I don’t think there is a better way to sum up my experience at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference other than to say that I’m really glad I went.

Could I have gotten more out of the weekend? Certainly. If I had applied sooner (or arrived sooner) I could have signed up for an agent consultation or an editor consultation, and if I had been better prepared, I would have been in a much better position to pitch my book to the agents who were there.

But, all things considered–especially my late decision to attend–I still got a lot out of the experience. The sessions were informative and entertaining. I met a lot of cool and interesting people, and it was fun to rub shoulders and exchange stories with all kinds of creative people who share my desire to write.

Meeting Expectations

So, how did the Writer’s League fare in running the conference?

Overall, I would give them high marks. The staff were always very friendly and helpful, and the agents, editors, and writers they recruited for the general sessions–and the breakout sessions I attended–were uniformly excellent. I would single out the staff who hosted those sessions for special praise. They all asked very good questions that were always pertinent to the subject under discussion, and they kept things moving along nicely.

The First and Last Pitch Sessions, especially, were a lot of fun as well as very educational and oh, did I say that the breakfast tacos were excellent too?

But before all this lavish praise goes to everyone’s head, there were a few, minor bumps along the way. I happened to turn up on Friday just as they were transferring the registration desk upstairs. That led to some confusion amongst the guests that probably could have been avoided.

There was one breakout session where the host of the panel continued to ask questions for almost 50 minutes of the allotted hour. That was too long. I believe in most of the other sessions, the discussion was opened to the floor after about 40 minutes or so, which I think is about right. A host can always keep a couple of questions in reserve in case the supply from the audience dries up before the end of the meeting.

I can’t really comment on the consultations since I didn’t have one, but I did hear several writers complaining that it was difficult to concentrate on their pitch because they were distracted by another writer pitching their book very close by. I think that given that many people had paid an extra $40 or $50 for that short meeting with an agent–a meeting that might well change their lives–more effort could have been made in making sure that there were no distractions. Other than that particular problem, though, most people I talked to found their consultations to be useful.

Lessons Learned

So here’s my list of advice for people who might be thinking of attending next the Agents Conference in 2012 or beyond, gathered from personal experience.

  • If you know you are going, sign up early. Not only will you get a break on the price, a consultation with an editor or agent will be included.
  • If you are writing fiction, then don’t sign up for an agent consultation unless you are at least reasonably close to finishing your book. Sign up for an editor consultation instead. For non-fiction, if you already have a strong platform, an agent may be interested even if you are only at the proposal stage for your book.
  • If talking to agents is important to you, check the list of attending agents before signing up to make sure that there will be agents present who specialize in the genre and audience you are writing for.
  • If you’re going to pitch to agents and you haven’t done it before, practice, practice, practice. If you’re not comfortable with selling yourself, then selling your book probably won’t come naturally either, especially outside of the more formal setting of a consultation. The more you work at it beforehand, the easier it will become.
  • Agents will be around most of the weekend, but Friday evening is probably the prime time for making an informal pitch. Waiting until the end of the conference is probably not a good idea. Know who you want to pitch to, but don’t pitch to your most preferred agent right away. Try your pitch out on someone else first.
  • Bring some business cards along with you. If you don’t have any, then if you have a decent inkjet or laser printer at home, you can easily make your own (just make sure you use business card sheets with “clean edges”). If you’re not sure what to put on the card for a profession, I would suggest “Writer”.
  • If you didn’t signed up for a consultation before the conference, but want one, get there as soon as registration opens! Ditto for the Keynote Luncheon.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk to people. The vast majority of those attending are in the exact same position as you are. I would estimate that about 75% of the people at this year’s conference were first timers. (That does make me wonder as to the repeatability of the experience. Have the majority of writers who do not attend again given up, or have they simply decided they won’t get as much out of the conference the second time around?)
  • Age is not an issue. I would guess that the age range of the people attending was 20 to 75, or close to it, and from most walks of life.
  • If you have nothing to pitch, that’s okay. You will still get a lot out of the conference if you are interested in pursuing your dream of getting published.

Next Steps

Well, the next step is down to me. I have a book in need of a killer pitch, query letter, and synopsis–not to mention a revised opening to get rid of all those waking moments. But I believe that I’m better equipped now than I was before the conference to get the job done. Now all that’s needed is some toil, inspiration, and a bit of luck!

Another thing I plan to do is continuing this blog about my journey as an aspiring writer. Now, those who know me also know that this would not be the first blog I have started, and that they do have a habit of, erm, petering out, but we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, this time I can stay the course, and even summon up the will power to re-enter the social networking lark. Two tweets so far!! 🙂

Finally, I have started self-publishing some of the short stories I have written over the years. Most are science fiction, but not all. If you’re interested in checking them out, the details will be on my website soon.

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