How much does meeting an agent in person really help? Should you spend thousands of dollars and travel long distances to meet one?
I don't think so. That's been my experience, and that's what I've read on agent blogs.
I've met a number of agents in person at writer's conferences and I've always found them to be very charming, and interested to listen to what you have to say. They really are looking for the next J.K. Rowling, or Stephen King. It is a business in which they are trying to make money after all.
And there's the rub. If they were just doing it for fun, or just publishing books for people that they liked, then getting to know them personally would probably have a lot more impact. But it doesn't, because at the end of the day they evaluate every work with a filter that asks, how much money will this book make?
It's a hard truth, and probably not one that most of us want to hear, but it's a fact of the business.
Does that mean that you shouldn't go to writing conferences? Absolutely not. I think they are a great place to meet other writers and attend useful sessions.
Does that mean that you shouldn't spend a lot of time and money to make special trips to meet agents? Yes, that's my point. If it's close to you and doesn't cost much, by all means go, but if not, concentrate on making the writing great. It will have more influence on getting published.
So what do you do if you meet an agent at a writing conference? Become a sponge and suck up everything you can. You won't believe the types of information that you can pick up just interacting with agents.
Learn what genres they like, but also learn about their hobbies and other interests outside of their job. You never know when that might make a connection. But you see the problem with that last statement, right? You never know. The chances are slim. It has happened, but it's almost like winning the lottery.
So while I'm not going to spend a lot of money, or a lot of time to travel to meet agents, especially ones that don't represent my genre, when I have one within reach I'm going to suck out every bit of knowledge that I can.