In around a half hour, I’m going to hitch up my pants, get on the subway, and head to the Hyatt above Grand Central Station. I’m going to Agentfest, the two-and-a-half-hour breathless sprint of queries that opens the three-day Thrillerfest conference with an event that combines the most harrowing elements of speed-dating (movement every three minutes, trying to look good and differentiate your story from everyone else’s) with the same odds of success. But as with speed-dating, what everyone hears is the success stories, and they do happen—every year a couple of authors stand out from the pack and receive offers of representation based on their presentations.
I always enjoy Agentfest. Yes, it’s a bit of a grind to sit for an extended period of time and be bombarded with pitches. And they do start to melt together after a certain point. But for several reasons I enjoy it nonetheless, and that’s what I want to write about today.
1) It tells me, for better or worse, what people are writing these days. Every year I go to Thrillerfest, and every year at the cocktail party afterward, my agent colleagues and I have a drink and say “Yep, gonna see a lot of medical thrillers/Jack Reacher spinoffs/Basdass Tattooed women the next few months.” One year it was people searching for their Grandparents’ art which had been confiscated by the Nazis. Another year, bioterrorism.
2) It tells me, for better or worse, what people aren’t writing these days. I’ve been surprised the last few years how few straight ahead spy novels I was seeing. Or historical thrillers. The worm had clearly turned on relic quests after all the years of Da Vinci wanna-bes.
3) It’s always encouraging to see the community of crime fiction writers. I’ve had a certain amount of contact with authors in other genres. But I haven’t seen a group of people as consistently supportive of each other—and of prospective members of the Published Author club—than crime writers. They are, with very few exceptions, friendly and generous with advice, reads and blurbs. And while the Agentfest authors can sometimes look haunted, nervous and in need of a stiff drink (which they all get at the cocktail party, see above), they are an optimistic, interesting bunch.
4) I know that I’ll get my money’s worth. For the two and a half hours I’m sitting at AgentFest, I know that everyone who’s standing in front of my will, at least theoretically, have something I could represent. I work on crime fiction. And while I like historical thrillers better than Key West procedurals, and Tudors better than the Civil War West, most of the people are at least playing in my sandbox. And so I go, hoping that I will be seduced, that my seventeenth three minute meeting (or my forty-third, or my sixth), will be the One I take home. My wife and kids might be a bit nonplussed, but, you know, metaphor…
I’ll update this post after I’m done with Agentfest, with Lessons Learned.
Josh Getzler is partner at HSG Agency, and represents more than 30 authors, including Joshua Gaylord/Alden Bell (THE REAPERS ARE THE ANGELS), Cali Yost (Work+Life Fit and TWEAK— forthcoming from Center Street), and Gerald Elias (DEVIL’S TRILL and DANSE MACABRE—Minotaur Books).