I was intrigued when Karen Dionne wrote to Writer Unboxed about the upcoming Backspace Agent-Author Seminars: “Two days with 22 top agents on a program of panels
and workshops with plenty of free time to network.” It sounded interesting. So I wrote her back and we decided the best way to get the information out to you was through a Q&A. Enjoy!
Interview with Backspace’s Karen Dionne
Q: What is the Backspace Agent-Author Seminar all about? When is it, where is it, and what are the goals of the event?
KD: The Backspace Agent-Author Seminars are two one-day, back-to-back programs of panel discussions and workshops with only literary agents on the program. This year, the seminars will be held November 6 & 7 at the Radisson Martinique (32nd and Broadway) in New York City.
Authors can register for one day or both. Because there’s no overlap between the programs, if people attend both days, they’ll have the opportunity to meet literally dozens of agents. Registrations are limited to around 150, which makes a favorable author-agent ratio.
At this writing, Emmanuelle Alspaugh, Rachel Vater, Paul Cirone, Scott Hoffman, Eric Myers, Michael Bourret, Jennifer DeChiara, Jennie Dunham, Jessica Faust, Michelle Brower, and Liza Dawson, along with Daniela Rapp, an editor at St. Martin’s, are on the program for Tuesday, and Laney Katz Becker, Janet Reid, Stephany Evans, Caren Johnson, Alex Glass, Lucienne Diver, Jennifer Unter, Miriam Goderich, Kate Epstein, Joe Veltre, Elisabeth Weed, Deborah Grosvenor, and Paige Wheeler with Mark Tavani of Random House are on for Wednesday. The program is still a work in progress, and in the next few weeks, approximately 10 more agents will be added to the faculty.
The goal of the seminars is to create a relaxed, friendly environment in which authors can network, ask questions, talk about their work, and listen and learn from the people who make their living selling books.
Q: Do you have to be a member of Backspace to attend?
KD: Not at all. Any author who is looking for an agent is welcome to attend.
Q: How much does the seminar cost, and what does that fee cover?
KD: Each one-day seminar is $210. The registration fee for both days is discounted to $370. Registration includes all of the workshops and panels, as well as a buffet-style lunch at the hotel each day with attending agents.
We realize that New York can be expensive, especially for out-of-towners who often suffer sticker shock when they start pricing out hotel rooms, and so for authors traveling on a budget, we’ve posted links in the FAQ section on the website to several articles that suggest ways to cut costs when visiting the city.
Q: What do you consider some of the highlights for this event?
KD: All of the workshops and panels are going to be great, because all of the agents on the faculty are warm, personable, funny and smart. More importantly, they know the business, and they care about writers and want to see them succeed, and so the advice they offer on how to break in is really invaluable.
If I had to single out one part, though, I’d have to say that I’m particularly looking forward to the conversations between an agent and an editor at the end of each day. Mark Tavani of Random House and Simon Lipskar from Writers House held a similar conversation at the 2007 Backspace Writers Conference last spring, and it was incredibly informative to hear details about the submission process from both sides of the fence. It was also fun, since Mark and Simon are friends who have worked together on several projects.
This November, we’re pairing Scott Hoffman with Daniela Rapp, Mark Tavani with Joe Veltre, and Jeff Kleinman with Brenda Copeland–again, these are colleagues who have worked together to put out a number of books–for our “Agents and Editors, Working Together” conversations, or as Daniela called them: “our agent-editor battle.”
Q: How long have you been putting on the seminar, and what kind of feedback have you had from past participants?
KD: Backspace has been organizing writers events for three and a half years. The feedback we’ve gotten during that time from registrants and faculty members alike has been extremely gratifying.
For instance, after last year’s Agent-Author Seminar, Backspace received a note from Chris Olsen, the organizer of the Pike’s Peak Writers Conference, telling us a member of their board of directors had attended and raved about it at a PPWC steering committee meeting. She “LOVED” the event, and Chris added she’s heard many others voice the same compliment.
Folks can read more of what people say about the Backspace events HERE, if they’re so inclined. It’s enough to make an organizer blush!
Q: Are there opportunities to meet one-on-one with agents who attend?
KD: Yes and no. Formal one-on-one pitch sessions are a staple at most writers conferences. However, in planning our Backspace events, we discovered that agents hate conducting pitch sessions almost as much as authors dread doing them. In fact, many of the agents we’ve talked to are happy to sit on a panel or conduct a workshop, but decline to participate in formal pitch sessions.
The goal of the Backspace Agent-Author Seminars is to help authors connect with agents–lots of agents–and to provide them with the opportunity to ask questions specific to their interests and concerns without the anxiety that goes along with a formal pitch.
To accomplish this, we’ve built a great deal of free time into the program: a full fifteen minutes between parts, a half-hour break each afternoon, and an hour-long lunch with attending agents each day. We also scheduled the Two Minutes, Two Pages workshops right before lunch, so that if a great conversation develops between an agent and an author, or a group of authors, it doesn’t have to be cut short to make way for the next part, but can carry over into the lunch hour in a relaxed, informal way.
Q: Can you tell us more about the “Two Minutes, Two Pages” workshop? What is it all about, and what can you expect from it–as an active participant and as a listener?
KD: The purpose of this workshop is to combine specific agent feedback with an overall object lesson in the realities of the business. Two agents and approximately a dozen authors will sit at a table, and a reader (either the author or a volunteer if the author wishes to remain anonymous) will read the first two pages of their manuscript aloud while the agents follow along in hard copy. If the pages stop working, one or both of the agents will interrupt the reading to explain why they would have quit reading at that point if they had received the pages as a submission.
Naturally, if one or both agents love the work, authors are welcome to make arrangements to send their material for further consideration.
However, authors should be aware that the reality of this workshop is the same as in a real slush pile: many of the opening pages will be “rejected.”
Authors definitely shouldn’t submit pages for feedback if they’re not comfortable with this possibility. If they choose not to submit, they can still benefit from the workshop. Listening to a dozen or so critiques is a great way to get a sense of what grabs an agent’s attention and what doesn’t, which observations authors can then apply to their own work. It’s also enlightening to see the agents’ different reactions to the same opening. It’s not at all unusual for one agent to say “I’d stop reading here,” while the other agent says, “Really? I’d keep reading” — a wonderful illustration of the subjectiveness of the business.
Q: What should people do if they’d like to know more about it?
KD: Authors who are interested in the Backspace Agent-Author Seminars should check the website often, since we’ll be adding another ten or so agents to the program in the upcoming weeks. If anyone has questions, they’re welcome to send them to me or to my partner, Christopher Graham. I prefer email (email@example.com), but Chris is happy to talk by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by phone at 732-267-6449.
Q: Is there anything I didn’t ask and should have, or is there anything you’d like to add?
KD: Your questions have been great! I’d just like to add that as wonderful and terrific and cool as the Backspace Agent-Author Seminars are, authors shouldn’t think that coming to this or similar events is in any way necessary to get an agent. The majority of authors find representation through standard snail or e-mail queries, and many agents and authors work together for years before they ever meet in person.
Authors have signed with an agent they met at a Backspace event, but the benefits of attending seminars and conferences like ours are usually less tangible: a better sense of how the publishing business works, a greater understanding of what’s needed to break in, and contacts, both with agents and with fellow authors–all of which gives authors an advantage that we hope will ultimately help them succeed.
Thanks for the opportunity to tell your readers about our event. I hope to see some of them there!
Thank you, Karen, for an enlightening interview! WU readers can learn more about the seminars by visiting the main site HERE. Write on, all!