In Others' WordsIn Others' Words

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

In My Words: Writers Conference (Mis)Conduct

At a writers conference, there are two ways to connect with editors and agents:

  1. Sign up for 15 minute appointments with an editor or agent for the chance to pitch your book. (And hope you get appointments with the editors and agents you really want to talk with.)
  2. During lunch and dinner sessions, sit at the table where the editor or agent you're hoping to connect with is hosting. Usually, as the table host, the editor or agent will take a few minutes to talk with everyone sitting at the table, often asking about their writing.
Now, sit back and let me share a story with you--and yes, there's a moral to the story. 

Several years ago, I attended the Jerry B. Jenkins Writing for the Soul conference. At dinner one night, my friend Scoti and I sat at an agent's table because Scoti wanted to talk with her. The table was full and this agent invited everyone to take a few minutes to either ask her a question or pitch their book idea. 

She let the person on her left go first, which meant Scoti and I were some of the last people to talk. When it was my turn, I pitched the book idea I was working on at the time--more for practice, as I already had my agent sending the proposal out. It was titled Blindsided, and the focus of the book was to help moms understand how to help their sons when they get tripped up by pornography. 

After I pitched my book, I turned to the writer next to me so I could listen to his pitch. He started off by saying, "My book deals with discipleship, an important issue that's vital to teen boys' spiritual growth, unlike the book you just heard about."

Excuse me? 

Yes--the writer dissed my book in an attempt to pitch his and make it look important. 

I was stunned. Scoti was stunned. And, by the look on the agent's face, she was put off by his approach of pitching his book by putting mine down.

I promised you a moral to the story, so here it is: When you're pitching your book, there's no need to denigrate another writer's book idea. Be passionate about your book idea--but don't attack another writer's manuscript in an attempt to make your idea look better. As a professional, you want to conduct yourself in a professional manner--and that means considering your words and your actions.

In Your Words: Have you ever had another writer speak negatively about your writing project? How did you handle it? I'd love to hear your words of wisdom.

photo  by  photostock/

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At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Tara Lazar said...

Yikes. That's nasty. Not very disciple-like.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Patricia said...

Wow...that's really awful, Beth. I'm not sure how I would have handled it. I'm grateful you had Scoti with you to pick you up off the floor!

A few months ago I was asked to write a guest post during an particularly emotional personal time. At a meeting over breakfast, I shared a short first draft of that post with my critique group and told them that I was also struggling with a HUGE lack of confidence. After looking at my draft, none of them offered any specific suggestions, but several days later, just hours before my article was due and with no time to work on it, I received an email from one of them (that was addressed to the whole group) that was particularly harsh and critical - again, no specific examples of how I could improve, just the comment, "You can write better than this." I was crushed and felt like crawling in a hole and trying to find a way to get out of the commitment.

In the end, I turned to the person who had asked me initially to write the post. She was loving and encouraging and offered a couple of suggestions for fleshing out a few points. What I learned was how important it is for us (me) to be a better encourager to others - to critique honestly, yes, but there is a way to critique without crushing.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger Katie Ganshert said...

Whoa! I can't believe that! If I were you, I might have growled.

At 9:33 AM, Blogger Jeanne T said...

Beth, what that man did was more than "dis" your book. He showed an aspect of his character that was less than flattering. He made himself look petty and small. I'm so sorry you had to deal with that. Thanks for sharing your story and your lesson. Both are valuable.

I don't know what I would have done in that situation. I may have stayed silent so as not to stoop to his level. And on the inside, I'd be trying to hold in tears.

At 9:57 AM, Blogger Catherine said...

It's amazing that grown ups still do things like that! I'm sure it didn't help him land a book deal.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Patricia, I'm so sorry you experienced such hurtful discouragement too. Critique doesn't equal manhandling someone's writing or attacking someone's character,

I was thankful Scoti was with me. She helped me stay calm -- and we were even able to joke about it later.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Melissa Tagg said...

a) The gall of that dude!

b) I just had to the word "gall" to make sure I spelled it right...and to figure out whether the expression has anything to do with a gall bladder. Seems there are conflicting opinions on that!

c) I've not had anyone speak negatively about my writing project (at least not to my face), but I have heard people put down Christian fiction - and specifically contemporary romance . Usually it's clear they've not even picked up a recent novel, but still, it irks me to the point of mental (and sometimes literal) tongue-sticking-out.

At 12:11 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

I think this falls under the "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all . . ."

And I've made a few missteps myself. Thankfully, they've always been with friends who give me grace.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Sarah Forgrave said...

Wow, that's pretty gutsy on his part! And I'm guessing it didn't pay off, at least not with that agent.

I haven't had anyone criticize my work like that directly, but I do hear a lot of jokes about Amish fiction. Even though I bring a unique twist to it, I still get the urge to say, "Just because I write about something popular doesn't mean I'm selling my soul!" :)

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Beth K. Vogt said...

Sarah, you've got a good big of self-control--and a good comeback, should you ever need it.


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