Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Pre-Conference Query... Huh?

Q: Would you like to receive a query from a prospective writer prior to meeting them at a conference?
I got this question on Twitter last night, and in thinking about it I realized, sure enough, before every conference I attend I get a handful of queries from people that say they are "about to meet me at XYZ conference next week" (for example). Actually, I've been getting more lately than ever. It makes me feel like somebody must have written an article advising people to do this or something. Hm.

I must start by saying, I don't think you need to go to conferences to meet agents or to learn craft. It is cool if you can, or want to -- they can be very helpful -- but they are far from necessary. Most of my clients do not attend conferences, and I've never signed anyone at a conference.

So my initial response on Twitter was something like I don't give a good god-damn when you send your query. Which is true. However... I do sort of wonder about the reasoning.

* How do you know you'll like me? Obviously you never REALLY know if you'll like working with somebody until you're actually working with them. You can query agents all day, but just because you like their books, or think they are funny on Twitter, doesn't mean you'll enjoy working with them. But you are in a sort of rare position in that you are about to meet me! Since you only have one opportunity at my agency, perhaps hearing about my interests in real life will cement your decision to go with me, or sway you toward another one of our excellent agents. But if you've already queried me, that chance is gone, sooo...

* I try to clear my inbox before I go out of town. Purely from a housekeeping perspective, I try to get at least the bulk of my queries done before I go away for a conference. Which means that if you pre-query me, often I have already rejected you by the time we meet. That's awkward, no?

* If you pitch me in real life, you'll get to see my response. If we have the chance to talk at the conference, you can ASK me if your picture book about Weevil-Ghosts or whatever is a good fit for me, or if you should send to somebody else at the agency. (Actually I'll stop you right there: Don't send me the Weevil-ghost picture book. Try Caryn, she'll love it.) (KIDDING PLEASE DON'T KILL ME CARYN.)

* People I've met tend to stick out in a good way. Again, remember, I've never signed anyone at a conference, and I hadn't met the vast majority of my clients when I signed them. But. If we DID get the chance to talk, and you mention it in your query, it's natural that I'm more likely to pay attention. Obviously I am not going to remember "pass the salt" - but if we had some connection over a shared love of a book, or we had a funny convo about the Weevil-ghosts, or whatever, I'm likely to remember it. Just human nature. I'm not going to offer you representation based on meeting you, or even just hearing a pitch, of course, but if I go in with good expectations, I am more likely to give your work the extra chance and want to read more, or even take just that extra minute to try and personalize my response to you, even if it is a rejection.

* MOST IMPORTANTLY, isn't the point of going to the conference so you'll learn things? Not to be a jerk or anything, but seriously? I've read what people turn in to conferences. That stuff is NOT ready for prime time. That is, I assume, why the authors are AT the conference - not just because they love nametags, or get a thrill from hanging out in hotel ballrooms drinking cheap white wine. I hope they are going to take all the wonderful stuff they've learned at the conference and APPLY IT TO THEIR WORK to make it stronger. I'm extremely dubious whenever I get a query a day or a week after a conference, because it feels like the attendee didn't even listen or let anything sink in... so it follows that I'd be even more dubious about a PRE-conference query.

So I guess it turns out I have more feelings about this than I thought I did.

What do YOU think the reasoning is behind pre-conference querying? Is there some obvious reason to do this I'm totally missing?