My experience at Willamette Writers Conference this last weekend is a perfect example of the dangers of expectation. I signed up at the last minute because it was a local conference for me and had a nice line-up of agents who represent what I write.
Notice, I didn’t mention excellent classes or enriching bonus activities: I signed up to pitch. I paid what to me was a large amount of money to have the opportunity to pitch my book in person.
I received slots for three ‘consultations’…two groups and a one-on-one. I’d have preferred 3 one-on-ones, but I came late to the party, so I considered myself fortunate. And, after all, group sessions were still opportunities to connect with industry professionals.
Friday afternoon I had a group session with an executive editor of a major NY press’s children’s division. He didn’t want to hear pitches; it was strictly a Q&A with an editor. Sigh. VERY nice man, though, and I evidently made a good impression. I saw him in the hall on Saturday and he called me by name (without glancing at the name tag dangling from around my neck) and asked how my day was going. I took the opportunity to ask him about the appropriateness of the age level of my manuscript. He was polite, attentive, and his eyes didn’t glaze over because I was careful to keep it general and concise. He said that it sounded like my book was in the ‘trough’ between middle grade (because of its length) and young adult (because of the main character’s age) and that’s a VERY tough place to sell. He suggested I either rewrite to about 75-80K or lower my heroine’s age to 11 or 12…neither of which is a particularly appealing option. I thanked him for his time and said, ‘Ah, well, if not this book, then the next.’ He absolutely beamed at me and praised my good attitude. Not the outcome I wanted, but valuable information and a positive impression. Who knows, he might even remember my name…
My one-on-one was Saturday morning. The blurb in the booklet said this agent specialized in juvenile and young adult fiction. That’s all I discovered about her when I checked her out online. I’d never heard of her before, but I figured being invited to Willamette Writers was SOME kind of endorsement. So I gave my pitch, and she said, ‘Well, it sounds like you have a well-developed story with all the key elements in place, but I detest fantasy, so I’m not the right agent for this project.’ Sigh. She couldn’t have mentioned that in her blurb? However, we spent the rest of my time with her discussing the book’s placement. She said the length was perfect for middle-grade and indeed the plot sounded more like middle-grade than YA…even with a 15-year-old heroine. Completely at odds with what the editor told me. Don’t you love conflicting information?
My third consult was a group session with another agent who specializes in YA from a well-known agency (one that I’ve heard excellent feedback on). I was VERY excited about this one and had been checking back all weekend to see if I could trade for a one-on-one, but she was booked solid. SO, I practiced my pitch, worked myself up to a fairly severe case of nerves, and finally approached the group session. When everyone was seated, she opened the conversation…and I knew she wasn’t someone I’d be comfortable working with. Very condescending. She wasn’t interested in hearing about our books, but made it clear we should be grateful for the opportunity to sit in her presence and ask questions about the industry. Sigh. She handed out business cards and said we should all feel free to query her through the normal channels.
I was rather despondent when I came out of her group. Not specifically because I didn’t get to pitch—I’d already decided I wouldn’t want to work with her—but because my expectations hadn’t been met.
Now that I have a little distance from the conference I can see that if I filter out my expectations, I had a wonderful experience. I met one woman with such similar interests that I anticipate a lasting friendship…what a treasure! I attended some excellent classes including one that renewed my excitement about on-line promotion…a very valuable commodity. And I got to spend three days among other men and women who understand and appreciate what I’m trying to accomplish…a priceless salve to the writer’s soul.
My lesson from the weekend? Be careful about your expectations. When they aren’t met in one area, they can cause you to miss the precious serendipities you encountered along the way.
Expect your dreams to come true, but remember to appreciate all the gifts you receive while you’re waiting…
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