MY EXPERIENCES AT THE COCOA BEACH WRITERS’ CONFERENCE
Two weekends ago I attended the Space Coast Writers Guild conference in sunny Cocoa Beach, Florida. The conference, in its 31st year, is small in comparison to the upcoming San Francisco Writers conference – 80 or so attendee vs. 500+ but it draws a cachet of talented agents and speakers. This year was no exception, with big names like Jenny Bent (The Bent Agency), Sartiza Hernandez (Corvisiero Literary Agency), Gordon Warnock (Andrea Hurst Literary Management), Paige Wheeler (Folio Literary Management), Lois Winston (Ashley Grayson Literary Agency) and Stacy Abrams (Entangled Publishing) present.
Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing:
With all the hoopla surrounding self-publishing these days (In 2008, for the first time in history, more books were self-published rather than published traditionally. In 2009, 79% of all books released were self-published. Amazon.com fueled the growth by offering self-published writers as much as 70% of revenue on digital books. By comparison, traditional publishers typically pay their authors 25% of net digital sales) a newbie author like me could be forgiven for thinking that self-publishing equals a home run. Not so, according to the riveting key note speaker, Chantelle Osman. “You can always self-publish,” she stated empathically, “but first, do the work to try and get an agent.”
“You need just one agent to fall in love with your work,” reiterated Paige Wheeler (of Folio Literary). “Most agents do have your best interests at heart. They go into the publishing industry for the love of books, not to get rich. People go into investment banking to get rich,” she emphasized. “So, keep working on the perfect pitch. Realize it’s a slow business. The dream deal may be just around the corner.”
From the Agent’s Perspective:
Etiquette for wanna-be authors: Be considerate of the agent’s time. Paige Wheeler recounted an incident where she asked for a manuscript submission, loved the work and wrote the author back with an offer. “I’m so sorry,” said the author. “I just signed with somebody.” “Why did she send me her manuscript, then?” demanded Paige. “I work on submissions. I can’t get that time back. It’s like a lawyer with billables.”
“Conferences are just verbal pitches,” states Paige. It’s not about making the first impression. What matters is how well you write, which is the same whether in a query or a verbal pitch. Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency reiterated that. “Half of my client list is authors who wrote me cold and sent me a query letter,” she said. Conferences are not about making a connection with an agent, but about learning the craft.
& lastly, you must edit your work before you send it out to agents. Stacy Abrams of Entangled Publishing believes that while you do not need to rush out and find a professional editor, you should have a circle of writer buddies or beta-readers that will catch your grammatical errors, your typos and even plot mishaps. Remember, if more than one person is telling you the same thing, it’s time to get back to the ol’ drawing board again and figure out what’s wrong!