What I learned today at this year’s Muse and the Marketplace Writing Conference put on by Grub Street Writers in Boston:
1. Grub Street really does a great job in helping writers write and understand the market. I am consistently impressed, every year, with how much thought and care is put into the line up. The conference is big and it is grand. I highly recommend it.
2. Agents and editors are people too. I knew this already of course, but this year I signed up to eat lunch at a table with two agents, an author, and an editor. I thought it might be awkward, but all were warm and friendly. It was perhaps the most comfortable and chatty lunch I have ever had at the Muse. Rotating seats was a great idea too, as the four writers who were at the table to network got to talk to different people. I really think the lunch was the best event of the day.
3. Agents differ in opinion on a lot of things. I was surprised to see two agents disagree on the etiquette of the “no response means no” rule that is more and more common these days. One thought it was down right rude, where as the other defended the need to allocate time where it was most useful. I also heard variances about whether a writer should offer a genre at all or comp titles in a query. It does put a writer in a category that might influence the agent’s expectations, but then again if the comp or genre is right on, it might help.
4. I learned that there are debut authors out there who have gone through the slush pile. They experienced the same ups and down I know many aspiring authors do. It was really encouraging to hear their success stories and to feel understood.
5. Authors are much less critical of writing than agents, perhaps understandably so. I attended two “Idol” sessions, where writers submit one page anonymously and it is read in front of a panel of “judges” (authors or agents respectively). They listen and when they feel they would stop reading, each one, individually, raises a hand, two or three and the reader is told to stop and the group explains their reasoning. This was very insightful. The authors were much more inclined to listen to the whole page and then offer positives and negatives, as if they were in a critique group. The agents found fault almost immediately. This give a lot of insight into their mind frame and their process.
6. Lastly, I learned, or remembered, how great it is to go to a conference with other writers and people in the industry. It is rejuvenating and gives me a chance to connect with people who love the same things that I love: books and writing. What a great experience going to a conference is. It is worth it to put your brave costume on and to walk up to an agent and introduce yourself. It is awesome to sit next to an author you admire and talk to them not only about their work, but your own.
I highly recommend that anyone who is writing a book go to a conference like The Muse and The Marketplace. It can add definition, purpose, and knowledge to your endeavor.