This isn't to say that query letters (where you type up a blurb about your project, a blurb about yourself, and send it to agents in hopes they'll ask to read a writing sample) are a waste of time. I have several friends who found their agents by writing a killer query letter. But with most whom I talk to, the connection happened through a writer's conference. (Quick throwback to Wednesday's post: I originally typed, "But with most whom I talk to, it happened through a writer's conference. See? Even years later, I'm constantly fixing that mistake.)
Today we're going to talk about what these agent and editor appointments look like, and on Monday we'll talk about how to prepare for them.
I'm not an expert on all writer's conferences, but at the ones I've been to, I've always had a chance to interact with agents and editors in two ways. At meals and in one-on-one appointments.
Both can be intimidating for different reasons. At a meal, there's likely 10 people listening to pitch your project. And sometimes you're yelling it across the table. And later you might discover you have spinach wedged in one of your teeth.
In a one-on-one appointment, you have the luxury of having their full attention for a scheduled fifteen minutes. But, um, you also have to deal with the pressure involved in having their full attention for fifteen minutes.
Sometimes your meetings are ideal. You manage to hide your shaking hands under the table, you recite your elevator pitch with enthusiasm, and the agent (or editor) is warm and receptive. He or she asks good follow-up questions and you have good follow-up answers. Maybe time even allows for you to ask a question or two about their agency or publishing house. At the end, the agent (or editor) asks you to email them a book proposal when you get home. You shake their hand in a very professional manner and somehow hold off on doing a celebratory jig until you're out of sight.
Other times your meetings are neutral. The agent or editor might smile and nod, but you don't sense much enthusiasm. Or maybe they say they like your project, but they see some places it would need rewrites if there's going to be a chance of the two of you working together in the future. (That's a really common one.) You leave your appointment with the feeling of, "Well ... that could have gone better, but it could have gone worse too..."
And sometimes they go bad. Your appointment gets scheduled for the very last slot of the day. It's 4:45, and they've seen a different writer every 15 minutes since 9:00 that morning. You're nervous and you fumble with your pitch. You're about 2 minutes into what's supposed to be a 30 second elevator pitch when they interrupt and say they're not interested. You still have 13 minutes left in your allotted time, so maybe you ask a few questions about their agency or you compliment an author they represent. Now you have 11 minutes left. They're looking at you, waiting, and you tell them it was nice to meet them, thanks so much for the time, and then you try not to run from the room.
Sometimes the elements that make up a bad appointments (or the neutral) are not in your control. You can't help the schedule or the agent's mood or that the person who pitched before you practically had fireworks going off when they shared their manuscript. On Monday, we'll talk about the things that are in your control. Like how you present yourself, your enthusiasm, and your politeness, just to name a couple.
I'm curious, what's the scariest thing to you about finding the right agent? Or what kind of questions do you have about the process that I can cover?
Have a great weekend!