Having just wrapped up the conference, I was reminded again of something I have written about from time to time in this space. One of my many assignments this year was to help run the speed pitching sessions. If you’re unfamiliar, in this format writers are given two minutes apiece with four agents, timed by yours truly. It seemed kind of exhausting for everyone involved—except me. I was having fun.
It is no coincidence that writers conferences borrowed a tool developed by dating services. The link between dating and agent seeking is profoundly direct. Because I am not looking for an agent, I was able to observe this experience from a comfortable distance, and what I determined was that most writers are putting themselves into an impossibly uncomfortable position.
I remember when I was a young man and I would go to a party or, heaven help me, a club. If I was single, I always felt a kind of disorienting insecurity. I never fully understood this feeling until this weekend. In those situations, I had decided that it was my job to make every woman at the party or club desire me. I wanted to be desirable, you see, and a desirable person, I thought, was desired by everyone.
I always hated my insecurity in these moments. If I just weren’t so insecure I would achieve a desirability that always seemed to elude me. But I had it all backwards. My insecurity was information. My insecurity was telling me I had asked myself to do something impossible. I might as well have required myself to walk on water. What I should have thought was, “Let me see if there is someone here who interests and excites me. Let me see if I can make a friend.”
And so the same is true of writers. There are times at writers conferences where I feel as if I am at a club again. Everyone is in flirt mode; everyone is trying to be desirable. It’s exhausting. Yes, to publish a book you probably need an agent; yes, there are agents at the conference. But as I have said before, you are not looking for any agent, you are looking for the right agent. Often, when you find the right agent, you have found a friend, because you are bound by a shared love—the love of a story you discovered and decided to tell. Your job is not to be desired by everyone. Your job is to remember what you love, and find those people who love it too.