Thursday, May 22, 2014

Writers and Editors and Agents, Oh My!

I spent last weekend at the Pennwriters Conference, something I've been writing about quite a bit in my blog over the past week. It was a great weekend, with an amazing number of workshops and multiple opportunities to engage with one of the thirteen agents and editors in attendance.

I've engaged in some interesting conversations this week about whether or not writing conferences should include access to editors and agents. It could be easily argued that many writers are just not ready for pitch sessions -- which is the opportunity most conferences afford, and for which an additional fee is sometimes charged -- and when that is the case, they do more harm than good.
I like going to conferences where editors and agents are present. As the gatekeepers of the traditional
publishing industry, they possess a certain mystique that can intimidate -- or perhaps even terrify -- authors who've poured their heart out onto the page. And conferences can help de-mystify these all-too-human people, rendering them mere mortals who love reading and books as much as writers do.

But on the flip side, I can't imagine listening to pitch session after pitch session, going back to work reading pitches all week and then the next weekend, traveling to another conference in another city, listening to more writers peddle their wares.

And so I don't think agents and editors should be required to receive pitches when they attend a conference. One of the best workshops I attended all weekend was the agent panel. Ten of the industry professionals not receiving pitches in that time slot introduced themselves, shared what they were hoping to find and fielded questions from attendees. And we, in return, got a sense of who they were and what their personalities were like. I left that workshop with a short list of three people I wanted to meet (two of whom I'd already short-listed when I read the conference literature before attending). By the end of the conference, I'd met all three of them through appropriate channels (which do not include cornering them in the elevator or the bathroom or bending their ear about the value of your latest project every time you see them).

Not surprisingly, these were normal (well, at least as normal as writers) people. Most were generous with their time and advice as well. I had not intended to pitch, and so when appointments arose, I offered modified, impromptu versions of an unplanned presentation, spurred on by the panel's agreement that they preferred conversations to hard core pitches.

The best part? I'm not afraid-a-no agents. Well, at least not these agents. When I'm ready to craft a query, I'll start with these human beings, who are no longer frightening, and, by virtue of their willingness to listen to modified, impromptu conversational pitches, at the top of my list.

What do you think? Does having editors and/or agents at a conference increase your interest in the event?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Muse Wore Flip Flops
Yesterday, I wrote a blog post about how excited I was to flip flop my schedule (summer pun intended) and put writing first. My schedule has been cooperating, too -- April and May have offered up writing events including my critique group's semi-annual writing retreat and Lancaster Christian Writers' Super Saturday, and the Pennwriters conference is just around the corner, promising workshops, socializing and a weekend where writing takes center stage. Earlier this week, I created and sent out my first ever author newsletter, complete with giveaway. Summer writing time is indeed in the air. 

We writers are a diverse bunch. There are those who live for silence and solitude, unable to work anywhere noisier than the library. Others depend on active social lives to get the neurons firing; without  feedback from the outside world, there can be no new ideas, no story lines, no dialogue. 

For many of us, the writing life is a tenuous balance between extroversion and introversion, with one providing inspiration and the other providing time to realize it. Sometimes the opportunities to exercise extroversion occur by choice; other times they come in disguised as day jobs and family obligations, perhaps even masquerading as roadblocks. Some writers seek solitude; others find it, unbidden.

Under ideal circumstances, each writer achieves his or her own balance, but sometimes circumstances weight the scales for us. Deadlines and job responsibilities tip the scales -- and not always in the way we'd like -- as do procrastination and exhaustion. Sometimes finishing a writing project is more like climbing a mountain than a date with the muse.

Yet we keep climbing. Whether we've chosen writing, or it has chosen us, it keeps showing up on our to-do lists, often at odd hours of the day. The longer we pursue it, the more likely it is to drag along companions of its own -- social media, promotional activities and platform building -- forcing us to open the door a little wider and grant them admittance, hoping they bring their colleagues acceptance and royalties to the party as well.
But somehow, no matter how crowded or boring or monotonous the party gets, a serious writer keeps coming back. She joins the crowd, or finds a quiet corner or like-minded colleague and tips the scales in favor of productivity. She refills her water jug at the junction of conference and conversation and returns to her work because nothing is quite as satisfying as a writing day well-spent.

Except perhaps a good review and a royalty check.