Last week I had the joy of hanging out at the One Year Adventure Novel conference in Olathe, Kansas. (If you're a homeschool student or parent, this curriculum is amazing. Definitely check it out.)
I got to do some fun/scary things like talk to parents about how to prepare their aspiring novelist for the world of publishing (I wanted to title my talk "Preparing to feed your babies to the wolves" but that didn't go over so well), and I sat on a panel with publisher Jeff Gerke (Marcher Lord Press) and literary agent Amanda Luedeke (MacGregor Literary) where I attempted to semi-intelligently answer questions about being a writer.
I also got to do some things that were fun-and-not-at-all-scary, like meet some Go Teen Writers people in real life - MacKenzie Pauline, Rachelle Ferguson, Abigail Walsh, and Madison Taylor.
|Madison Taylor and me at OYAN|
Then for two afternoons, I took 15 minute appointments where I did one-on-one mentoring. Amanda was in the room too, taking her own appointments. She, of course, is used to it, but I'm usually the writer who's being led into the room ... not the one waiting at the table.
Holding appointments of my own - though I wasn't really there to be pitched to, just to offer advice - helped me see the process through a whole new lens. Here are some things I learned that will hopefully help you have successful appointments with agents and editors:
It's not a big deal
A lot of the teens who came into chat with me seemed pretty nervous. Which I understood, because I'm always nervous for the first couple minutes of my appointments. But the editor or agent you're walking in to meet has likely already seen 10 people before you, and they maybe have another 10 lined up after you. Hearing writers nervously pitch their story is a routine for them.
It's like when I'm going to the doctor for a yearly poke-and-prod session. I only do it once a year, so it's nerve-wracking. But they spend all-day, every-day poking and prodding people, so it's no big thing to them.
I'm sure I'll still have some butterflies in my stomach next time I walk into a meeting with an editor, but I do intend to remind myself that it's not a big deal to the person on the other side of the desk.
You can tell a lot in the first minute
There were definitely writers who I connected with better ... and I could usually tell within the first minute if that was going to be the case.
Smile when you walk in, shake hands, introduce yourself, and say how nice it is to meet them before you sit down.
Come ready to talk...
This was a unique type of appointment - they weren't exactly pitching their books to me and for some of them writing is just a hobby - but it was nice when people came ready to talk. Some came with lists of questions about publishing or life as a writer, some wanted to talk about book ideas. Those were easy, fun appointments that really flew by.
...but don't spend 10 minutes detailing your book
I had a couple people who launched into very long descriptions of their book. I didn't mind since the 15 minutes were intended to be whatever they wanted, but in an editor or agent appointment, it won't serve you well. For one thing, as you're acting out chapter two, they might already know this project won't work for them, but they can't get a word in to tell you that. Meanwhile you'll spend 7 more minutes detailing the journey of your main character.
That's why the one sentence pitch ("My book is set in colonial America about a lady quillmaker who makes the very quills used to sign the declaration of independence.") is an ideal place to start. Then the agent or editor can either say, "Intriguing - tell me more" or, "I love colonials, but we already have two authors who write them. Do you have any historicals set in other time periods?" and you'll still have time to pitch that fabulous regency of yours.
It's not just about the book
Agents and editors care about the writing and the marketability of the idea and all that jazz, but they also care about you. And I don't mean just how many blog followers you have, I mean they're assessing if you're a person they want to spend much time with. This is especially true for agents, I would guess, who work very closely with their clients. They want to work with people they like.
If an agent or editor says something to you like, "I think your stakes need to be bigger" or, "I've been seeing a lot of this kind of plot twist, I think this could use some freshening," I wouldn't waste precious appointment time arguing with them. You don't have to lie and say it's brilliant, but a simple, "Interesting, thank you for your perspective," or a follow-up question will work well.
Again, agents and editors want to work with people they like. And who wants to work with someone who instantly gets defensive over criticism?
Leave Mom outside
Not only do agents and editors want to work with enjoyable, teachable people ... they want to work with mature people. And having Mom along ... well ... it doesn't exactly say, "I'm a professional."
I know that a lot of adult conferences have a rule about minors needing to have a guardian with them .. but they don't mean in your agent/editor appointments.
You can leave early if you want
The agent or editor is bound to that desk for however long he/she is booked for appointments. If the conversation is going nowhere, they can't excuse themselves. They must stay there in that appointment until the timekeeper brings in the next person.
As a writer meeting with an editor, I've been in some stinkers of appointments. Where they're clearly not interested in me or my books or in talking about their publishing house. Next time I'm in that situation, I plan on shaking their hand, telling them thank you for their time, and giving them an unexpected 10 minute break. Before now, I didn't realize it was me who had the power to politely end things.
Hopefully that's helpful for you guys! If you have questions regarding my brief time on the other side of the desk, I'd be happy to answer them.
Tomorrow Jill will be back with the rest of the Crowl saga, so be sure to check that out. If you missed her post last week on the publishing process, you can find it here.