Monday, October 3, 2011

Writer's Conferences and Getting an Agent Part Two

If you're reading this and thinking, "Wait, I missed part one!" you can find it by clicking here.

Also, two more days to get your contest entries into me. Click here to get the details on this round's writing prompt contest. I'm loving how you guys have embraced mixing it up and me providing the last sentence instead of the first. And thanks to Kait Culbertson for coming up with that idea!

Okay, on Friday I apparently petrified a few of you with my post about pitching to agents and editors in person. Yes, it can be very nerve wracking, especially when you're getting ready to talk to your dream agent or editor. And the scariness doesn't just vanish - poof! - once you're published. At the conference, I woke up  in the middle of the night and couldn't go back to sleep because I was lying there going over my pitch. 

Some aspects of your appointment are out of your control. Like the agent's mood. Or if the editor's publishing house already has a project similar to yours. But let's talk about what you can and should control.

The Way You Present Yourself

You should dress business casual or smart casual, or whatever you guys call it these days. (We once got invited to a wedding where the dress code was described as "elegant casual." I tell ya, I had no idea how to dress for that event.) No jeans, no flip-flops, no baseball hats. That sort of thing.

Me headed to my first (big) conference. I know nothing! Look, I'm wearing jeans! Proof that you can make mistakes and still emerge okay. (And I did wear shoes, for the record.)

Now, I'm not a person who gets hung up on clothing stuff, so if you're at a conference and we have an appointment, you may wear your jeans and call me Stephanie. But for anybody else, don your skirt or slacks and call them Mr. or Ms. unless they request otherwise. Which leads into my next thing...

Be Polite

You guys are always wonderful about telling me thank you for things, so I won't spend long on this. Even if your appointment goes poorly, even if they're rude to you, always always always always always always tell them "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me," and shake their hand. And when you get home, write them a thank you note and pop it in the mail. 

Know Your Stuff

Heading into your appointment, you should have answers to these things:

  1. Tell me about your project. (A 30 second version and also a longer one if they want more after the 30 seconds.)
  2. Who you are and why you are the best person to write this book.
  3. Why you think this book will sell. (Like, "It's similar to this title, which hit the NY Times bestsellers list, but it's different because...")
And you should bring with you a pitch sheet (more about that later this week) and a book proposal. Last week at this time, I would have told you just to take a sample of your writing because agents and editors prefer that you just email the proposal after you get home. (That way they're not lugging 40 book proposals back home with them.) But at the conference, I had a friend who had an editor ask if she could keep the hard copy of her book proposal. So bring a copy of your book proposal too, apparently.

Have Questions Ready for Them Too

It's a good idea to have a couple questions ready for them as well. That way if you have extra time, you can make good use of it and get to know them/their agency/their publishing house better. Some questions I've asked editors are:

  • What YA books does your house have releasing soon?
  • What age range do you like to see for YA protagonists?
  • Are there any topics you wish you saw more of in YA?

For agents you could ask:

  • Do you have clients who write insert-your-genre-here?
  • How long have you been an agent?
  • What do you like about your job?
  • Do you have any tips for a new writer like me?

And one last thing...

Be enthusiastic!

Don't be afraid to let them see how excited you are about your manuscript. If you're not enthusiastic about it, how do you expect to inspire them to be enthusiastic enough to want to represent or publish you? You don't need to pull out your jazz hands or anything, but talk about what it is in your story that makes your heart beat faster. Like:

I love this story because it deals with teenage pregnancy, and I have a real soft spot for that issue.


This story is special to me because my main character learns a lot about being bold and courageous, and that's something I've always struggled with.

I welcome any questions you guys might have. If you're too shy to ask in the comments section, shoot me an email.

Have a great Monday!


  1. I am SO prcticing these! I'll probably have get out a timer to make sure I consistenly stay within 30seconds.
    When I first decided I wanted to make a goal of going to writers conference, not sure when it'll be though, I kept getting caught up in trying to plan my outfits instead of writing. Then, I decided I needed a fashion plot in the name of research :) we'll see where this one takes me.
    When pitching are you able to have sheets of paper in your hand or on your lap? I'm asking because I wonder if I could work in a cheat sheet in case my brain completely freezes.

  2. Could really being prepared and knowing your stuff propel a more mediocre novel to a level of a great novel?

  3. Anonymous, a great pitch can make a mediocre novel SOUND like a great novel :) It's best, of course, if you can follow up a great pitch with a great product.

  4. Tonya, I'll talk about pitch sheets later this week, but yes, you can have something with you. I wouldn't write your pitch on the back of your hand or anything, but you'll be able to glance at your pitch sheet (which is kind of like a flier for your project).

  5. Which post talked about what should be on your 30-second pitch sheet? Or did we not discuss it yet?

  6. I don't even know how much you're helping us, Steph -- I'm so thankful. Simple things like this can make a world of difference, can't they? So thankyou.

  7. I'M WITH EMII!!!!! This is such an amazing blog, since it has just about everything you need to know! :)

  8. Becki, we haven't talked about pitch sheets yet. Or, really, 30 second verbal pitches. Guess I should put that on the list too.

    Emii and Becki, thanks, you guys! I'm just happy to be able to pass along what I've learned.

  9. *Sigh of relief* Okay, I'm just glad I didn't miss it.

  10. Thank you so much for posting this stuff Stephanie. :) It's totally encouraging me for the day that I actually do this stuff.
    I'm sure I might be able to talk face to face with an agent someday haha. :D

    So, do they expect any sort of bio (verbally or on paper)?

  11. Great question, Jazmine. If you're in a meeting with them, they'll probably ask some questions about who you are, but they're not going to expect you to spout off your bio in 30 seconds or anything.

  12. okay, sweet, good thing. :) And I'm glad I know myself well enough. (haha)