Casting Calls and Writers Conferences

Over dinner with a few writers the conversation evolved to a discussion of agents. Two present had met agents through local writers conferences. Both were invited to submit writing samples. Neither heard from the agents. It’s not the first time I’ve heard the story.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned about the matchmaking business that occurs at writers conferences. Organizers know they can draw more registrants if they’re enticed with the opportunity to meet literary agents. Everyone has dreams.

Literary agents are like entertainment agents. The writers conference is akin to an open casting call. Anyone can audition. Aspiring writers queue up for their brief moment in the spotlight. They might join a group pitch — something like auditioning for the chorus. The most promising are pulled aside. That doesn’t mean they’re hired. They’re only winnowing a broad field. Think American Idol.

The agents are invited guests at these conferences. They know it would be ungracious to sit through one, two, three days of pitches without inviting a few writers to send their work. They have to justify their travel. At that open call a few writers will be asked to send a sample of their work.

When an agent says “Send me sixty pages,” he or she is just inviting a performer to come to the next round of auditions. It’s no commitment. Not even an expression of real interest.

This isn’t intended to dash hopes. Literary agents are inundated with queries. The world is full of writers hoping to publish their work.

Agents are looking for the next big star. If they see someone promising, they may send them back to work on revisions. That’s akin to being told, “Get your teeth fixed” or “Get boob implants.” Then we’ll see if Louis B. Mayer is interested.

You can invest in those improvements. Revise. Rewrite. Recast the story from the third- to the first-person. Then you go trotting back with your dazzling new teeth and oversized bosom and hope they won’t say, “Sorry honey. That was last year. The new look is natural.”

Maybe I sound a little snarky because I heard one of those lines a few months back. I’m still waiting for the call.


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