Results From Writers Digest Conference 2012

Many people have asked us to tell them about our experience at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference. (WDC12) Here are a few observations and of course, the results of our trip.

First, keep in mind that there are different kinds of writer’s conferences. Some conferences focus on learning craft, others are geared more to the business aspect of writing, still others are geared for fans of writers or the hobbyist. Some conferences work hard to foster networking and relationship building and provide lots of opportunities for attendees to mingle with faculty, others don’t worry so much about that.

We went to Times Square to rework our pitch the night before

I’ve been to several different kinds of conferences geared to both the Christian and general market, and have found value in all of these experiences. Know what kind of conference you want, and what that conference offers so you aren’t disappointed.

My impressions:

A Conference For Professionals

This conference is meant for professionals, not beginning writers. I met more than a few people completely overwhelmed because they had just begun to start writing – which is OK if you knew what you were getting into. This conference was planned with the professional in mind, and focused a lot of the sessions on the business of writing, the career behind the writing. Loved that.

What became very clear was how much this industry is changing. Barry Eisler was a keynote speaker this weekend, and if you follow publishing news you might recognize his name because he recently turned down a 2.5million dollar two book deal from St. Martin’s Press to self-publish – and then accepted an offer from Amazon. He claims the book published electronically with Amazon has done better than any of his other books by a large margin. That’s astounding. I’ll be blogging more about that in the weeks ahead.

Writers come to this conference to pitch their work, and agents come expecting you to have something worth their time. Agents were not paid to come, they are there only to find new talent. It’s your chance to skip the cold query process that can last from 3-6 months, and the inevitable agency slush-pile jockey. It’s a chance to meet the person face-to-face, which is such a valuable opportunity in this digital age.

There are no meals really to socialize over. There are no editors or publishers, all the agents were from New York and just arrived for the 3hour Pitch Slam on Saturday afternoon and left again. Everyone is there to sell their book – get out of their way.

The Pitch Slam

You all want to know how the pitch slam works. As we waited in line for the doors to open, people clutched their pitch sheets, recited their pitches to themselves, forced the people around them to listen to their pitches. Not many people laughed or joked, and they defended their place in line with quiet ferocity. Many people dressed in business casual – others wore suits, a few came in jeans and t-shirts. The agents were all dressed in business casual.

The agents sat behind a table with one chair in front of them, and a small pile of much-coveted business cards at their elbow. You had 3 minutes to interest them enough to get their business card. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the goal – to get a business card. You’re not going to get signed in 3 minutes, no one’s going to jump out of the chair and declare, “I want to represent you.” It felt a bit like being lowered into a shark tank – only our intent was to look interesting enough to get snagged by a shark or two out of the hundreds swimming (or floundering) around us.

Generally the agents were intent, focused, and very business-like. They weren’t interested in small talk or chit chat – just your pitch.

Chuck Sambuchino gave a fabulous run-down of how to master the 3minute pitch. It’s different than writing a query letter, there’s just not enough time. You have to boil down your whole novel to a 90 second pitch, 3-10 sentences. It’s like Survivor Elevator Pitch. Marcy will be blogging about this process next week.

Line-ups became very long very fast. Even though we had 3 hours, I was only able to speak with 5 agents, Marcy reached 6. You can estimate how long the line is – 10 people in front of you that’s a 30 minute wait. It adds up fast. I waited in line for more than an hour for just one agent (and yes – she liked us. She asked for a full manuscript.)

Bring a notebook and a pen in case the agent has run out of cards, and to write down what the agent has asked for. We were asked for material from 7 agents, and every one asked for something slightly different.

I was very thankful for my iPod. Playing Bejeweled Blitz while waiting in line helped calm my nerves – my scores were embarrassing though.

How to Prepare

We read every agent’s bio weeks ahead of time and continued to check the website right up until the day before the conference to select those agents who were interested in acquiring our genre – this was a rather broad list. We stalked each agent on social media – what kind of person were they – was this someone we could see ourselves working with? We looked up their recent deals on publisher’s weekly, and checked the absolutewrite watercooler site to see what other writers said about them. This further cut down our list. Then we took that list and prioritized them, and there were a few last-minute cancellations. We found some of the bios were a little outdated,  vague, or conflicted with what their agency website said so we had a couple of agents tell us they don’t represent what we were writing which was disappointing.

What Surprised Us

Not one agent asked us about prior writing experience or publishing credits. There wasn’t time. The questions from the agents who were interested were more intense than we’d expected. We were asked about character arcs, the history behind the story, what aspects were fantasy, how we started working together, is there a mythological tie. I was surprised by how tiring the whole experience was. All we wanted to do afterwards was leave the hotel for a bit and not talk about our book at all – just revel in our success for an evening.


The majority of the people we spoke to only received one business card. I saw at least 3 people out in the hallway crying afterwards, and they didn’t look like happy tears. Marcy spoke with one lady who got requests from all 5 agents she spoke with. Results seemed to vary. We split up to pitch twice as many agents. So, we spoke with 11 agents, and got requests for more material from 7 of them. We are very pleased with this result.

We micro-blogged our way through the conference on the GWP Facebook page. If you missed it, it’s easy enough to scroll down the wall on the page and see all the updates from the sessions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more of the information we gleaned from the sessions and the experience in general. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments.

Are you planning to go to any conferences this year? What investments are you making in your writing career?


**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

23 comments on “Results From Writers Digest Conference 2012

  1. Thanks for this, Lisa. Very interesting stuff. I’ve been to tons of conferences, but never this one. How many attendees were there? How many days did the conference last? And was it mostly focused on self-publishing? For folks who don’t know, Barry Eisler’s situation is unique and different from a new, unpublished writer. Barry had been traditionally published for several years and several books (and still is for his backlist). He’s well known in the mystery community, has won some prestigious awards, and has a significant fan base. In other words, he had a successful career already before he turned down the St. Martin’s deal to go indie. He is indeed doing well, and we’re all happy for him, but newbies shouldn’t expect his level of success on their first book, I’m guessing.

    • For sure – Barry Eisler wouldn’t have been offered that kind of deal by a publisher if they didn’t think they were going to make money off it – and had the experience and fan base to pull that off. But to turn down that kind of money to go Indie was pretty gutsy. And to then make the statement that his e-book with Amazon had done better than any other of his books was pretty astounding – if you’re aware of his past publishing credits.

    • Hi Diane,

      Marcy here, but I thought you wouldn’t mind if I answered 🙂 Lisa might have an exact number of attendees, but the attendance doubled from Friday to Saturday and then plummeted on Sunday. Some people had paid just to attend for the Saturday sessions and pitch slam. The conference ran three days (but Friday and Saturday were half days).

      There were booths set up run by self-publishing companies offering writers help, and almost every time slot offered a workshop for self-pubbed/indie authors, but for the most part, this was a traditional publishing conference. The focus really is on getting an agent. But everyone there also wants to keep their eyes on how the industry is changing, so you might see the balance shift in coming years.

      One stat we heard was that most self-pubbed/indie authors only sell 80 books. Barry’s numbers definitely aren’t the norm.


  2. Thanks for your detailed coverage. I accidentally ended up at a pitch slam at a book event for How to Get Published. I was just looking for general info on publishing and had no idea about the pitches, so it was kind of a weird experience to listen to a bunch of people pitch their books. The panel of an agent, publisher and the authors gave feedback, which was the most interesting part. Anyway, I knew I better not attempt a pitch until I was good and ready.

    That’s great that you got a response from 7 agents. It sounds like you did your homework!

    I’m planning on going to a conference that’s more focused on writing; I’m guessing a few agents might be there, I’m not sure. It’s a Romance Writers of America chapter event in Chicago and it’s either right before or after Romantic Times’ huge annual convention in Chicago, which I’ve heard agents go to, although that’s more for fans I think. And it’s super expensive!

  3. Wow, that sounds like a writer’s dream weekend!!! Is it always in New York? My hubby and I want to go there someday, so maybe we can combine a pleasure trip with some business for me. 🙂 I don’t have any conference on the calendar this year, though there’s a couple that I do want to go to – the ICWF Fall Conference in Edmonton, Alberta (I attended every year for ten years and then moved away and haven’t been for a couple years) and the Women of Faith conference somewhere in the States (that’s personal growth, not writing, but it was a huge blessing last year). Oh, and I’d love to make it to the conference in a castle in Denver that Angela Hunt teaches at. Friends of mine have raved about it; some year, I’m going to go. 🙂 Thanks for all the tips!

  4. Sounds like a very productive conference. I appreciate the frank discussion on the types of conferences. I can’t imagine that being a “first” conference unless there was a lot of homework. I also appreciate the analysis of the pitch slam. At some conferences, it seems like the agents can’t say no. It gives everyone a “warm fuzzy” feeling, but just delays the rejection. I can’t wait to hear what happens after you send your material. Good luck.

  5. Thanks for the in-depth description of the conference. I haven’t gotten to that one yet, but it looks like I could wait awhile – until I have a completed manuscript. I’m going to AWP next month, my biggest writing conference so far. I’ve done large conferences in my previous profession, but AWP scares me a little bit because I won’t show up with the connections I had in my previous life.

  6. Wow, what an experience. I so admire you both for taking it on. Thanks for the informative update and heads up on what to expect. Congrats on your success! Seven agents is awesome.

  7. Awesome post! Thanks for sharing your insights and your successes! I was bummed I didn’t really get to say goodbye to you two — I was so happy to get the chance to meet up with you and chat.

    The most number of yes votes I heard of was from Amanda (who pitched to the whole LOT of us the night before the slam and blew everyone away) — she got requests for 9 partials and a full. I heard of several people who got 2 or 3 — I didn’t witness the tears, but I was sort of in my own world for those couple hours.

    I pitched six agents and got three requests for partials — the other three weren’t taking my genre (so I agree with you that the bios were a bit outdated — and I’d done research). I am very, very happy with the results of the conference as well!

    • Congrats Emmie! That’s fabulous. We ducked out a little early because we wanted to do a bit of shopping before heading back to the airport and hadn’t really had a chance before. Yes, I’d seen someone on twitter say they’d sent out 9 requests yesterday – maybe it was the same person. We enjoyed meeting you too – keep in touch.

  8. Congrats on the requests! Both of you! That is really great!

    I would have loved to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference, but I’ll have to settle for the GREAT DFWcon here in the Metroplex of Texas. I went last year and while it too is for the professional, it also has so many great workshops during the two day conference that teach craft and skill techniques. I can’t wait to go back this year and meet so many of my Twittermates!!

  9. Thanks for the insider look to the Conference. The Pitch Slam sessions sound really hardcore.

    And congrats on your impressive results. I can’t wait to read more about the Survivor Elevator Pitch next week.

  10. Pingback: How to Slam-Dunk Your 90-Second Pitch

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