Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Life of an Agent: Conference Edition

This past weekend I attended the Florida Writers Association’s 2015 conference. I love attending conferences. Love. It. Why? Because not only do I get to schmooze with fellow agents, editors, and other industry professionals, but because of the writers!

Okay, so maybe that sounds cliché, but whatever. I find it incredibly impressive that any writer — aspiring, self-pubbed, small press pubbed, etc — has taken the initiative to attend a writers conference. When I wanted to write, find an agent, and such, I’d never have gone to one. I’m a super introvert, so it seemed too big and scary. Meet agents?! Editors?! Heck no, that’d be way too intimidating.
Yet I find myself on the opposite end of the spectrum. I am now an agent attending conferences, meeting with writers, taking pitches, sitting on panels, and such. Back when I was an aspiring writer I could not fathom the life of an agent. Though I tried. How did it feel to show up to have eager writers fumbling over their words to speak with you? Did they feel like celebrities exhausted by the constant attention? This may have just been my youthful naiveté of the industry or of any industry.
However, now having been on the “other side” for some time, I’d like to discuss what attending a conference as an agent is like. At least for me as I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience. I’ll use this weekend’s FWA 2015 conference as an example.
There’s something about traveling — arriving at the airport, going through security, waiting to board, boarding, flying, landing, picking up checked luggage, arriving at the hotel, checking in to said hotel, finding my room in said hotel — that kicks the crap out of me. So, the first night — almost like clock work — I pass out in bed. You can ask any number of colleagues who have questioned where I was that first night. I was passed out in bed.
Having missed faculty orientation Thursday night, I checked the schedule and just showed up to the panel I was on Friday morning, assuming I wasn’t walking into some black hole they decided to switch with the room posted online.
Luckily, I walked into the appropriate room. The panel? The Gong Show Pitchfest: Part One. It’s exactly like you would imagine. Five agents and editors sitting at a table on a stage with gong. Writers approaching the stage, giving a pitch, and — hopefully not! — being gonged. Again, I cannot express the awe and respect I have for said writers doing such a thing. Not only pitching — which would have terrified me to the point of fleeing — but that they would do so in an auditorium full of people. THEN the threat of getting gonged? THEN having to hear criticism — or critique — of their material, again in front of a room full of people. Holy smokes!
This is the part where you’re going to roll your eyes at me and think “Yeah, okay, buddy”. But, being on panels, giving workshops, etc. still terrifies me. Maybe not “terrify”, but it can definitely be nerve-wracking. Having to look someone in the eyes and critique something they’ve bled their soul into is a big deal. Especially having been on the other side. People take your words to heart. They can hurt. They can scar you. They can destroy everything you ever worked for and dash your dreams to pieces. Having to do that isn’t fun.
Authors talk. None more than aspiring writers who can spend hours comparing notes on agents and editors, their experiences, turn around times on queries and submissions, etc. I’ve heard some say how cruel agents and editors can be. How they enjoy sending rejections. How they wear the badge of a Dream Smasher with pride. I have to admit I seem to have an abrasive tone, something I’m working on. I usually try to mix humor into everything I say, which apparently I suck at, but it is not an agent’s job to sugarcoat reality for aspiring writers. If I want to truly help you the only way I feel I can do that is to be honest.
I recently tweeted a querytip from Mike Nappa’s 77 Reasons Why Your Book Was Rejected and How to Make Sure it Won’t Happen Again

As you can imagine, it was not well received. I was accused of being "cruel" and a "dream smasher", which I totally understand. I get that. But, those who were upset by the first statement seemed to have missed the second in its entirety. After all, it wouldn't be a query tip without the tip part. You need to hone your craft. Writing is an art — as is painting or any other art form — but still requires study. Rare is the person who can sit down and paint a Mona Lisa without having studied and practiced for years if not decades.  
So, I think that's enough side-tracked rambling for my first post.
Happy Tuesday ,and remember to keep write on!

Lane Heymont is an associate agent at The Seymour Agency, representing science fiction, fantasy, romance, nonfiction, and attempts to write his own stuff under a wonderful pseudonym. You can follow him on Twitter at @LaneHeymont. 


  1. When I interned for an agent and went through hundreds of queries, I found it to be very true that most are rejected because they are crap. Some crap was better than others, and some almost wasn't crap to begin with. But, it was all crap, no matter how much it meant to the author. My point is, writers need the work to be the least crappy they can make it before submitting. It's not easy. It takes some great editing from beta readers and years of practice. BUT - every published book was once crap. Have a thick skin and accept it when yours is at that stage.

  2. I think that's one of the hardest things about being a writer, putting yourself out there and being told that no matter how hard you work, how great you think your project is, or the hours spent perfecting your manuscript--that sometimes, it's still not good enough and not as magnificent as you thought it was. When I wrote my very first manuscript I thought agents and editors alike would be throat-punching each other to have it. Hmm, yeah, not so much. I didn't understand all the rejections at first, but I definitely do now. I look back and cringe at that first draft . . . and second . . . and third . . . and . . . you get the drift. I think what eventually turned into my first novel took about nineteen rewrites. Each version became better, sure, but it took time, commitment, and a lot of growing pains to get it there. So were the first few drafts total crap. Um, that's putting it lightly.

  3. Yes! So true, Cecy! Thanks for sharing, because I know so many readers LOVE and adore your work. It's important aspiring writers know how HARD the professionals had to — and continue to — work. Thanks for sharing. :-)