Monday, November 12, 2007

Literary conferences can and should be more encouraging!

Okay, today my rant is about literary conferences. Authors go to them seeking support and professional guidance. What they often get is institutionalized discouragement packaged as "no-nonsense advice," usually in the form of literary agents looking over the authors' sample work. Some authors report that they have actually paid money at conferences to meet with an agent for 15 or 30 minutes in person. I simply have to ask, "For what?"

Agents can be great, and I know some of the best in the business. For the most part, though, these wonderful agents are not out scouting the conferences. They tend to send their more junior colleagues instead (there are notable and noble exceptions to this, but not that many). I have dealt with the emotional aftermath of these unwitting bloodbaths. Authors have been in my office in tears, describing how an agent at a conference pronounced the work unpublishable, or said that there is no market right now for books of this kind. When I recount the wonderful authors who heard such news in the past and who soldiered on to publish books that did very well, my authors are encouraged, but the wound only heals when the author finds a great agent and a publisher.

Herewith a word to all authors, both academic and trade: you should only listen to agents with amazing personal track records (who cares what the name of the agency is... follow the individual), and even then, in the words of Bob Dole, "Reasonable minds may differ." Many's the project that failed to captivate any agent anywhere, but that sold to a publisher straightaway. Learn who the best agents are -- this office only works with exceptional ones who know the business and who have decades of experience -- and focus on getting your work in front of these professionals. And stay away from literary conferences! Your time would be better spent researching your next bestseller.

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