In honor of the RWA’s National Convention next week, I’m revisiting a previous post about making the most of your opportunity, should you find yourself with a chance to talk to an agent or editor about your work, in a social or formal setting.
I’ve noticed this thing happens when some writers anticipate being around agents, especially if they have a finished book to pitch. Their eyes glaze over with a sort of panicked fervor. I hear them in the halls, muttering their 30 second “elevator pitches” over and over, like a mantra. They get all wound up with a sort of desperate and dateless the day before the prom energy that goes beyond nerves.
The key to making the most of an agent-attended conference is to present yourself as a professional. Here are some things to keep in mind, whether you’re pitching your work, or just networking preparatory to querying and submitting later.
Be friendly, but not too familiar. A formal pitch session is a combo job-interview/ speed-date. You want to be personable (smile, sit up straight, don’t chew gum, ask how her day is going), but you don’t want to come like that skeevy car salesman who uses your first name way too often. And even if you’re Twitter friends, don’t assume you’ll be besties when you meet in person.
Be restrained. A social setting is a great place to let them meet the real you, as long as the real you isn’t a loudmouthed bigot or a sloppy drunk. Don’t be that guy. Watch how much you drink.
Be passionate about your project but not desperate. Do I need to explain what I mean by desperate? Yes, we love our books, but we don’t want to turn into a pack of rabid hyenas. Trust me. “What do you write?” is the “What’s your major?” of writer’s conferences. You don’t have to push.
Be confident, but not arrogant. Your book may well be the next Harry Potter, Catcher in the Rye, or Lord of the Rings. But let modesty prevail. Pitch your book, and let them discover its brilliance for themselves.
Be prepared. Familiarize yourself with the books in your genre, know what’s out there that your book is akin to, and also what makes your book different from all those others. Have an idea where it would go in the bookstore, or who the audience will be.
Be professional about rejection. A great project may not be a love match. Que sera sera. It doesn’t mean she’s stabbed your metaphorical baby. Nor is she a stupid shrew. And even if she is….
Be discreet. Never, ever bad mouth other agents, editors, authors published or unpublished, either in your pitch session, in the bar, in the hall, or even when you THINK you’re alone in the bathroom. You never know who is in the other stall. Publishing professionals all know each other, and they all talk to each other.
Be well-rounded. Don’t forget the rest of the conference! Networking with other writers, attending breakout sessions and just absorbing the energy of a bunch of creative people in one place, is just as important–or more!–than blurting out your “Dungeons and Dragons meets Steel Magnolias” logline.
Anything to add in the comments? If you want to dish on horror stories, keep them anonymous, okay? Remember ‘don’t badmouth people’ applies online doubly.