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Matchmaking For Manuscripts

The rocky relationship between art and commerce has left a string of broken hearts in its wake. But this week, people from the publishing industry came together for a love fest.

'The Muse and the Marketplace' is an annual writers' conference in Boston that offers a unique matchmaking session known as the 'Manuscript Mart.' WBUR's Andrea Shea checked it out and has this story on writers who want agents to fall in love with their work and literary agents looking for Mr. or Ms. "Write."TEXT OF STORY

ANDREA SHEA: To understand the laws of attraction in publishing it's helpful to see the relationship between literary agents, authors, and editors as something of a love triangle. The 'Manuscript Mart' at this conference was created to spark chemistry...quickly. It all happens in one big room...and it smacks of 'speed dating.'

CHRIS CASTELLANI: So you can feel that in the room, people really trying to see if it's the right match, on both sides.

SHEA: Chris Castellani is the Artistic Director at Grub Street, the writers' workshop hosting this conference.

AMBIENCE: chatter from hallway

CASTELLANI: The writer trying to see if this the right agent for them and the agent of course if this is the right writer so there's speed dating, there's also this sort of American Idol feel to it where everyone is coming with their dreams in hand and they want to be the one who becomes the next great American writer.'

SHEA: Jennifer DeLeon is a fledgling writer. The 27 year-old is starting a graduate program this fall, and came here with her book of short stories and a novel about 3 beer promo girls from 3 different countries...all searching for a better life.

SCENE SOUND 1: 'Am I going to meet Ayesha Pande here, or...Is that your agent? Yes. You go into this room...oh, oh my god (she laughs)...FADE

SHEA: DeLeon joins the line of authors outside 'the room.' Some look like actors waiting to audition.

JENNIFER DE LEON: 'You prepare so much and then you go and you're on stage it's like this 20 minutes meeting and there is that expectation afterwards, 'what happen, how did it go, did she sign you?' and really there are only 2 answers so I again really don't want to focus on that if she said I'd love to work with you I'd be ecstatic but if she didn't and gave me concrete things to work on I really would feel it was rewarding.'

AMBIENCE: manuscript mart — loud chatter...

SHEA: Inside the room 20 agents at 20 tables await 20 authors. Each agent has read 20 pages of work from each of the writers they'll meet today. DeLeon shakes hands with her agent and they get down to the business of getting to know each other.

SCENE SOUND 2: 'So tell me about yourself what's your background why did you come tonight and...My parents are from Guatemala...FADE

SHEA: The writer and agent swap biographies...then quickly launch into DeLeon's manuscript. The chatter swells. The room is buzzing. It's quite a scene.

KRIS FRIESWICK: 'I see a lot of very nervous faces, I see a lot of hand gesturing, I see a lot of enthusiasm.'

SHEA: Kris Frieswick is a freelance journalist and humor writer who teaches at Grub Street. On this day she's a proctor.

FRIESWICK: 'I'm Walking around being the pencils down person here today. Giving the agents their 2 minute warning when their session is over, corralling the writers in the hallway and making sure that they don't break down the doors...but I totally understand I mean, it really is one of the more important conversations that a writer can have in his or her professional life, hearing from an agent whose opinion you respect it's definitely a very nerve-wracking situation.'

SHEA: At the end of their 20 minutes DeLeon and her agent Ayesha Pande part ways.

SCENE SOUND 3: Thank you so much. Thank you; it really was a pleasure to meet you. You too. POST HERE...And good luck with everything and stay in touch. Take care, bye bye.

SHEA: Ayesha Pande has her own agency in New York. She's been in the publishing industry for years...as an editor at many of the big houses. She's here partially because...

AYESHA PANDE: 'There's always that faint hope that there might be that wonderful undiscovered talent lurking there that we might just find, it's not really so different from getting all those unsolicited submissions or query letters where we know in all likelihood we wont find it but maybe just maybe we will.'

SHEA: Once Pande finds an author she says she acts as nurse maid, confidante, and life coach. The relationship is intense and can last a lifetime...almost like a marriage. But she says tying the knot doesn't always lead to a happy ending.

PANDE: 'Even if you get published there's no guarantee whatsoever that your book wont disappear immediately from the shelves because you're competing with thousands of other books that are out there. It's a very grim industry and so to me the true writer is the one who can't do anything else and if you feel like that then persevere...but otherwise think long and hard about whether this is something you really want to go into.'

RENEE GOLD: 'You hear people say persevere, persevere, you have to have thick skin, well there's a reason you say it, it's true.'

SHEA: That's screenwriter and memoirist Renee Gold. She says writing is her true calling and she came here because she's ready hook up with an agent.

GOLD: 'You know I have big dreams, I'm not going to lie to you, I really do I picture myself as a best selling author and then they tell you not to say that, but what about if you really believe that? I really believe I have what it takes.'

SHEA: But still, Gold says this unique brand of speed dating can be tough on the ego.

GOLD: 'You are vulnerable, you're putting yourself out there, of course they hope that they like it but you just don't know...it really comes down to connecting with just that one agent, I mean that's all that I really need and there's so many agents out there...but if I could just find that one agent who says wow Rene really has something here.'

REBECCA GRADINGER: 'I think this is a commercial idea and I think she definitely has something here so it's kind of exciting.'

SHEA: While agent Rebecca Gradinger is attracted to Gold's work she says it would be even more commercial if it were presented in a different way.

GRADINGER: 'I don't know if that's something she's interested in doing, but that's sort of the dance that an agent and a writer should do and could do to really work together to collaborate to make a project sellable and better.' (:11)

SHEA: Gradinger didn't strike a deal with Gold, but the agent invited the author to call. Gold, giddy from adrenaline, says she'll go over the agent's suggestions...but not right away.

SHEA: 'I need a bubble bath and glass of wine tonight, Sunday off, get back to work Monday and soon you'll see my name in the Best Seller list like we hope. (laughs)'

AMBIENCE: lunch plates, forks, glasses, chatter, etc...

SHEA: The writers, agents and editors take a breather at lunch in the hotel ballroom. Conference organizer Chris Castellani talks about their budding relationships.

CASTELLANI: 'The Muse and the Marketplace are both fickle and cranky creatures (laughter)...they seduce and taunt and bedevil us...and often they're a terrible match for each other. But we need them to get along if we want readers for our stories. May they both be kind to you this weekend and always.' (laughter and applause) - FADE...

For WBUR I'm Andrea Shea.

This program aired on May 11, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Andrea Shea Twitter Senior Arts Reporter
Andrea Shea is WBUR's arts reporter.

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