Monday, June 20, 2016

Pitching editors at a conference

Last year I asked a query question which you responded to on your blog. It had to do with pitching an incomplete manuscript during a conference.

The pitching resulted in four agents requesting the partial I had already completed. Two responded rather quickly with complimentary declines and the recommendation that I keep querying until I find the right fit. The other two ignored my original submission and a 90 day follow-up email. In addition to those four, three agents and three editors requested the full manuscript upon completion.

During the time since pitching and now, I've read on your blog that if I'm looking to sign with an agent I should not be submitting to editors. To follow your recommendation means not submitting to three people who were kind enough to request the finished manuscript. I'm not in the habit of making a commitment to do something and then not doing it, so my instinct is to go ahead and send them the now completed manuscript.

On the other hand, it has been a year since I pitched, and the likelihood that they remember me or my novel is slim to none. So, do you recommend I pitch to agents only at this point, and then submit to the requesting editors at a later date if I don't pick up the representation of an agent? And if I do sign with an agent, is it appropriate to send any sort of thank you note to the editors, explaining why I didn't fulfill the request? How long past a conference pitch is too long to submit? It has already been a year.

Let's review why it's more effective to pitch agents first (or in your case, send the now-completed manuscript to agents only.)

Once you've sent your manuscript to an editor at a publishing house, an agent can't come in and say "oops, sorry, wrong editor!" unless she's very very deft, and knows this "wrong" editor well enough to pull that off.  I can think of about ten editors I know well enough to do that, BUT it's something I'm only going to do once every five years, and only in the most dire of circumstances. In other words, this move costs me with the editors, and your project has to be something worth that cost.

The chance that the editor at the conference is the right editor for your book is a whole lot lower than if I put together an editorial submission list.  A lot of editors I work with don't do the conference circuit at all.

A lot of the editors who do attend confernces are young, starting out and looking to build a list. In other words, the ones with the least juice, or pull at a publisher. They're certainly good editors, but when the art department runs amok on your cover, are they going to be able to put a boot down on the drawing table and say "hey, this is for a book cover, not the local art gallery"?  Depends on the editor, and again you have no way of knowing.

So yes, I thnk sending to agents first is a smart tactic. I understand why authors ignore this; any kind of interest in your work is too beguiling to pass over.

However. Since you have had requests, and you appear to be well-mannered in your business dealings (an appealing trait in a client I assure you) what you do here is write to the editors NOW and say "Dear Editor Good Taste, we met at the Carkoon Kale to Jail Writing Conference in (location) on (month/year).  You kindly requested to see my manuscript when it was finished. I just wanted to let you know it's finished and I'm querying agents right now. "

Notice you do NOT say "I'll come back to you if I don't get any bites" or "I'll make sure my agent queries you."

In other words, AVOID the temptation of future action. Simply let them know what you're doing.

The vast majority of editors will prefer to receive a manuscript from an agent, not direclty from an author. You're not going to offend any of them by taking this course of action.

And a year isn't too long.



Lisa Bodenheim said...

And what if that editor comes back with an, "and when you get an agent, have them send it to me." Is it appropriate for Opie to respond or simply to forward that info to the agent when s/he lands one?

Opie-Congrats. This sounds like all kinds of wonderful!

And a bit off topic...
Exhausting weekend but thank you for the WiR yesterday. It made me smile on a Sunday. Especially Julie Weather's comment about rattlesnakes waking up dead men!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Sounds like OP is in great shape. I too have received a lot of traction at conferences.

I have a sort of almost topical question. I had started yet another revision/rewrite of my project for which there were still a couple of outstanding requests and a couple positive rejections.

I have shelved that project, taken a couple bits and pieces I cut from my original project, and am writing a new book entirely. The book is still fantasy and similar to original project but with a different plot, different POV, different title. It's essentially a new project.

1. For the agents who kindly rejected me on the original project, is it ok to query them with new project when it is done? It is a new project, so that should be cool, right?

2. For the outstanding requests, do I need to formally withdraw the original project. With one of these agents, I would like to query the new project. Do I start over at step one and query her according to her guidelines as if this is first time querying her? Or do I mention the full request I withdrew. I met this agent at conference and full request came from partial request at conference.

I feel fairly sure I am on solid ground starting query process from scratch with new project, but I have developed a fear of anal headgear. I do not wish to be an asshat. I already feel like a flake in shelving a project which was getting decent feedback. I just have a different bee in my bonnet and I want to work on something else.

Colin Smith said...

Congrats, Opie! (We seem to be saying that a lot recently--not a bad thing at all.) I hope you manage to find a great agent for your work.

This seems to fall under a general principle we discussed not long ago: Don't tie your agent's hands. In other words, don't sign a contract, or make any kind of deal with an editor or other publishing professional, that will make your future agent's life difficult.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OP sure is on the 'write' track.

I love the term "asshat". In fact I am using it at work to the consternation (and glee) of the people I work/deal with.

Great sub header. Add to that what Uncle Dutch, my dear departed brilliant, know-it-all uncle used to say at the end of his NASA and Smithsonian lectures, during the question and answer segment:
"The only stupid question is the question not asked."

He also used to say:
"Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it."

That's why, after he went to that big holy-space station in the sky, going through his stuff was a field day for those of us left behind.

Dena Pawling said...

>>The chance that the editor at the conference is the right editor for your book is a whole lot lower than if I put together an editorial submission list.

Does a rejection from one editor at a house, mean a rejection from all editors at that house? If that editor declines the book, can you submit to the "right" editor after? Or is the danger here, that the editor who first has the submission actually offers on it, but you would have rather the offer come from someone else at that house?

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I feel like so many questions can be answered with this: Be professional. Be courteous. Be polite. We can be professional by learning about the normal practice in the publishing world (thanks, Janet!), we can be courteous by respecting others as human beings, and we can be polite by biting our tongues when we want to whine and always thanking agents/editors/publishers for their time.

But then a question like this comes along, and you realize that even being professional, courteous, and polite might not be enough to save you from a mess. Hopefully it makes untangling the mess a bit easier.

BJ Muntain said...

I've been told by agents to contact them if I ever get an offer from a publisher. But science fiction is a hard sell these days (so I've been told by agents), and the market is flooded with self-published works.

Claire Eddy is one editor who seems to make the conference rounds. She's a senior editor at Tor/Forge, one of the most successful science fiction and fantasy publishers in the US. A very nice lady. She's been with Tor for about 30 years.

Colin Smith said...

I'm sorry, but the post title keeps making me think of writers at a conference throwing editors across the room. What can I say? Me and my brain... ;)

Theresa said...

Ha ha, Colin, yes! Pitching editors.....

Great advice today.

Lennon Faris said...

Ah yes more tips on how to navigate the Publishing Culture are always welcome.

OK, sort of (mostly?) off topic - and hope I'm not risking Carkoon - I think a list of conferences and what their 'gist' is would be so helpful to someone on the outside. Janet, I think you mentioned once that Boucheron was more of a fun conference rather than a help to authors with their manuscripts (or I might be making that up). I've heard some comments here saying this or that conference was great for the panels, or the query workshop, etc. I'm thinking of going to *some* conference or workshop but it is a little overwhelming with how many types there are, and how different the prices are.

Colin - hahaha

Craig F said...

Sometimes the biggest part of being professional is learning restraint. Curb you enthusiasm take the time to consider your best move for the long run. Sending agents and editors your work is a great way to get your name into circulation but you do not have to sign a contract with the first to offer. One right that can never be taken away is the right to refuse.

Colin Smith said...

Lennon: Bouchercon is a mystery readers' convention--the mystery equivalent of Comic Con. So, while there may be some panels geared to writers, most of them are aimed at genre fans. That said, you will find a significant industry presence at Bouchercon, from writers to agents to editors to publicists, etc. And while they may conduct business meetings while they are there, they are not there to hear pitches or do query critiques. For the most part, they go to see what's new, to support their writers, and meet people. When I went, it was really just to learn as much as I could, and to shake hands (and fins) with people.

I agree with you about a list of conferences. I would like to get to a writer's conference soon, but I want to be wise with my $$$.

cleemckenzie said...

I liked what you wrote about being "well-mannered" in business dealings and how to follow up with that editor.

BJ Muntain said...

If someone (not Janet, because it's not her job) wants to create a list of conferences, we could all post the conferences we know about, and someone could compile those. I have to run now, but if folks are interested, I'll post the conferences and workshops I know when I get home.

Panda in Chief said...

Maybe when the OP lands her agent, if one of the editors to whom she emailed as Janet suggested, wrote back with a "would love to see this when it's ready, have your agent send it to me" kind of response, you could pass that along to your agent. Maybe a " I know you must have a list of editors you want to send this to, but here's an editor that expressed interest to add to the list if you think it's an appropriate house." And you've made the effort to get feedback on your MS by going to conferences, and that's not nothing.

On the idea of a conference list, (can Colin recommend people to be sent to Carkoon?) maybe Colin could set something up like a spread sheet kind of thingie, and everyone who had experience of specific conferences (as in has actually attended said conference) can write a brief description, with info about price range, time of year, location and what was valuable to you in attending the conference.
Boy...that sounds like a lot of work, but a great resource for the treasure chest.

I'm sure you'll get right on that, Colin.

Panda in Chief said...

Wow! BJ and I had kind of the same idea. It must be a good one. I definitely have a few to add to the list.

Julie Weathers said...

Writer's conferences.

Julie Weathers said...

The trouble with just adding our favorite ones in, is a lot of people are hampered by various things like being able to travel or finances. They might be able to afford a workshop or conference in their backyard, but not one in another country.

Plus, if a person is working in a certain genre, you might be able to join an organization. Romance Writers of America has several local chapters. Some chapters are very active and bring in a lot of speakers, even agents and editors to work with their members. I have a friend who just left her eastern Canada chapter to join a western Canada chapter and was afraid she wouldn't be able to find a good group of people. Lo and behold. Another very active group.

An award winning historical author I know went to speak to a historical authors group a while back. I'm sure that talk was well worth the effort to go as the author is very interesting, fun, and a good teacher.

There are ways to network without doing the full blown conference agenda.

That being said, as I mentioned a few days ago, if you're interested in SIWC, it's about 85% sold out now, probably more on full packages. Registration opened June 1. It promises to be another good one.

Brigid said...

Congratulations, Opie! Several interests from one pitch session? Well done, indeed.

Janet is the CaptainAwkward of publishing. "Help, I need a script for thingamajig!" The response has so much clarity and grace, and I could never have found it on my own.

Julie Weathers said...

Yes, indeed. Congratulations to the OP. This is a great accomplishment. I wish you much success. Just getting this much attention is both nerve-wracking and exciting, so good luck.

Panda in Chief said...

Julie, I totally understand about not being able to afford traveling the globe to attend conferences. But I'm guessing there are far more people who read this blog than comment, so there is always the possibility that there is a conference in someone's backyard that they didn't know about, and wouldn't it be swell to find out about it from someone who had been there already?
I'm definitely one of those folks who can't afford to go jetting off hither and yon and like most people, like to have as much information as I can about whether an event is worth my hard earned buckaroos before signing on the dotted line.
Making a decision about going to a conference or other learning opportunity always involves weighing what you have to spend versus what you are going to get out of it. Different points in one's developement of a writer calls for different kinds of choices. It's just another possible resource to help make those decisions.

AJ Blythe said...

As y'all know I'm in Oz. There are very limited opportunities conference wise (for writers). I go to the same one every year, and this year is no different. I've registered to pitch to a senior editor and an agent, both from the US (the conference usually has at least one agent and one editor from the US attend, in addition to the locals).

I have a few questions, Miss Janet...

1. On the basis I want an agent, should I make it clear to the editor from the get-go I am wanting an agent? I was planning on having my query letter with me, so rather than discuss with a view to a request, am I better off using the pitch time to get their feel for market/interest?

2. The agent in question doesn't personally represent my genre, but the agency itself does. I was wondering whether it would be rude to take my query letter to get their opinion of it (while secretly hoping maybe they'd offer a personal referral to another agent at the agency)?

Julie Weathers said...


I understand what you're saying. I'm sorry, I'm reposting. I'm not trying to sound short or rude.

I posted the list because we had this conversation before and there were some objections that it's all well and good for people to talk about their favorite conferences, but not everyone can afford to travel 1,000 miles to go to a conference. Boy do I understand that. I thought I would link to this collection that are reputable conferences in a wide variety of areas. There are far more than that, of course, but these are all pretty good to my knowledge and have good reputations.

As far as my preferences, Surrey International Writers Conference, Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Conference, Dallas Fort Worth Writers Conference.

Surrey is very much a favorite of mine. Not only because it's just a good conference packed with interesting workshops and presenters, but I always leave recharged. Plus, for me it's the gathering point for all the Compuserve Books and Writers Forum people. So, we can spend the evenings catching up with people we may not have seen for years, celebrating successes, telling tall tales, welcoming new friends to the fold.

Rocky Mountain has some of the friendliest staff and volunteers I have ever seen. Even someone all alone is gathered up and taken under the wing. They don't allow anyone to flounder. One thing I love about them is they record each session so you can buy sessions you missed. It's awesome.

Dallas Ft. Worth always has a great slate and they're always very Texas friendly.

Lennon Faris said...

thanks for all the great info and suggestions, all. Esp the details, Julie. I trust the opinions here. Sorry Janet for throwing a penny on the tracks :P

Panda in Chief said...

Julie, now those are the kind of conference descriptions that I personally find useful in helping me figure out it I want to go to a conference or not. It tells me what you, a real person, have experienced and gotten out of a conference. The opinions of people we (sort of) know and respect have more worth to me than a long laundry list of confernces by the month.

Really, this subject would be a great book that someone else (with more time than I have) should write, updated semi annually.

I'm packing for Carkoon, even as we speak.

BJ Muntain said...

Here's my list of conferences I have personal experience with. I hope folks find this useful.

The Surrey International Writers' Conference, in Surrey, BC, Canada (near Vancouver, BC) in October. Costs between $429 and $625 for the full 3 days (lower prices for part of the conference) depending on when you register and whether you want your meals included. A very professional conference, with several streams of information on craft and business all day long Friday and Saturday, and part of Sunday. Master classes - often focused on craft - are $99 extra for each, and are held on the Thursday before. Best-selling authors and established industry professionals are the guests - about 50 each year. There are blue pencil sessions, where you meet with an author or editor for 15 minutes and they'll go over a few pages of your writing for you (usually the first few pages, but I've asked certain authors to look at certain scenes.) Pitch sessions are 10 minutes with agents and editors. You get to sign up for one blue pencil and one pitch session with your registration, and can then sign up for empty spots throughout the conference, once the conference has started. These sessions are free. They're about 65% sold out now for this year, and will have a total of 350 to 400+ attendees. All genres are covered, though some years have more of a certain genre than others. There seems to be a good presence for science fiction this year, with Robert J. Sawyer and Cat Rambo as two of the guests. (I'll be at this one this year.) There is usually a great mystery/thriller presence, and this year is no different: Hallie Ephron, Mike Slade, Robert Dugoni, Ann Perry and more.

When Words Collide is held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in August. 'Membership' prices, which get you into the conference, are between $45 and $65 CDN, I think, depending on when you register. They're currently $55. They're nearly sold out now, though. They also have several streams, but I don't find it quite as professional as SiWC. They have 4 or 5 guests, who are professionals, but most panels and talks are done by volunteers. Most of the attending publishers and agents are Canadian, though some of these are huge (Harlequin, sometimes, ChiZine.) It's mostly for speculative fiction writers, though it's useful for others, as well. There are interesting people there, some professionals, and LOTS of guests - last year, there were about 700. It's fun, though, and there's a lot going on. There are also several streams of information on craft and business going on, and the different publishers often hold evening parties (one publisher offers an Absinthe party every year.) (I'll be here, too, this year.)

BJ Muntain said...

Had to split this into two:

I attended the Cascade Writer's Workshop last year. It's a friendly workshop with limited seating held in the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. in July. Industry professionals and volunteers give talks on craft and business, though there's only a couple streams on at any given time. It includes workshop sessions in a critique group run by a business professional, and a short meeting with the critique group leader. Registration is closed for this year, but will soon be open for next year. It cost $135 USD this year. There is a pitch session available with an agent at no extra cost. This workshop is more intimate than the conferences, and there is more discussion on your actual work.

I went to the Backspace conference in New York a couple times while it was still a physical conference. It was useful, but expensive. There weren't as many different streams of information and you had to pay to pitch. It's not physical anymore - they've gone to a completely online format - so I have no idea what they're like anymore.

Surrey is my favourite, too, and out of the last 11 years, I've gone 10 of those years. I missed last year due to financial problems, but I'm registered to go this year again. I highly recommend Don Maass's master class.

Note: Americans interested in a Canadian conference will get a great deal, since the exchange on the dollar is so favourable for Americans right now.

Julie Weathers said...


According to Kathy Chung a couple of days ago, the full packages on Surrey are 84% sold out and 63% over all. They will be sold out in record time. I'm really kind of surprised. I knew people showed up last year and were turned away, but this is really early to be selling out.


I agree, it's good to get more intimate details about conferences.

For whatever reason, Surrey has something magic about it.

BJ Muntain said...

Thanks, Julie. That is really early to be selling out! So glad I've already registered (and bought my plane tickets last night!)

Panda in Chief said...

Thanks BJ for your comments. This really does help.