Why Isn’t My Agent Working for Me at Conferences?

Often I’m asked by writers to pitch a book at a conference I’m attending. Sometimes I’m asked to find out the status of a submission. Because of my writing background, I totally understand these impulses. When I was writing novels, I asked these questions of my agent. So believe me, I’ve experienced the frustration of being at home, wondering why my agent isn’t asking about and pitching my work at conference.

And as an agent, I can tell you why I rarely, if ever, ask for a status or pitch a book at conference.

I don’t ask for a status of a manuscript because the editor won’t have her logbook or spreadsheet with her – or at least, not convenient at the time. She’ll be seeing lots of other agents and authors. No one can expect any editor to answer status questions from memory. But as your agent, I can contact editors any time, when they ARE near their records, and receive an accurate answer.

Of course, if an editor volunteers information about a pending submission, I’m happy to listen, learn, and share any information with the author.

But no editor needs a spreadsheet to hear a pitch, right? Well, no. But pitching manuscripts is not the purpose of most editor and agent meetings at conferences. Rather, we are strengthening relationships. We talk business, but will listen to editors rather than throw them pitches, no matter how excited we are or how much we love the author.

Might we mention a manuscript or author? Yes, but to pique interest. Then we can follow up with a dynamite proposal. This proposal will be expected by the editor and will contain all the information the editor needs, not just the highlights we might cram in at a conference. Or we might not mention you or your manuscript, but make a note to present that particular editor with your fabulous proposal that will speak directly to the publishing needs and wants of that editor. This allows you to look your best at all times.

So while you’re at home, wondering why your agent isn’t working hard for you at a conference, relax and take this time to write or chill, or both. Your agent is working hard for you. Maybe just not the way you think.


Your turn:

What do you think agents should accomplish at a conference?

What is your favorite part of a conference?

19 Responses to Why Isn’t My Agent Working for Me at Conferences?

  1. Avatar
    Ane Mulligan September 8, 2016 at 5:13 am #

    Exactly what you’re doing. That’s one of my main reasons for going to a conference. Yes, I love the classes, but my number one reason is to strengthen relationships with fellow authors, editors, and agents. My agent was a friend for several years before she became my agent. When the agent I was with rrtired, it was a natural move to pitch to my friend.

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    Barbara September 8, 2016 at 7:41 am #

    I think the best thing about conferences is discovering others who are passionate about books, too. What a neat place to find more book recommendations than I have time to read?

    And yes, I think the value comes from finding new friends or meeting for the first time face to face. These are the ones who are going to encourage you on an off day or celebrate on the best day.

    But, I’m grateful to this practical insight of what conferences look like for the agent and the editor. Thank you!

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 8, 2016 at 9:23 am #

      Barbara, you’re right about the recommendations. Most conferences have a book store and one swoop alone is enough to keep a reader busy for months!

  3. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson September 8, 2016 at 8:01 am #

    I agree with Ane. You do what you’re doing. I go to conferences to learn better writing techniques, but mingling with others who share my interest in writing is energizing. Nervously pitching novel(s) to agents, editors, and publishers is another reason why everyone attends. Knowing my agent has my back makes it a little easier to pitch to the editors and publishers.

  4. Avatar
    Cheryl Waugh September 8, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    Agent panel discussions, the informative presentations like the one Steve shared that showcased his sense-of-humor were valuable. (We missed you Tamela.)
    The Christian writers I met topped the list. There wasn’t a sense of competition but more of a sense of supportive camaraderie. Knowing their journeys, their inspirations and the knowledge they’ve gained was priceless.
    The editors who provided invaluable feedback. Priceless!
    Agents who came to develop relationships, were approachable, showed enthusiasm for their demanding jobs, promoted the industry and flashed an occasional smile very appreciated.

    My first ACFW conference experience very beneficial.

  5. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray September 8, 2016 at 9:25 am #

    So glad to hear your first conference was so wonderful, Cheryl. I missed being at ACFW, one of my favorite conferences! Hope to see you next time.

  6. Avatar
    Martha Rogers September 8, 2016 at 10:42 am #

    I love the networking with other authors and editors at the conferences as well as the valuable information learned in the workshops. Even though you were not at this year’s ACFW, I know you have my best interests at heart as you do all your authors.

    • Avatar
      Tamela Hancock Murray September 8, 2016 at 11:22 am #

      Absolutely, Martha! I’m so grateful that the Lord has sent me so many wonderful authors. So grateful for you!

  7. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 8, 2016 at 10:49 am #

    Well, I don’t have an agent, and it’s not likely now that I’ll ever be able to attend a conference, but here’s how I see it –

    The agent’s job is to network and to try to identify trends so that she may best serve her ‘stable’ of clients. I would not be the only client, and would expect that conference time would be spent in finding ways to lift everyone…not just me.

    And it is the agent’s rice bowl; if I were to trust her with my career, I would stand back and let her do her work, the best way she sees fit. It’s her area of expertise.

    What would I enjoy most, if I could go? I’m going to be stupid and honest and transparent here…and decidedly uncool and un-Asian.

    I’d treasure the hugs. I have never been a hugger by nature, but having been housebound for three years, I miss the camaraderie, and the physical expressions of camaraderie.

    And it’s not that I’m a dude in a female-dominated corner of the writing world. I’d welcome an abrazo from another dude (as long as he didn’t try to kiss me on the cheek or something).

    But one thing…if I do make it to a conference, it’ll be with one or more service dogs, and you have to hug them FIRST.

  8. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray September 8, 2016 at 11:24 am #

    Andrew, you might not be the only author there with a service dog. You’re well known to the Christian writing community, so I know lots of people will reach out to you and your furry friends!

    • Avatar
      Andrew Budek-Schmeisser September 8, 2016 at 1:02 pm #

      Tamela, your words are magic…being well-known here is a humbling honour, and one for which I will ever be grateful.

      I am aiming to be at ACFW next year. If you see a Chinese dude wearing a black t-shirt and wraparound Oakleys, accompanied by a Heeler, a Pit, and a Bullmastiff…that will be me.

      And my trio of service dogs…all girls, and serious as a Trident missile.

  9. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee September 8, 2016 at 12:00 pm #

    Tamela, thank you for explaining how things work! BTW, I sat next to one of your clients at dinner during the ACFW conference in Nashville and she spoke very highly of you.

  10. Avatar
    Diana Holvik September 8, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    My favourite part of a conference is making new writing friends and reconnecting with old ones. But I also love it when a workshop or a teaching session just nails the things I need to know, things I have wondered about, or been confused about. For instance I loved the workshop [I think it was a workshop] that you gave at Write Canada 2016 where you answered tons of questions about agents and editors and publishing. And, bonus, I made two new friends…you, and the other person in the workshop.

  11. Avatar
    Richard Mabry September 9, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

    Tamela, when I began this road to writing, I had the same thoughts you addressed, but as I got a bit of experience under my belt with conferences and interactions with editors, I began to understand that my agent can subtly pitch my work, but this was neither the time nor place for a hard sell. Of course, when an editor asks to hear more, then leaves the conference with a manuscript to read on the plane (and this is how my agent sold my first novel), that’s simply an unexpected blessing. Thanks for the post.


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