Thursday, April 22, 2010

Presenters and Pitchfests and Panels, Oh my!

Those of you following me on Twitter (@AmyKCA…bear with me, I’m a newbie to the Twittersphere) may already know, but I’m packing my bags for Albuquerque this weekend to attend a writers conference co-sponsored by Southwest Writers and UNM Continuing Education. I’ve also recently returned from Houston, where I attended the Houston Writers Guild Conference, and I’m just getting warmed up…

From now through October, I’ll be spending my weekends in places as far afield as Orlando (Florida Writers Association Conference) and as close to home as Corte Madera (Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference). I’ll be appearing at one or more conferences each month from April through October, and my fellow agents at Kimberley Cameron & Associates will be doing the same. Why do we do it?

Yes, conferences can be overwhelming for agents. Picture yourself walking into a room of 100+ people, almost all of whom want five minutes of your time, and you can probably understand how that “AGENT” name tag feels like a target on your chest! It’s also true that we sometimes huddle together and scurry down the halls between sessions, fearing that if we break from the pack we may never be heard from again. And sure, it’s difficult to think straight after we’ve spent hours of back-to-back ten-minute appointments tracking all manner of plot twists and turns – from the unexpected to the totally bizarre.

But I have to admit that I find conferences to be a welcome change of pace in what can be a very quiet job. Now that we communicate with clients and editors mostly through email, a busy day at the office can be a silent one, and the opportunity to meet potential clients face-to-face and to talk about writing is downright refreshing. Unlike email, conferences are a great way to connect with writers and have a dialogue about their work. It’s also a great place to meet other agents and editors and to hear what kinds of books they are working on or looking for. (We also do that on whirlwind trips to New York… Kimberley and April just wrapped one up last week!)

If you’re planning to attend a conference sometime soon, here are some do’s and don’ts about approaching agents:

Do be brave and introduce yourself. We don’t bite.

Don’t be nervous. We’re just people…who want to talk about your book.

Do pitch us your book. That’s what we’re there for, and we expect it!

Don’t apologize for doing so. No need to open with, “I’m sorry, you must be so tired of hearing this…” We signed up to come to the conference, and (again) we expect it.

Do ask questions about the industry, the process, what we look for in a client, etc.. That’s what you’re there for!

Don’t assume that there is only one right answer. Agents often have different opinions, methods, and advice.

Do be polite and respectful. A potential client’s demeanor can determine whether I want to work with him or her...and whether I want to present them to an editor or send them off on a book tour.

Don’t follow us into the bathroom to pitch/ask questions. The bathroom is a safe zone. (I’ve never personally experienced this, but I know agents who have!)

Do be professional. We are professionals, and you should be too!

So, if you want to meet us, come to one of the following conferences in 2010. Either Kimberley, April, or I will be there. And we’ll be ready to talk about your book.

Fisherman’s Wharf Writers Conference (San Francisco, CA)

Backspace Writers Conference (New York City)

Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference (Homer, AK)

Whidbey Island Writers Conference (Whidbey Island, WA)

Aspen Summer Words (Aspen, CO)

Antioch Writers’ Workshop (Yellow Springs, OH)

Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference (Corte Madera, CA)

Pacific Northwest Writers Association Conference (Seattle, WA)

Mendocino Coast Writers Conference (Fort Bragg, CA)

Willamette Writers Conference (Portland, OR)

Book Passage Travel, Food, & Photography Conference (Corte Madera, CA)

Killer Nashville (Nashville, TN)

East of Eden Writers Conference (Salinas, CA)

Bouchercon By the Bay (San Francisco, CA)

SEAK Fiction Writing for Physicians Conference (Hyannis, MA)

Florida Writers Association Conference (Lake Mary, FL)


  1. Refreshing and welcoming to know it's okay to come up to an agent and pitch a book without first paying for the time. We look forward to having you here on the beautiful Mendocino Coast.

  2. Lauren Roedy VaughnApril 26, 2010 at 8:09 PM

    Thank you for this informative and entertaining post. You are such a standout in your profession. May your crazy schedule offer many rewards!

  3. I will be attending The Florida Writer's conference in Lake Mary and I look forward to meeting you and hopefully pitching my novel.
    Heidi Tassone

  4. I've been looking into conferences recently and naturally I'm nervous. These tips are extremely helpful. So, thank you for taking the time to post this.

  5. We look forward to having you here in the PacNW (Whidbey, June 12th). Could you/your colleagues comment on what you've learned from conferences that surprised you? When I teach, I always learn something unexpected from students, so I'm excited with each class to find out what that will be...

  6. Thanks, Editor Devil, for the warm welcome. I'm looking forward to Whidbey too! You've posed a great question, and a hard one to answer. Often, I feel that I learn about the place/region and the commonalities amongst writers there. Of course, there's a wide range of voices and stories pitched to me at a conference, but it's interesting to see where they overlap - they may address similar issues, incorporate similar story elements, or speak in similar voices. I find that living in a particular part of the country can influence the overall point of view of the writer, and that's both interesting and refreshing. (We want to hear new voices!) I also often come away with interesting bits of information about the industry or about unexpected topics that people are passionately researching for their books. At PNWA last year, I learned what Steampunk is (had never even heard of it, let alone read any of it). I've also learned about Nascar, bull riding, and the island country of Nauru, simply by listening to pitches. Those are just a few examples.

  7. My last attendance at a writers, conference was so long ago, I don't want to think about it. This was a wonderful post that I wish I had seen before I went to that one. However, at the time I hadn't written anything like as much as I have now, when I simply seem to have run mostly out of time and money for such a heady experience. Thank you on behalf of all who benefitted from what you said!