So as I mentioned in POTW last week, I went to my second writers’ conference on Sunday!!!! I was way calmer going into it than I was going...

James River Writers’ Conference 2016: The Agent Dating Game

So as I mentioned in POTW last week, I went to my second writers’ conference on Sunday!!!! I was way calmer going into it than I was going into YoungArts, haha; among a lot of other things, YA taught me not to let anxiety over a new thing get in the way of enjoying said new thing. For James River, I was determined to be more excited than afraid, to reach out and speak to people often. I was going to be me, I was going to talk, and I was going to have fun if it killed me.

Incidentally, it did not. I also learned a lot, so things went pretty well overall. ;)

One of my first events of the day was a one-on-one meeting with a literary agent. I was terrified to begin with, but she immediately put me at ease so I could just... just talkabout my novel. I could tell that she got Low Expectations right away—so of course I was thrilled when she asked to see the first three chapters *insert distant screaming and prayers that this works out*

After that, I went to as many classes as I could, spoke to authors I met at the sales table, went up to the speakers at the end of classes to ask about prologues, promotion, pen names (I kid you not, pen names is a huge topic. One author was awesome enough to spend her entire lunch talking to me about pseudonyms and the business decisions behind them. There’s quite a bit more to it than I knew). I got to hear authors’ stories on how they got published, buy their books, get them autographed; I even got my first two pages critiqued by David L. Robbins, who definitely had some edits, but also said I’m a dynamic writer. So, you know. That was a little exciting. ;D

All-in-all, the conference was a fantastic experience, amazing in every way, and I will hopefully go again next year... but by the time 3:00 rolled around, I was in desperate need of either sleep or caffeine. Either one really.

But there was still one event left: The Agent Dating Game.

Throughout the conference, there had been these buckets, settled unassumingly at a table to the side. On colorful paper taped to the front, they named several genres. You put your name into whichever bucket best fit your book and then waited for the game to begin. For each genre, the host picked three random names from the bucket, the authors would go up on stage, and the selected agent could ask them any three questions about their manuscript. All the participants answered to their best ability, and when it was all over, the agent picked a winner. There wasn’t necessarily an offer of representation, but the agent would at least get in contact, so they could talk a little more about the novel.

The first category to go was YA-Children’s, my category. When the host pulled the first two names and they weren’t mine, I didn’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed. I knew I was ready to pitch my manuscript (I’d already done it once that day), and I knew I knew my story well enough to answer almost any question somebody asked... in private. But on stage? Into a microphone? In front of every one of some 2-300 souls at the conference?

I was beginning to wish I’d left after the last event. Or even better, never put my name into the bucket in the first place.

I could feel my stomach coiling as the host called the third name.

It wasn’t mine.

I relaxed, listened to the other participants pitch their works, paid attention to the way the agents responded, and took notes on it all. One thing I noticed was that agents are people just like us, lol: what intrigues us, intrigues them. I’ve always worried that Low Expectations isn’t deep enough or high concept enough to be intriguing yet too broad to fit accurately into a short pitch—unless said pitch is boring and cliche.

But what I discovered was that if you phrase it right, anything can be interesting. And if you phrase it wrong, anything can be boring. Whatever you write, the trick is to make it sound different, unique, like something people never knew they needed but now should be ravenous for. It’s definitely not easy, but many of those writers on stage showed that it’s 100% possible.

The final round came, Sci-fi/Fantasy. The winner was selected, and the agent stepped down from his chair.

And then the host announced they were doing a second YA-Children’s round.

I ‘bout died. The second name they called was mine.

I put down my backpack, now bulging with books, and slowly, composedly—I hoped—crossed from my intentionally back-of-the-room seat to the front, the stage, the microphones that would carry my voice through an entire room of people I did not know. I would have to explain Low Expectations on the spot, open up my heart, my child, to be loved or judged, criticized or accepted.

Somehow, this felt much more personal than sending a query.

My face was hot. I made it to the stage without tripping over my feet and gave a half smile to the audience as the agent took a seat on the other side of a makeshift, paper wall.

My heart pounded. I could feel it almost like the cartoons, as if it were leaping out of my chest with every split second breath. Then again, I was about to subject my story to the ears of all. So maybe that wasn’t completely inaccurate.

I reminded myself that I already had a request for a partial. So remain calm.

The questions began. The first thing he asked was what our MCs learned throughout their stories. I could semi-answer that: Elliot learns trust, acceptance, and that he’s more than he ever thought he could be (no, I did not say it that concisely on stage).

The second question was comp titles and give a quick pitch on what your book is about. Everyone else had comp titles; I did not. I’ve always known that Low Expectations is kind of out there market-wise and there aren’t many books to compare it to. So I asked if I could just give the pitch instead. He said yes, and I gave the two-sentence pitch I’d been practicing for weeks.

At least the host liked it, pausing to tell the audience, “That is an elevator pitch,” before we moved on to the last question: what books have you read recently? Being a book blogger, that was harder than it should’ve been, since I immediately forgot every book I’d ever read the second I was asked, but relatively easy compared to giving my pitch. I mentioned The Replacement Crush, a book I reviewed on Verbosity a while back.

And then the questions were over, and the moment of the truth had arrived.

The others were more interesting, I knew it. They weren’t cliche adoption stories with zero action. They weren’t character-driven, slice-of-life concept mashups impossible to fit into a paragraph much less a sentence. He wouldn’t pick me.

He did.

Now to be clear, none of this means that I’m being published. It doesn’t even mean I have an agent. It means that he asked me to send him a quick letter saying hi, and I’ll probably hear back in a couple of weeks. At this point, neither agent has read any of the book, so it could easily end up not being right for one or both of them. I know that.

But I can’t stop smiling either. :D

Altogether my second conference was an absolutely fantastic experience, as good as I’d determined to make it and more amazing than I dared to hope for. If you’re able to attend the JRW Conference next year, I highly recommend it. Hopefully, I’ll see you there. ;)

Have any of you ever been to a writers’ conference? Meet anyone cool? What was the most helpful thing you learned? Can’t wait to hear from you all, and I’ll see you in the comment section!

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  1. That sounds like so much fun!! Giving the first three chapters to an agent is a HUGE step! I'm so excited for you. :D Pitching is really hard as well, so it's awesome that you were able to do it in front of a huge amount of people. I would have melted for sure. :P
    I wish you the best of luck for your book and the agents!
    I'm not sure any of my conferences I've gone too have been as successful as yours, but for sure I learned a lot of good things and met some good people. One of the coolest people I've met at a conference was Jill Williamson. ^.^ Also, one of the most helpful things I've learned from a conference was description factors and how much they play into the story and emotions of your book. I'm really bad at description sometimes, so it was really good. :D
    Thanks for being awesome! I'll definitely be praying about the whole book/agent thing, because it sounds super exciting if it were to go though. XD

    1. It was! And THANK YOU!!! :D Haha, yeah, it wasn't easy, but I'm glad I was able to do it. :)

      Thank you!

      DUDE THAT IS AWESOME!!! Jill Williamson is one of my favorite authors! And same. I have a lot of difficulty remembering to include description, so that's something I gotta work on too.

      Aw, thank you! :D I very much appreciate it!

  2. Oh, my that is so exciting!!! I'm happy for you... I've been wanting to attend a conference for awhile now :)

    1. :D Thank you! I hope you get the chance! It was fantastic :D

  3. That sounds amazing! Good luck with getting your book an agent-that would be entirely amazing. And I can't believe that your pitch got chosen. (actually I can. You're pretty fabulous). Pitching sounds really really hard and scary, but it also sounds like you did a really great job. (Pitching your book in front of strangers just sounds super hard, I have to say). I was actually really excited while I read this (very true) story, so this is probably good evidence that you are in fact capable of writing (semi ish) action. *waves*

    1. It definitely was--both amazing and difficult, lol. And THANK YOU! I was hoping to be able to tell the story in a way that would kinda put you guys there in the conference with me, so I'm glad it worked for you. :)

  4. OMG THIS IS AMAZING CONGRATULATIONS!! I really hope you get some excellent responses and an offer of representation!! Now the waiting game begins, right?!? Which is probably one of the hardest things for we writers.😂 Best of luck and fingers crossed, eeeeep!

    1. THANK YOU! :D I'm hoping for the same! :D

      Haha, basically, yeah. :p trying not to go crazy while I do.

      Thank you!

  5. I'm so excited for you, and it sounds like you had a very productive time. Wow, I hope you do get the opportunity to get published. You deserve it!

  6. This sounded quite interesting (I think I'd be too shy to join + I haven't even finished a manuscript yet. *cries*).

    I'm glad you had a great time. Maybe I'll take part in a writing conference someday...

    1. Well, you could probably do the conference even without a full manuscript; a lot of the classes were about writing too. :)

      Are you gonna do NaNo this year?

      Thanks! You totally should! They're amazing. :)

    2. Nah, I can't do NaNo this year. Maybe next year...

    3. Yeah, I didn't end up finishing either. To next year, though!

  7. Congrats on getting to talk to an agent! I'm not the kind of person who would go to a writing conference, but it's great that you have and are really putting your writing out there!


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