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Getting the Conference Appointment You REALLY Want

Conference horror stories. We’ve all heard a few, or more. Remember the one about the overly-eager writer who slipped her manuscript under the bathroom stall and interrupted a poor editor’s private time? Or was it an agent? I did a quick Internet search on writer+manuscript+conference+bathroom and got over 500,000 hits. Seems more than one writer has tried this way of getting noticed. Of course, there’s getting noticed, and then there’s GETTING NOTICED. Do you really want  your dream editor or agent associating your manuscript–that one you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into–with … bathroom functions?

While I feel for the poor editors and agents, I confess to a certain misery-loves-company sympathy for the writers. Serious writers go to conferences to learn, to network with other writers, and to make contacts with industry insiders–primarily editors and agents. RWA allows authors one appointment with each an editor and an agent at the national conference and strictly controls how those appointments are scheduled. Priority goes to current Golden Heart and RITA finalists. Next, GH and RITA finalists from the previous two years. Then PRO and PAN members. Last, everyone else.

Considering the cost of conference attendance–conference fee, transportation, hotel, meals, and several pairs of new shoes–those two appointments prorate to a pricey twenty minutes. That is, if you even get an appointment. If you haven’t had a recent GH or RITA final, you might find the pickings pretty slim by the time you can sign up. What if others have already taken all the available slots for your first choices? Or what if your dream agent isn’t taking appointments? And worst of all, what if you get the appointment–and then the agent or editor has to cancel at last minute? (Yep, it happens. That’s my story from last year’s RWA conference.)

Before you start staking out the bathrooms, here’s CJ’s hot tip for 2011 conference attendees: schedule your own appointments outside of official RWA channels. How do you do that? I’m glad you asked.

First, make a list of those dream agents you couldn’t get an appointment with. Then start contacting them with queries and/or partials, depending on the particular agent’s preferences. The Members Only section of the RWA website is a good place to get details about agents’ submission preferences and links to their websites and blogs. Finally, any time you send out a query, partial or full, mention that you will be at the RWA conference and would love to meet if the agent is going to be there.

At every conference, there are many agents in attendance who are not taking “official” appointments. Some of them might not even be registered for the conference, but they still may be in the conference city. (And never more so than when the conference is in NYC.) After all, what better opportunity is there for agents to schedule a little face-to-face time with their authors than a week when many of them are in the same place? And the cool news is that some will even meet with authors who are not yet clients but show promise.

So get those submissions out. Who knows? You just might get a phone call asking if you’d like to meet over coffee during the conference.

Has this procedure ever resulted in an author getting representation? At least once.

24 responses to “Getting the Conference Appointment You REALLY Want”

  1. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Excellent advice, CJ. Guess I’d better get my manuscript into fighting trim and get those queries out!

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  2. Diana Layne says:

    Wow, never thought of this. Good idea.

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Glad to give you another “trick” for the arsenal, Diana. (To mix some metaphors.)

      It would be interesting to do a survey sometime of how authors got their agents. What is the most common method? Query? Conference? Referral? Then we could start with the most successful method and go from there.

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  3. kelly fitzpatrick says:

    I think I’ll stick with my chloroform and duct tape method. Then I’ll have James Earl Jones read my manuscript aloud. It hasn’t worked yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

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  4. Great advice, CJ! I’m working on my pitches today. Maybe I’ll throw some queries out there and see what happens.

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Pitches. Ugh. I think even query letters are easier than pitches.

      We should have an interactive post devoted to pitches sometime in the next month. Everyone could post their pitches and others can critique them.

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  5. I’m so glad I’m not pitching this time around. Part of signing with an agent was the relief that I wouldn’t have to pitch to agents again (*cross fingers!*).

    But I debated whether to pitch to an editor. Ultimately, I decided I didn’t have a finished product that wasn’t already committed elsewhere, so why stress? (Plus, I’m part of the Ruby workshop that’ll be Thursday at 8:30… didn’t want to stress about any more than that!) I’m hoping to meet plenty of editors through conversations, parties, etc., anyway.

    Great tips, C.J. Getting noticed vs. GETTING NOTICED! (Love it!)

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Not having to pitch makes a conference more relaxing and fun. Hopefully, you’ll still get some good networking in at the parties. (And hey, the editors are more likely to be in a good mood over chocolate than after an hour spent listening to 10-minute pitches, right?)

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  6. Beth Langston says:

    This is exactly how I landed my agent.

    I’d already signed up for an agent appt. I happened to check the “Agent Grid” (with an X in the YA column) and noticed a name I hadn’t seen before. I researched her thoroughly, thought we might be a good match, and sent my query a week before the 2009 conference. She responded, said she loved my partial, and asked to meet for a drink in DC. We did, hit it off, she read the full, and I had an offer of representation that weekend.

    Something else that happened to me several years ago: I didn’t decide to go to the conference until late. All of the appts for my dream agents had been taken. I called RWA headquarters and they said a few late-breaking agents would be added to the grid soon. I waited, so new names popped up (amazing agents), and I had an appt with a fabulous agent.

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Beth, cool that it worked for you too.

      I had BOTH my appointments (editor and agent) cancelled last year after the conference moved to Orlando, and there just wasn’t anything else that worked. Financially conservative person that I am, I was a little uneasy at the thought of spending all that money — but it was a “fun” conference with no stress about pitching.

      Funny thing is that within 2 months of the conference, I had an agent and a sale.

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  7. Rita Henuber says:

    I feel we can’t say this enough. As the A/E appointments opened the loops were full with angst over not getting the desired appointments. Check the conference workshops for A/E, check agents web pages and blogs for their schedules. Follow them on twitter. Relax and enjoy.

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Rita, I never got an agent or an editor through a conference appointment. I did get one connection at a publishing house that might have led to something if I hadn’t sold elsewhere. And I got one agent through a contact I initiated outside the “official” channels.

      In the end, I got my editor through a contest and I got my (current) agent through the old fashioned submission process.

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  8. Liz talley says:

    I decided not to schedule any appointments this year. Not to be a Debbie Downer or anything, but I’ve never had much success at Nationals. In fact, I haven’t had much luck at all with agents so i’ve decided to bide my time and not press that issue. It gives me more time to window shop for agents. I know there are plenty who’ve nabbed an agent at RWA, so I still advocate going for it. But this year I’m playing wallflower 🙂

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Amy, last year after I lost all my appointments, my dh says, “Why are you going again?”

      And I said, “Uh, the parties?”

      Have fun — and without the stress.

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  9. CJ, I’ve never even thought of this. What amazing advice! Pitching is hard, nerve-wracking and almost tedious. And that’s just for the writers. Can you imagine being on the other side of the table? Having to sit through pitch after pitch? It just seems like an impossible situation.

    I think this suggestion would be much more comfortable and intimate and would definitely be more memorable for the agent or editor.

    Great post!
    ~D~

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    • C.J. Chase says:

      Darynda, it also has the advantage that the agent has already screened a bit of your work and your idea, so you can spend the time in a more relaxed setting, seeing if you have compatible visions and personalities.

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  10. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great advice, C;J.!!!

    Last year, I lost my editor appt when Dorchester closed its doors…but there were surprisingly many other editors still on the list shortly before conference. Some don’t sign up for appointments until after the big rush is over. It’s definitely worth checking down in the appointment hall for cancellations as well.

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