Friday, July 11, 2014

What I’ve Learned from Attending Conferences + Connecting with Authors - by Beth

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve joined the Bent Agency and I’ve been to several great conferences so far. But I have a confession to make.

Being that I’m an agent, some people seem surprised to learn that I’m not a naturally social person. When I was a kid, I hated school for one reason: the inevitability of socializing. Group projects, recess, presentations, even the prospect of raising my hand. It all made me anxious.

Books saved me.

We had a little library in the back of my 4th grade classroom, which was really just two bookshelves with some used paperbacks scattered around. One recess, I picked up Lois Lowry’s THE GIVER and fell in love with books. I guess things didn’t really change for me, though. I was still socially awkward, nervous, and I preferred hanging out with my one best friend or else spending several days straight rereading entire series. Teachers let me read through class exercises (at least she’s reading, they’d reasoned). I read through lunch. I read during recess. I read in the car on the way to the mall; I read while I walked through the mall, trailing after my parents. I read through the night and during family vacations – once even reading by flashlight in the closet of my family’s hotel room because I just couldn’t put the book down. I didn’t need to talk to people. I had books. So as an adult, I still haven’t quite figured out how to be totally comfortable in pretty typical social situations.

Which means that going to conferences is kind of hard for me.

What's great about conferences is that attendees get to rub elbows with other authors, and with agents and editors they may not normally have a chance to interact with. A popular part of this is the one-on-one pitch meetings. I sit in a room or at a table, and authors sit with me for 3 minutes, 10 minutes, sometimes 15, and tell me about their book.

And, of course, they’re usually a bit nervous.

I encounter that same anxiety from the authors who sit at my table during lunch, or approach me after a panel or workshop. And without sounding like I feed off your anxiety or something – it does make me feel better! I feel like I’m surrounded by people who are my speed, people who care about stories and want to share them and talk about them. People who are likely also really nervous in social situations because they too have spent a lot of time holed up in their rooms getting lost in a good story. People who get it.

And it gives me strength and resolve and hope to think that my coming to conferences and being the awkward, socially clumsy person that I am will bring attendees relief. That they’ll see me as someone who does just like to talk about books and the power of that perfect story; that we can all just forget that we’re in A Social Situation. That you don’t have to be intimidated.

So if you’re going to a conference that I’ll be attending, know that I am there to interact with you, the storytellers I so admire, the people who saved me from recess.

Check out the right side of our blog for a list of upcoming conferences the TBA agents will be attending!


  1. I cannot tell you how excited I am that you are coming to the Midwest Writer's Conference. It will be my first, and I have been so nervous, so I'm glad to know I'm not alone!

  2. You're going to love it! Can't wait to meet you. :)

  3. I'm going to the Writer's Digest Conference in NYC in August. It's my first one, too. I'm terrified. (There I said it. Let's see if the truth will truly set me free.) I signed up for the last pitch session of the day, because I'll need that long to work up the courage to talk to you agents.

    1. I'm sure you'll do a great job! If it helps, just think of it as practice.