The event started at 09:30a. I got there a little after 09:00 and found that most of the other attendees had already arrived. They (about 40 in number) were by far a group of middle-aged author wannabes looking for information, inspiration, and a break. Just like me. A big draw was that the event offered (for an additional fee) the chance for attendees to "pitch" their work to a literary agent in the hopes of persuading them to make an offer of representation to traditional publishers. More on that below.
The event offered roughly hour-long presentations on a number of subjects of interest to aspiring authors:
- Your Publishing Options Today
- Everything You Need to Know About Agents, Queries & Pitching
- How to Market Yourself and Your Books: Author Platform & Social Media Explained
- How to Get Published
These were all presented by the same person, Chuck Sambuchino, who is an accomplished and knowledgeable veteran in the the writing and publishing industry. I found him to be very outgoing, likeable, and with a humorous nature that infused his presentation style. He works for Writer's Digest magazine, blogs for them, and is a freelance editor when not writing his own books and teaching this Writing Workshop. I had thought the workshop might be slanted towards traditional publishing but was pleased to find Chuck very balanced in his approach to talking about publishing options.
This was the first such workshop I've attended and it struck me as a window into the reality of publishing--seeing and hearing from people who are working in the industry--that I've only read about until now. It verified a lot of what I've read, both by what Chuck and the agents said and by demonstration. So I learned a lot and took a lot of notes, especially when Chuck was talking about pitching and How to get Published.
Throughout the day, attendees were pitching their work to the four literary agents. I considered doing this as well, but was hesitant to spend the extra money ($50 per 30 minutes with an agent). Not only did I feel my manuscript wasn't ready, the idea of paying for the pitch time just didn't sit right with me. You don't ordinarily pay agents to consider your work and if you send them a written pitch you don't pay for that. I think it would have been fairer to just open the pitching to all attendees.
There was no extra fee, however, to submit the first page of your manuscript for a panel critique, promoted as Writers' Got Talent. This was done in the spirit of American Idol and the idea was the judges (the four literary agents) would hear the first pages read (by Chuck) and then offer their comments. I submitted my first page from Power of the Ancients and it turned out to be the very first one read.
There were two critiques of my page that were made mostly by two of the agents. They felt there was too much description (basically at one point) and two little action ("something needs to happen, quick"). They offered these critiques for just about every submission read and, according to Chuck, these are the two main critiques that cause agents to reject manuscripts right off the bat. Beyond that, what most impressed me about the agents' critiques was the the vitriol in them. I mean, they really ripped most of the submissions and did so with a caustic, "this sucks," attitude. Two of the agents in particular did this. I felt offended by that, and mine was not nearly as ripped as much as the rest. Good comments were few-and-far-between.
Maybe it's just the nature of their jobs and the fact that they read so many such submissions every day, and it leads to their being jaded. Later, Chuck made the comment that agents "look for reasons to reject a manuscript." I had heard that before and it's apparently true. Now I'm sure that the sheer volume of manuscripts and pitches they receive forces them to seek to narrow down the pile quickly. But that strikes me as the same situation where a professional is "too busy." Like the optometrist or dentist who is so busy they can't devote more than a set time to each patient whether the patient's condition calls for it or not. The patient is nothing more than a commodity. There is something wrong with that.
This is the point where I'll hear: "Yeah, well, that's just the way it is, Foy. It's dog-eat-dog out there and you can't be a pussy..." I know there is truth to that, but it's the truth of Mother Culture.
Whatever the reason for the agents' harsh attitudes in their critiques, what I did NOT hear from them was any positive indication of why they were agents. That is, there were no comments about the satisfaction in finding an author with a story they could get behind. There was no indication of a desire to find literary work that inspired and said something, and getting it to the world. I'm not saying they did not have such desires, it's just that, if they did, they didn't express them in the course of the workshop.
Still, as I said, positive comments for the one-page submissions were few, but one was allowed to my offering in an agent saying: "There's some beautiful prose there."
All-in-all, though, the workshop was, to me, well worth the fee. Though overwhelming at times, it verified much of my reasoning for taking the publishing path I'm taking, and offered insights into how I can continue and what my options are. My aim is to provide information, inspiration, and entertainment to those who honor me with their readership. I know you're out there.