Saturday, April 22, 2017

Summer Camp for Writers: An Agent’s Guide to Conferences

It’s that time again. Spring in New England—the tulips are blooming, the trees are budding, and the conference invitations are piling up. With the warm weather comes the promise of fun and frolic in the sun and in bland hotels across the land. That’s right, it’s conference season.

Writers are always asking me which conferences they should attend. That’s a very personal decision as well as a professional one. I think of these events as summer camp for writers: kids thrown together for a common purpose, to make friends and learn new skills and hike and swim and stay up too late. I consider these factors when I schedule my summers. I must really love a conference to go during this glorious season, because my little lakeside cottage is always calling to me to stay home and enjoy the singular pleasures of summer: Garden! Swim! Sun! Kayak! Paddleboard! Play! Play! Play!

Here’s a list of the conferences I’ll be attending, and my reasons for doing so, as an author and a writing teacher and an agent. Conferences are not cheap, and I choose with budget and benefit in mind.

APRIL 28-30
Malice is the fan conference for traditional mystery. This will be my first time going this year, and I making the trek to Bethesda because:
1)      Three of my clients are up for Agatha Awards, and want to cheer them on: Alexia Gordon, Kate Flora, and Roger Guay!
2)      I can share a room with a dear friend, saving on expenses and boosting the fun factor.
3)      Many of my clients write traditional mysteries.
4)      I write traditional mysteries myself.
5)      Dozens of my friends and clients are going, so there will plenty of people to hang out with at the bar.
6)      Many editors to whom I shop projects will be there, and I can buy them martinis.

MAY 18-21 
This is an online WD workshop I do with my sister agents Gina Panettieri and Saba Sulaiman of Talcott Notch Literary. It’s fun and I don’t have to leave the house.

This is the big annual trade show for trade publishing. Going is obligatory for me as an agent, because:
1)      Everyone is there, at the parties if not at the Javits Center.
2)      Our agency always has a table in the Rights Center, where we meet with editors and publishers and rights people. We pitch our projects big time to all the aforementioned.
3)      Walking the show floor is a great place to check out which publishers are publishing what.
4)      There are lots of informative panels where editors and writers talk about the business.
5)      Book signings abound, and that means free books!
6)      Even editors who avoid the Javits Center tend to be in town, and available for off-site meetings over breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks.

This is a quarterly conference dedicated to the art of pitching. I’m one of the workshop leaders, helping a group of 15-20 writers learn how to pitch their projects, and coaching them through their real-time pitches with four New York editors. It’s an intense and very rewarding experience for me because:
1)      I love working with writers, not to mention conference founder Michael Neff and sister workshop leader Susan Breen.
2)      The level of craft among participants here is fairly high.
3)      I get to meet lots of editors in a setting outside the publishing house, many of whom have gone on to publish work by my clients.
4)      I’ve signed and sold several writers I met here.

JULY 13-16
ThrillerFest is the annual conference put on by the International Thriller Writers (ITW). Graced by big brand-name authors like Lee Child and Lisa Gardner, this conference offers many menu options for writers, from the usual panels to FBI school and a pitching free-for-all known as PitchFest. I go every year because:
1)      I represent a lot of crime writers.
2)      The PitchFest is de rigueur for agents representing crime fiction.
3)      This year I have a client up for a Thriller Award: Richard Thomas!
4)      People watching at the bar is awesome!
5)      So many of my friends, clients, and heroes/heroines will be there.
6)      It’s a great opportunity to network with editors and other publishing executives.

AUGUST 18-20
This is one of the best all-around general conferences for writers, which is no surprise given that Writers Digest is one of the premier organizations for writers. And I don’t say that just because they publish my writing books. I go most every year because:
1)      This is a great community of writers, both published and pre-published.
2)      I get the chance to meet with my own editor and publisher.
3)      The faculty is first-rate; as a presenter, I’m in good company with the likes of Hallie Ephron and Hank Phillippi Ryan and Jane Cleland.
4)      The Pitch Slam is a good time for meeting new writers and seeing all my fave fellow agents.

So, there you have it. My summer camp schedule for 2017. Hope to see to you somewhere, soon. I’ll be the agent at the bar waiting for you to buy me a martini and tell me all about your book.

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At April 25, 2017 at 6:31 AM , Blogger Jack Getze said...

Thrillerfest or WD -- which bar will see you hanging the most?

At April 27, 2017 at 4:24 AM , Blogger Paula Munier said...

I love hanging out with writers at bars at every conference. But I have more time at ThrillerFest...see you there!


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