www.christianwritersinstitute.com), a place where nearly 100 classes are available in various forms so that a writer can learn at their own pace, on any device, at any time.
In addition, there are myriad blogs that help educate writers. We have over 1,500 articles available on this blog alone.
There is virtually no limit to the ways to educate yourself on the world of writing.
Those who have been published, how many of you made your connection at a conference versus through the general submission process?
What about periodical writing? Which of you made the connection at a conference versus the general submission process?
Every agent connection I’ve made has been at a conference, and I highly recommend them. Steve, you may recall you and I met at a conference; we had lunch in fact, and I remember it still: ACW in Phoenix. 😉
I still think that relationships and networking is the first, best way to build not only a career but lasting friendships. Terry Whalin, who represented me for a while, is a good example: we’re still friends today and have known each other for about 10 years now. In fact, my last book got published from a publisher he recommended and I got a quote from a well-known historical writer whom I had befriended online. Many of my writer friends I met at conferences.
I cannot speak to periodicals, as I’ve only ever been a novelist. But conferences are still the number one way to connect, in my mind.
Steve, I didn’t start attending conferences hoping to get representation by an agent–I wanted to know how to write a publishable book. I met lots of neat people, forming neat friendships that have lasted. I did meet my current agent at a conference, when she was an editor. (People in publishing change professions occasionally, it seems). And congratulations on your efforts to put together the Christian Writes Network, for those who can’t–for one reason or another–attend a conference.
Circumstances will preclude my ever going to a conference, and I regret that; I’d just like to meet, for a moment, the people who have made my life so much more that it might have been, and say, “Thanks.”
I connected with editor Travis Perry through the Realm Makers conference. Attended three conferences and, once I learned what was going on, I submitted a story to him for the anthology Mythic Orbits 2016. He rejected it, which sent me into a negative, dark place. Clawing my way out of that depressing space helped me to write “Escapee,” which Mr. Perry accepted after some back and forth editing suggestions. The experience ended up being all good. Now I’m ready for more fun times.
Thank you, Steve for this insider information. I’ve attended a few conferences and met some wonderful writers, agents, and publishers. So far, I’ve not knocked the socks off any one of them. However, I have sold over 200 articles to various periodicals. I sent the manuscripts per the prescribed method. Some of my writing is available online. The goal is to get the material published. One day, an agent I’ve met somewhere along the road may sign me up. That would be exciting. Until that day, I plan to submit in a variety of ways. Conferences have many side benefits, and meeting people in the writing industry is never a waste of time or money.
All the best, Effie-Alean Gross
Martha Whiteman Rogers
I met you, Steve, at an ACW conference here in Houston. You spent considerable time with me as an editor, and I’ve never forgotten that.
I met Tamela at the first ACFW conference in Kansas City and was taken in by her smile and bubbling personality when we had lunch together. I didn’t submit to her, but when I showed my manuscript to a good friend who was an agent at the same agency, she immediately steered me toward Tamela and even told her about me. Tamela asked for a submission, she liked it, and she’s been my agent since then.
Conference workshops are where I learned more about writing than I could ever imagine. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend every ACFW conference as well as three years at Mt. Hermon. The friends, connections, and information gained are worth the money.
I won’t make it to ACFW this year. I’ll be 81 and it’s getting more difficult to travel alone although most people are quick to assist me when I need it.
I submitted a few proposals, my first to Steve. He was the only agent to provide any feedback, and as a new author even a “no” is valuable. I attended the FCWC in February and through my mentor appointment, I was able to clean up my proposal. It was a hot mess, no wonder he said no! I was fortunate to win the writing contest for non-fiction and every person I pitched invited me to submit. Through the conference, I received an agent offer and a publication offer. I didn’t go to the conference expecting any of this, I just went to learn. The contacts I met and the invites I received have been invaluable. I’m not published yet, but things are looking good.
I long to go to as many writing conferences as I can get to, however, the timing is rather difficult at present. But I’m not giving up! I want to go mainly
To learn and hone my craft, but as a consummate extrovert, the potential relationships are a definite draw as well.
I write for a few different periodicals. The first one came about because of word of mouth – a friend of a friend recommended me for a guest article. I wrote a few of those for them and then a year or so ago they invited me on as a regular contributor. My most recent periodical I landed through an email query and the connection for having served as a writer for a large faith-based non-profit.
I’m entering the world of querying agents for my novel now, and finding the path a bit muddy, but I’m excited to learn all
Amanda Cleary Eastep
I wasn’t offered a contract at the Chicago Writers Conference last year, but I enjoyed the opportunity to pitch to an agent. She asked for a proposal and sample chapters, then for the entire manuscript. The whole process was a great learning experience, and knowing I would be meeting her at the conference prompted me to finish my rewrite beforehand. Although things didn’t progress with the agent, I have continued to move forward better equipped.
Thanks, Steve, and everyone at the agency for all of the incredibly helpful blog posts!