Friday, June 12, 2009


Note from Kae: Deb Schubert is an author (and now friend) who is shopping for an agent and a publisher for her women's fiction and a cozy mystery series. Thanks so much for this, Deb!

By Debra L. Schubert

First of all, Kae, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to fill you in on BEA and the Backspace Writer’s Conference from a writer’s perspective.

I was fortunate enough to attend both of these conferences during the last week of May in NYC. BEA – The Book Expo of America – was actually a five-day conference, but the first day, Wednesday, May 27th was the writer’s conference portion of the event. (The following four days were mainly for agents, editors, and booksellers.)

The day started out with an opening keynote speech by author Karin Slaughter. Karin is a petite blonde spitfire. Her genre is crime, but it may as well be comedy – she’s the Ellen Degeneres of the publishing world. She spoke of how she owned a sign company, although her true passion was writing. After ten years of seeking representation, she became an overnight success. Since then, she’s written several number one international bestsellers and doesn’t miss selling signs one single bit.

After that, I attended a workshop on “How to Write Great Characters” by author N.M. Kelby (author of the Whale Season and Murder at the Bad Girls Bar and Grill) and an agent panel featuring Janet Reid, Barbara Poelle, Michelle Andelman and Ted Weinstein regarding what agents are looking for in queries and sample pages. This included brave souls from the audience going on stage and pitching their stories. The afternoon was the Big Event – the terrifyingly wonderful (or just plain terrifying) PITCH SLAM! This is like speed dating for writers and agents. Sixty-six agents were in attendance and you could pitch your story to as many agents as you could fit in to the two-hour time slot. There were no sign-up sheets. You just got in line in front of the agent you wanted to pitch to and waited your turn. My genres are women’s fiction and cozy mystery, but I was pitching only my women’s fiction novel. I met with six agents and all six asked for sample pages (one even asked for the full ms!). It was a miracle that my stomach made it out of the enormous Jacob Javitz Convention Center along with the rest of me. To tell you the truth, at the time I wished it hadn’t. I was a bundle of nervous energy, as I’m sure most of the writers were.

The Backspace Conference was a three-day event held at the Radisson Martinique Hotel. The first day was Agent-Author day where your query and first two pages were critiqued. Different groups of agents rotated through and listened to your work. They’d stop you when the pitch or pages no longer worked for them and gave their opinions. This was also fairly brutal. However, that’s the whole reason writers attend conferences – to receive honest critiques and hopefully click with an agent. The second and third days were filled with wonderful workshops including a role-playing exercise in which different publishing industry parts such as editor, marketing manager, publicist, etc. were taken on. Led by Agent Jeff Kleinman, it was fun and informative. I learned you need to have as much of a platform as possible, even for fiction. Another panel I attended was entitled, “The Agent-Author Relationship” led by two agents and two of their published clients. This relationship really is like a marriage on a lot of levels. First of all, you have to “fall in love” with each other, or at least the agent needs to fall in love with your work and as a writer you must feel he/she is the “right” person to go to bat for you. It’s also, hopefully, a LTR, one that lasts throughout your whole career. It was interesting to see how the personalities of the agents and authors on the panel “matched.” Another interesting panel discussion was with Agents Matthew Mahoney, Alexandra Machinist, and Colleen Lindsay. It was entitled, “What Literary Agents Want and Why It’s So Hard to Find Representation.” They spoke about keeping their eyes on the current market, being aware of what editors are looking for, and writing great queries and, of course, a great book.

With the exception of the Agent/Author Day at Backspace, my overall impressions of both conferences were that they were extremely worthwhile and I would highly recommend them to any serious writer with a completed manuscript. The problem with Agent/Author Day was that we were supposed to be able to pitch to at least two groups of agents, but only got to pitch to one. Given the cost of the day (approx. $200), I would say this was not worth the money. The people running the conference are aware of the problem, so hopefully it will be corrected by next year. However, the 2-day workshop portion of the Backspace Writer’s Conference was invaluable as was BEA.

If you have any questions, please feel free to stop by my blog and ask away. Again, I’d like to thank Kae for the opportunity to share my thoughts on these wonderful conferences.


Angie Ledbetter said...

*Hey, Schube!* Nice post. And this blog looks nice. I'll be back to browse soon.

Sandra Leigh said...

Debra, my blood pressure shot up while I was reading about the PITCH SLAM. Better you than me! I hope something wonderful comes out of this.

DebraLSchubert said...

Angie and Sandra, Thanks for stopping by and please spend some time here at Kae and Jon's place. It's a welcoming, informative place to hang out.;-)

giddymomof6 said...

Yay! Congrats on the 5 sample and 1 full! That's great news! And so awesome that you got to see them in person, it makes it all more real! Jenni

Kathryn Magendie said...

Hi Debra! ...great post! and I am following here as well..:)