By Michael Neff
Yes, we're not kidding!
Karen Dionne and Chris Graham, Backspace Conference Administrators, have publicly stated at Publisher's Marketplace, on their blog, that pitching agents at their conference is a waste of time.
From the blog post, February 3, 09, entitled, "No pitch sessions at the Backspace conference - here's why":
From talking to authors and agents, and from observing how pitch sessions are handled at other writers conferences, Backspace believes that formal pitch sessions are not a productive way for authors and agents to connect. Then the frank statement from Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary about pitching at large writer conferences (that everyone in the business already knows except for aspiring authors):
I don’t like formal author-agent pitch sessions for a couple of reasons. First, most conferences schedule too many of them. If you’re one of the agent’s first pitches you might be in good shape. But if you’re the agent’s 30th pitch in two days, honestly, you would have been better off sending a query letter. As to pitching editors directly, unless you’re writing romance or science fiction, they’re probably just going to tell you to get an agent anyway.As I wipe the undeserved smile from my face, I'm glad this kind of truth is finally out in the open. I've maintained that pitching at the vast majority of large conferences is a waste of time. I only disagree with Scott in relation to pitching editors. The Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop has proven many times that pitching to editors not only yields productive results, but is a means of learning something about the book biz, and the novel as well.
Here’s an inside tip on how agents deal with conferences. Most agents are too polite to say “no” to your face. You can pitch them a book that they KNOW—100% KNOW -- they would never in a million years sign up. But rather than deal with the pressure of rejecting you to your face, they’ll say something like “Well, I don’t know. For something like this it’s all in the writing.” They’ll ask you to mail them the first three chapters and then they’ll glance at them for about 5 seconds and then pass, politely, with their standard rejection letter.
Regardless, I've been to many large writer conference events, talked to lots of agents, and heard the horror stories from writers. But the problem lies not with the simple act of face to face time, but with the sheer volume of the voracious writers piling into lines, the general attitude on the part of the agents when interacting with these writers, and the fact that the writers are not trained how to pitch (not to mention the conferences do not screen).
There ARE good writers in the group, but they get ignored, insulted, dismissed, just like everyone else. Agents are far less willing to suspend disbelief than they are under other circumstances. Most of the agents try to be as patient as possible as they inwardly groan, and others are outright mean.
In other words, almost all the time, everyone loses.