May 20, 2010

The Skinny on Agents at Pennwriters Conference (plus some other little tidbits)

On Tuesday, I got home from the Pennwriters Conference in Lancaster, PA. This was my first conference and it. Was. Amazing. And guess what? You get to read all about it.

We had several seminars a day (three days) where I learned a TON. I asked permission to post the handout from Maria V. Snyder's seminar: Showing vs. Telling. Amazing stuff in there. I can't wait to share it. (And I think I may have to buy her books now.) I'll also post a little about what editor David Pomerico said about the fantasy/sci-fi markets and whatever notes I can scrape together. Mostly, I just wanted to sit and absorb.

The food was pretty good, the hotel was beautiful, and the people were some of the nicest you'll ever meet. I couldn't believe how easy it was to talk to everyone. I heard a couple of agents say this was one of the most prepared, educated groups of writers they'd ever met at a conference. The price was reasonable, too. So overall, the conference was an epic win. There were about 250 people there and over 50 of them were from outside the state of Pennsylvania.

I got to meet some interesting people and I know you all want to know what they're like in person. So here it is: the dish on the agents. I'm hoping I can give you some insight into these people so you can make a more informed decision about whom to query.

Janet Reid: way funny, brutally honest. She cracked jokes left and right during her seminar on social media. Unfortunately, it was late in the conference and I think her audience was a little too tired to keep up with her. But seriously, she's hilarious and is interested in helping writers to get better. I didn't go to her read-and-critique, but from what I heard, she's like the Simon Cowell of the literary world. She gave some very helpful advice, but if she didn't like something, she told you. (I like that.) Unfortunately, she doesn't represent my genre.

Emmanuelle Alspaugh: very nice, professional, direct and honest. (Don't worry about getting false hope from her. If she requests pages, she's really interested.) I hear she didn't ask for many partials. She was perfectly polite and seemed interested in my book, even after declining representation. (She doesn't take on very much YA.) I didn't see much of her around the conference.

Jennifer Jackson: down-to-earth, genuine, dry sense of humor, personable. I really liked her. She wasn't larger than life like some of the other agents. She was... normal. She was funny and her presentation on queries was very entertaining. She spent time with the writers and shared what she knew.

Jenny Bent: I only met her briefly. She's really cute and has a sense of humor. From what I heard she's sweet and very nice. Most of the writers who pitched to her told me they were nervous going in, but she put them at ease right away.

I also met author Cyn Balog. She writes young adult urban fantasy, so I was especially interested in what she had to say. She is so cute and very approachable. I really enjoyed talking to her. I bought an extra copy of her book Fairy Tale, which she signed. I'll be giving it away in a contest soon, so keep an eye out for that. (I'm reading my own copy now. It's fantastic.)

Author CJ Lyons is apparently a regular at Pennwriters. She's spunky, funny, confident, and she knows her stuff. I can't believe how helpful she was. My first seminar was her class on pitching. She challenged us to boil our books down to 25 words. Then 15 words. Then 5. Seriously, give it a try. The goal is to use words that immediately bring up an image and/or emotional response.
So, though my book's main character is Rachel, I used the word "ghost" in my short-short pitch: A ghost comes back from the dead to save the girl he loves.
CJ also led our general read-and-critique, so she helped me with the first page of my manuscript (along with author Jonathan Maberry).

Jonathan Maberry was also incredible. He knew so much about craft and is obviously well-read. He seemed to know something about every genre. He was the perfect choice for the general read-and-critique. (By the way, he'll be the keynote speaker for next year's conference, so mark your calendars!)

The keynote speaker this year was adventure thriller writer James Rollins. (He's also dabbled in YA and Fantasy.) This guy is so funny. I don't think he had any prepared material for his speech, he just talked to us about his career, how he got his start, and how anyone can be published if they keep at it. He actually was a veterinarian for 15 years before officially pursuing writing as a career.
When asked if he still does veterinary work, he said he does some volunteer stuff and mentioned that he traps, neuters, and immunizes feral cats. "So basically," he says, "On weekends, I remove genitals. It's a hobby." Great guy and so inspiring!

That's all I can think of without delving into my notes. Feel free to ask questions. (And if you were at the conference, I'd appreciate your commments.)

Like I said, look for future posts on what I learned at these seminars, my own personal experience at the conference, and the contest where I'll be giving away a signed copy of Cyn Balog's Fairy Tale!


Anonymous said...

I agree the conference was amazing. You're right on about Janet Reid, even if she did snore through my query. (I thought it was funny, after the initial embarrassment)

I wish you luck with your book. I really liked the concept.

Anonymous said...

It was so nice meeting you! Thanks for your kind comments. I think your book sounds awesome... good luck with it!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the compliments and well wishes. I'm so glad I was able to go.

Unknown said...

Hi Emily. Saw you in passing at the conference. Very glad you came all that way to spend the weekend with us, and even happier that you enjoyed your stay! Lots of good wishes for the book. Intriguing handful of words!

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