Thursday, July 16, 2009

Talking to Editors and Agents at conferences

Camy here, talking about pitching (both formal and informal) since many of you are probably at the Romance Writers of America National Convention right now!

I'm not a natural extrovert, but I force myself to be one at conferences in order to meet writers, editors and agents. I want to present a professional demeanor and make a good impression.

That's kind of hard to do when my mouth has suddenly become the Mojave desert and my legs have rooted through my Nine Wests into the floor.

These are tips for when you’re at a group meet-and-greet, or standing in the hallway, or waiting in line—any informal setting when you spot an editor/agent you’d like to talk to.

Some of these tips will also work in the more controlled editor/agent appointment sessions, too.


Go on, force your mouth to stretch out and up. From my psychology classes, I know that just the action will make you feel better and help you relax.

Buddy up

There's nothing wrong with asking a friend to walk with you as you approach Agent X. Agents and editors are not monsters, nor do they bite. Many of them are not extroverts, either. They understand the nervousness of meeting someone new, especially if it's someone you WANT to meet. Your buddy doesn't have to do much more than stand there and smile. If the agent or editor asks, they can mention they're there for "moral support" and most people will understand.

Keep it simple

"Hi, my name is Betty Bestseller. Do you have a moment? Could I tell you about my book?"

Until you become more comfortable meeting editors and agents, you don't need to try to go with the very professional-sounding rehearsed speech you agonized over in front of the mirror. Be polite and to the point.

Use props

One-sheets are tastefully laid-out single pages with short 30-second blurbs (that usually translates into two paragraphs) about your work(s) in progress. They also tend to have a digital headshot and a one-paragraph bio of you. Not all agents and editors will accept them--they have different views about taking home anything more than business cards from writers--but you can use one to pitch your WIP. Agents and editors don't mind if you read off your one-sheet. They'd prefer that over you stuttering, backtracking, and confusing them with a memorized blurb.

If you'd like an example of a one-sheet: (Dineen’s having hosting problems so her website might take some time to load. She used to work in corporate as a professional graphic designer, and now she designs writers’ one-sheets for very reasonable prices—like 1/10 what she’d charge in corporate. Her design work is fabulously striking and has garnered editor and agent attention at conferences.)

Be polite

When you finish and ask, "Is this something that might interest you?", if they say "No," then for heaven's sake don't sprinkle onto the floor like a crumbled scone or throw a hissy fit. Smile, say, "Thank you for your time," and leave it at that.

On the flip side, if they say, "Yes, please send me your proposal," don't let loose your prize-winning hog-call from the last county fair. Smile, say, "Thank you for your time!" and hand them your business card. They will probably hand you theirs.


Right after you walk away from the editor/agent, write the title of your WIP (if you have more than one) on the back of their card so you know what you pitched, and any other pertinent information the agent/editor might have given so you don't forget.

On a side note, don't lose that card. It's extremely unprofessional to be asking on writers loops, "Does anyone have So-n-so's information? I lost their business card..."

I'm sure my Seeker sisters have other tips, so comment and add to this list!

Camy Tang writes romance with a kick of wasabi. Her novels Single Sashimi and Deadly Intent are out now. She runs the Story Sensei critique service, is a staff worker for her church youth group, and leads one of the worship teams for Sunday service. On her blog, she gives away Christian novels every week and ponders frivolous things. Sign up for her newsletter YahooGroup for monthly giveaways!


Debra E Marvin said...

Good Morning!

Camy, I feel like you gave us permission to be ourselves when we can't quite pull off the polished professionsl persona.

I know I can practice my pitch forever and it will come out jumbled when the time comes, but I'll give it a shot.

Have a great conference RWA'ers!

Tina M. Russo said...

"don't let loose your prize-winning hog-call from the last county fair."

This is obviously where I went wrong and no one until now had the courage to tell me.

Thank you, Camy.

Coffee is on!!!

Julie Lessman said...

Camy, for not being a "natural extrovert," you sure fooled me! In fact, I was so impressed with your confidence and ease the first time I met you that I was stunned to learn that you really are on the shy side, so great job at making a "good impression" at conferences!

My first "pitch" at a conference was so traumatic that I did a Seeker blog about it ( because even for someone like me who can be an extreme extrovert, pitching is difficult. Rambling seemed to be my mode of nervousness and God knows editors don't have time for that.

The most important tip that I do suggest, however, is really more of a preparatory tip which I am very certain everyone already does, but I like to take to the nth degree. First I pray for months prior to the conference (with prayer partners, if possible) for a "divine connection" (also did a Seeker blog on this too ( because I truly believe you have to lay the groundwork with lots of specific and consistent prayer.

Secondly, prior to the pitch with an editor, ALWAYS pray with a prayer partner (the prayer of agreement is HUGE!) for supernatural favor (God gave David favor with even his enemies!) and utilize spiritual warfare (bind up the anxiety and fear in Jesus' name and loose His peace and calm) because the Bible says whatever we bind and loose on earth is bound and loosed in heaven AND God gives peace in the midst of a storm.

I think sometimes we prepare like crazy with practicing our pitches, picking out our wardrobe, but we don't always prepare with prayer to the extent that we really need do. It's our most valuable commodity -- we need to use it!


JStantonChandler said...

Wonderful advice, Camy! Just the thought of approaching a potential agent has always left me feeling a bit nauseous! I feel now that when that time comes, I should just be myself and remember that agents are people too :)

Julie: thanks for the reminder that we should bathe EVERYTHING in prayer!


Erica Vetsch said...

Lovely post. I love the buddy up idea.

And the county fair hog call made me laugh.

You do a great job of being a conference extrovert, Camy. And your smile lights up a room. :)

Melanie Dickerson said...

Approaching an editor in the hall that I'm dying to pitch to is the hardest thing for me. If I see one standing around, I usually get so scared I lose the power of speech, which isn't conducive to pitching. But if I happen to see an editor and I'm feeling a moment of confidence, I might actually approach them and ask them if I can pitch to them. It could happen. Anything's possible, right?

Thanks for the advice on praying, Julie. I need to get started right now! Bye!

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great topic Camy. All of the books I sold were a result of meeting editors at conferences. It is a dynamite opportunity.

One tip I'd like to add. Often you have like a ten minute appointment. Your pitch takes (ideally) one to two minutes. The editor says send it. And then what?

You still have seven minutes.

Don't get up and leave. Use them. Chit chat like you would anyone else you just met. I ask them if they're enjoying the local in this case Washington DC and what sites they've seen. They usually tell me something about themselves that I can include in my letter when sending the requested manuscript that will help them remember me.

For example, one agent (at San Francisco conference) said they were going to tour the wine country so I asked how she enjoyed the tour.

Another time, the editor was choking from dry mouth (this was at a conference in Arizona) and I used my extra minutes to get her a cup of hot tea. You better believe she remembered me. smile

So take advantage of those minutes.

Speaking of hot tea, have you ever tried Yogi's Egyptian Licorice Mint tea? You can find it at Trader Joe's. Its yummy and I have a kettle of hot water on so help yourselves.

Mary Connealy said...

That county fair hog call...oops, someone told me they'd find that charming.

Well, that explains a lot about my struggle to get published. Rats.

I've had several editors just TAKE my one sheet and sit there and read it while I sat quietly. I LOVE THAT.

Editors are at their most basic, people who love to read, or they wouldn't be in that profession so definitely give them a one sheet with one paragraph blurbs about your books. Then, after that, you mainly answer questions. And if you're scared to death my advice is just be an actress. PRETEND you're no scared. Fake it.

That sounds so wrong.

And just be yourself, only way cooler.

Glad I could help. :)

Mary Connealy said...

And if they read your one-sheet then give it back to you, just take it. It's not them being unkind, they just try to keep the paper-load to a minimum.

I one time had a meeting with someone from Focus on the Family and I just saw a gap on his schedule, saw that they wanted NOTHING I was writing and went in anyway to tell him I loved what they were doing at Focus.

That's it. Nothing ever came of it. But we had a nice visit. I think doing things like that, when you're NOT trying to pitch help keep you sane, prepare you for when you are pitching.

Honestly, it seems like editors are rooting for you. They WANT to find a book that fits for them. They're HOPING you've got it in your computer so they can snap it up. Of course it's hard to know just what they're looking for, despite your best market research. But they're kind people who know you're nervous.

Pepper Basham said...

I just gave my first 'pitch' - (planned pitch) this past spring and told the editor "I'm new to this pitching gig, so you're my first victim. Do you mind?" He grinned and said, "Go for it." I did smile and stifled the hog-call - although it would have gone right along with my country-girl story ;-)
He asked for the proposal, but I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I did my research and talked about other books their house published.
Prayer is necessary and I used a one-sheet this time too - it helped keep ME on track.

Jessica said...

Great tips Camy! Now to practice that frozen smile so my gums don't show...

Tina M. Russo said...

I think the worst moment is when they you have anything else and your brain freezes.

Mary Connealy said...

Oh, good point, Tina makes. Have a second and third thing to pitch so when they say, ten seconds into your pitch, "No, that won't work for us." You don't have 14 minutes and 40 seconds of a 15 minutes appointment filled with awkward silences. :)

Ayrian Stone said...

Camy--Thanks for spurring such great conversation and tips that benefit all of us.

Julie--Prayer is the ONLY thing that keeps me from freezing up. :) As soon as I learn I'm going to be 'on the spot' to share, I start praying! Not just to not be nervous but to somehow say something that will bless the other person (or people).

Mary--I agree. Why should we be friendly only when we want something from someone? That's just wrong, in real life and at conferences. Lord, enable me to be a blessing at all times, in all ways!

Pepper--Did your story get published? So great to make an editor laugh.

Pepper Basham said...

No word yet. I just sent it out about 3 weeks ago, so it might be a while, but who needs sleep, right? ;-)

Ann said...

County fair hog call? I have come to the right place.


From the newspaper, I've had experience interviewing people, which means I've had to meet people.

But when I pitched THe Great American Novel last year at ACFW it was different. We weren't talking about property taxes and school funding -- we were talkign about MY story. Higher stakes in other words.

I tried to keep my game face on, but it was tricky.

Tina M. Russo said...

Wow, Pepper, I totally missed that ...congratulations on the submission. And may I direct you to this post on Hurry Up and Wait?

Pepper Basham said...

AHHH! More graphs...longer waits, this could be the beginning of a ulcer-producing relationship ;-) I'm just teasing. The only reason I'm not sleeping is because I have a 2 & 4 year old who seem to think it's a good idea to visit Mommy in the middle of the night.
I sent in my juvenile fantasy series and will send out my Romantic Comedy in...gasp...two weeks. Thanks for the congrats. God knows what I can handle this year, so I'll just leave it to Him. :-)
Okay, I don't know if you guys were suave and debonair when you met your agents or editors, but my FIRST conference I was totally UNPREPARED. The last meeting of the last day was with a literary agent. What was that? I hadn't met one before, so I thought - gee, let's go find out.
When I look back on it, I'm totally embarrassed. He asked me for a one-sheet - which I had - and then he asked me for my card. Oops. I put on my best southern-girl grin and said, "That's such a GREAT idea. How 'bout I give on to you next time?"
He laughed, had me write down my contact info on the back of a sheet of paper, and then...sent me a contract a month later. Thank Jesus for His hand in that moment, because that's the only explanation I have for it.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Oh my, this is wonderful Camy...

And no, you'd never know that Camy is a bit shy (cough) and retiring (gag) and reticent (oh my stars) by seeing her at conference would you????


But Cam, you're absolutely right on, spot on and every other "on" known to mankind, because editors are just regular people with the power of God. What's to fear??????

:) Sorry. Couldn't resist.

I love meeting people which makes me a good salesperson, hence the sales titles in my nametag and hairnet resume, BUT... Even the most outgoing person needs affirmation before approaching the very people you need, hope and want to impress.

Prayer is my best friend, my constant companion and being Catholic, we don't tend to be as outgoing in our prayer as others, but it's the staple of sanity that keeps the plates turning mid-air.

But prayer should always be accompanied by a good handshake and a big smile.

And three alternate pitches when the first one crashes and burns.

Or at least two.

Or current stats on baseball (or whatever sport is in season).

When all else fails, talk about chocolate. No one can get mad if you talk about chocolate. Hey, is there still coffee???

And Pepper, I'm just sitting back in total awe, so impressed. You go, girl!!!! Because I love your name, you've got moxy and your mom is named Ginger.

Speaking of moxy, where's Gina been??? Anyone seen her?


Camy Tang said...

Hey everybody! Sorry I was awol today, I was away from the computer for most of today.

Debra, I'm glad! Definitely be yourself! Your pitch will turn out much better!


Julie--I fake it really well. :) Great advice, too! Prayer should be our number one prep!

Jennifer--definitely remember that agents are just as human as all of us!

Erica--Aw, thanks!

Melanie, buddying up in that situation can be a good thing, too!

Sandra--excellent advice! Just chat and be yourself!

Mary--good point about making connections at conferences!

Pepper--great story! You did great! Congrats on the request!

Jessica--just smile your normal smile, gums and all!

Tina--oooooh, good point! People should always have at least one other completely different story idea (not from the same series as the book you just pitched).

Ayrian--you're welcome!

Ann--isn't it just crazy how our brain freezes when it's our own story?

Ruthy--you're such a naturally engaging conversationalist, it probably comes naturally to you! :)