A few weeks back, when reading some of the blogs I follow, there was a discussion about the fear of Writer's Conferences.
Well, if you want to immerse yourself in the world of writing - a good writing conference is just the ticket. I am so glad I went to the Muse and the Marketplace in Boston this past weekend.
Saturday started out giddy. I ran into my writing group friend and met some of the people she already knew and everyone was so excited. Of course we were a little nervous too because some of us, me included, had our agent meetings first thing.
The agent meeting: was okay - not great. My agent wouldn't shake my hand because she was sick - which did not seem like a fortuitous beginning. She looked tired and claimed that since this was her first time at the conference she wasn't really sure what her role was. But... she gave me enormously helpful feedback on my Query, even if some of it was different than the pointers I have read before. She offered advice on genre - telling me "Women's Fiction with a supernatural thread," which was interesting and something I had not thought to call it.
She then went on to my ms and told me she loved haunted house stories, which was encouraging, but she didn't understand why I didn't start with the house. I did originally start with the house - but that got changed based on workshopping. She then said she wanted more back story. I had more back story - but based on workshopping removed a lot of it. So - that made me cringe. I agreed with the changes my writing group suggested (eventually) and I think the beginning is a lot stronger. But, not for this agent and the agent is what matters.
In the end of our 20 minute meeting - she said - make the changes and "query me." Not the same as send me the pages directly with a big bright red "Requested" stamp on it - but still it's something.
She was not scary at all. I felt comfortable with her even though she didn't shake my hand and I was able to talk to her just like a regular person. Which is probably because she is one.
After that, on to a panel of agents and editors explaining the terms and procedures of the publishing industry. Very informative. They did seem like an unreachable club - but they were friendly and funny and made it very clear they were in the business to sell books. "We don't like to crush people's dreams," one of them actually said, "what ever you do, write from the heart." This was funny is a sick sort of way.
They stress over and over that good writing is what wins the day. But, they also made no bones about how subjective it is. 'If your mc reminds me of my ex-boyfriend, I stop reading...If you wrote about a house fire, I stop reading. My house burned down last year and I can't love a story about one, and an agent should love your story, otherwise they won't be a good representative.' I am paraphrasing, but these are actual things they said.
I think the lesson I took from this is that perseverance is key. We all know that of course - but in the face of rejection it is hard. What one hates another might love. I also saw this again and again in the Agent Idol sessions where a reader read the anonymous first pages of peoples' manuscripts submitted then and there. The agent was told to raise their hand at the point during the reading that they would have put it down. There was wide variety - sometimes one would put up a hand - but the others wouldn't. Sometimes all three would refrain, or if there was a major point of confusion - all three hands would go up. It is very subjective.
From this I also heard again and again how important it is to find agents who represent your kind of book. All of them said - from multiple panels - that they LIKE you to compare your book to other works. But don't just pick the most recent best seller, and be accurate. Say what it is that makes your book similar to another book. Don't pick the ones that are cliche at this point from Harry Potter to Janet Ivanovitch. So that is useful - but not as easy as it sounds.
Also genre - do pick a genre - but there was SO MUCH variation on genre definition. Not what a genre is - but what a book's genre is. It all depends on what an individual focuses on in that book. And it can change with marketing ideas. So even though you might say your book is historical fiction with a supernatural thread - someone else might call it a paranormal thriller - or women's fiction with a supernatural thread. Also - good to know - but not very easy to get right.
And of course - the query, the query, the query. That is the most important thing. Get it right in the query. I was encourage to learn from my agent that my query, though in need of work, did leave her intrigued.
So - those are the first lessons. It was enormously enlightening overall. And it was really nice to hear them talk about it in person. To see them agree or disagree. To make them explain themselves and people did.
Later I will write Conference Re-Cap # 2 on meeting authors and how authors got their agents.