Tuesday, May 4, 2010

5 Hints for Agent Meeting Survival

Writing, as much as we love the creative part of it, becomes a business when we decide to become published authors. This becomes very clear when attending a writer's conference. The agent (or editor, or publisher) meeting is one of the staples of these conferences. If you decide to become a salesperson for your writing work (which is a necessity) by attending one of these meetings, here are a few things to keep in mind.
  • Don't Let Your Elevator Speech Get Stuck Between Floors
    • You have 10-15 minutes to pitch your work. This is not the time to be caught closed from your personality or claustrophobic because of the small spaces. Give yourself and the agent, editor, or publisher a smooth ride--describe your work in the most concise and interesting way possible.And by all means, be polite to the person sharing this elevator ride with you. They didn't have to stop on your floor at all.
  • Go Yogi
    • Breathe (in case you forget, it goes: Inhale, Exhale, Repeat)
    • Focus on the moment. The only time you have is NOW. Don't second guess the wording of your book proposal now. Don't fret about how they will describe your work to their colleagues tomorrow (should you be so lucky). Just focus on your message: you have a project to share.
  • Go Spock
    • You may hear something you don't want to hear: This isn't for us, There is not a market for this, You are not ready. This doesn't mean your writing career is over, so don't start planning the ritual burning of your recent draft. Save the drama for your writing. Instead, take a logical view at the advice you are given. These people make their living on the business side of writing, so they know their stuff. Listen to any advice that can improve your work. But, be logical about their subjective views as well. When they say "this isn't for us", consider that it may be for someone else.
    • If you are lucky enough to get asked for more information, to send in a manuscript, etc.--Great! However, be logical about this as well--don't start planning your Oprah show moment. Take the success as just one baby step on the journey of your writing career.
  • Shhhh!
    • This goes back to being prepared with your elevator speech. It's called that because it needs to be short. When you only have 10 minutes to have a dialogue, remember to let the other person speak! Sure you are excited about your project, and probably a little nervous, but make sure you take a breath and allow the agent or editor a chance to respond. If they don't speak right away, don't fill the silence. They will appreciate the time to let them form their words.
  • You Are the Cover
    • Your book can't be judged in 10 minutes, but you can. You are the cover your book is being judged by, so your responsibility is to Become the best description of the work, and--just as importantly--yourself. An agent may be interested in your work, but are you coming across as someone they would like to work with?
My thanks to the speakers at the OWFI conference for their honesty and their inspiration. I plan to write more about my experiences at the conference in future posts. For this post, I was especially encouraged by the words of author and agent Terry Burns, who discussed the importance of silence and being yourself, and Writer's Digest publisher Jane Friedman, who, along with many other professionals,endured hours of pitches from many nervous writers with stars in their eyes. Jane provided some great advice, introducing me to a few new paths that I plan to venture out on soon. I can't imagine two days of giving helpful information in short 10 minute blasts, but twelve people did just that.

Have you taken part in these agent/editor "cattle calls" ? (I call them that, because they feel similar to an audition, something many writers may not be ready for) Did you find them helpful, frustrating, or confusing?


  1. Tina, this was a very honest and helpful post. Everything you've included is filled with importance when it comes to time to make use of an opportunity to pitch something. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for the comment, M. It can be daunting, especially if you don't really know what to expect. I think a balance between preparation, professionalism and friendliness is the key.

  3. Nice hints! In addition, consider to not pester the agent too much - he will instantly become unreachable for you, no matter how hard you try!



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