Friday, August 26, 2011

Preparing to Meet Agents and Editors

One of the greatest things about conferences is the networking. It's your opportunity to connect with friends and other writers, as well as professionals in the publishing industry. However, this can also be intimidating, especially meeting with agents and editors who you're trying to make a good impression on.

With the ACFW conference coming up shortly, I thought I'd share a little on when you will have the opportunity to meet agents and editors as well as how you might want to prepare.

Where will I meet agents and editors?

Scheduled Meetings

When you register for the conference, you will have the chance to schedule a meeting with an agent or editor or both. These fifteen minute sessions give you the opportunity to sit down face to face with an agent or editor and talk to them about you and your work.

Late-night Panels

You can also schedule to sit in on a publisher's panel. This is where editors and others from a publishing house will talk about their house, sometimes what they are looking for, or the direction of publishing, etc. You may not have the chance to meet an editor one on one at these sessions, but usually there will be a time scheduled for questions and answers.

Lunches

During a couple of meals, you will have the chance to sit with certain agents or editors (first come first serve, of course, because there's limited seating at each table) and talk with them. Sometimes it's more casual and just general chatting and other times it's more specific. I sat with both an agent for one meal and an editor for another meal at the ACFW conference last year. The agent asked me about what I write, shared a little of what she was looking for with the entire table, and then I ended up spending several minutes chatting about mission trips and unusual food with her. A great example of how agents are people, too, and how it doesn't hurt to take a breather and just be yourself.

Random Meetings

These are the unscheduled kind where you run into an agent or editor because someone either suggested you seek them out or they just happen to be where you are or the other way around. I can't stress more that these kinds of meetings (such as the bathroom meeting) are not the kind of place you want to be pushing your pitch or your one sheets. BUT, if the agent or editor does ask to hear or see something, then you have an opening. (Trust me, it does happen. It met two authors in the bathroom and the conversation turned toward my writing and from that I got a recommendation to talk with an agent the next day. Also, a walk down to Starbucks with an agent turned into my chance to do a short pitch and hand over my one sheet.)

What do I need to bring with me or how else to I prepare?

One Sheets

A one sheet is a single page promoting your individual book. The one sheet includes a summary of the book, a bio of you as well as a picture if you have one (which hopefully you do for professional reasons), a single sentence hook if you can - basically a query letter in more attractive form. Angie posted on one sheets earlier this week if you need some good tips. (Also, bring these with you everywhere because you never know when you're going to have a chance to hand them out. I ended up handing out two over lunch, one at Starbucks, and three during scheduled meetings.)

Chapters

It's a good idea to bring the first chapter or scene of your book with you so if an agent or editor asks, you have something to show them. It's a chance for them to see your writing style and know if they're interested in seeing more. If nothing else, it's a chance to get feedback if they're willing.

Pitch

This is also called the elevator pitch, the very brief but hopefully intriguing summary of your book. It's a great idea to have this at the forefront of your memory, ready to tell an agent or editor what your book is about either at a meeting or somewhere else. I only had one agent and one editor meeting at the conference last year, but I ended up saying my pitch to three agents and two editors, as well as other writers and authors, in various places throughout the weekend. Check this post from Sarah about elevator pitches if you need some ideas.

Business Cards

These are handy to bring to appointments to attach to one sheets or chapters, although you should already have your contact information on the one sheets anyway. Otherwise, they're mostly just a tool to keep connected with other writers, authors, or friends you meet.

Relax and Be Yourself

There is such a thing as preparing yourself mentally or even spiritually beforehand and I'd highly recommend it. Last year, I had dreams about my first big conference, dozens of scenes in my head about the ways I'd mess up my pitch or what a poor impression I would make. Prepare yourself by telling yourself that you're not in this by yourself. You will be there with hundreds of other writers who are nervous or excited or even new just like you. And remember, agents and editors are people too and if you can relax with them you'll be able to really show them who you are and get as much from each meeting as you can.

What worries or concerns do you have about meeting agents or editors? Or, for those of you who are pros or excited about this one on one time, how do you plan on preparing for those meetings?


15 comments:

Jessica R. Patch said...

Great advice! I was a nervous wreck at my first conference. I spent a lot of time praying. What I found was, editors and agents were wonderful. They made me feel comfortable and a few even prayed with me. It was a great experience.

Wendy Paine Miller said...

So thorough, Cindy. I'll miss you this year.

Nothing like friends to talk this over with in the midnight hours, too!

~ Wendy

Julia M. Reffner said...

I think the relax and be yourself would be the hardest. Great post, Cindy. I'm sorry you won't be able to go this year, I'll pray for you that God sends along a special blessing during that week!

Writer's Alley readers: our very own Pepper has a FANTASTIC post up on Seekerville blog today. Check it out (especially if you struggle with balance as I do):

http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2011/08/when-life-happenswrite-on-sticky-notes.html

Beth K. Vogt said...

I am a big fan of pitch sheets. I pitched my first book (NF) with nothing but a pitch sheet (aka one sheet) and landed a request & ultimately a contract. It never hurts to have a proposal in your back pocket, but they are rarely asked for. (I've heard of it happening one time.) You want to connect with the editor or agent & pitch sheets allow for more interaction rather than watching an editor thumb through pages of your proposal.
Know your elevator pitch so well your can relax--and even deviate from it if you need to. And you will. An editor will ask a question and you can't just plow past that.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Great post, Cindy! I feel like I was so wound up about it all last year that it made me extra nervous. I'm hoping to feel more at peace and truly trust that God will open the doors that need to be opened.

I'll miss sneaking out for Starbucks with you this year! Maybe I'll have to drink double to make up for ya. ;)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Jessica, that's so awesome when you can connect with agents or editors that way. I'm glad you had such a wonderful experience.

Wendy, I know! I'm going to miss those late nights and all the ups, and even the downs.

Julia, I agree that relax and be yourself is the hardest. Once those nerves take over, it all seems so complicated and hard. But once you do it for the first time, it gets easier from there.

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Beth, that's true about not being able to plow past those questions. That's the part where you can really shine and show that agent or editor you're confident about your story, confident it's got what it takes, and you're willing to do the work to make it shine even more.

Sarah, I know exactly what you mean. Those nerves were so hard to get past last year. Aren't we blessed that God knows where we need to be and when and it's not all up to us? I'll miss sneaking out to Starbucks, too. I remember needing that breather soooo much last year and it was a great moment of downtime with a writer I really admire :)

Keli Gwyn said...

I think letting go of expectations is what helped me the most. I was a knee-knocking, self-conscious mess during my first-ever pitch session, in large part because I'd put so much pressure on myself to perform.

When I met with the same editor three years later, I walked in with confidence (somewhat feigned, I'll admit) and did my utmost to leave my expectations at the door. Things went much more smoothly when I left the outcome in the hands of the One who has my best interests at heart.

Another thing I find helpful is reminding myself that my career doesn't depend on a single pitch session. My writing journey is just that--a journey, one with many steps.

Angie said...

Great tips, Cindy. I had no idea what to expect last year, and I got so caught up in my own insecurities. I will look at this post again, closer to the conference.
Kelly- I like what you said about this being our writing journey, with many steps. Great wisdom!

Angie said...

Oops, sorry KELI, for the mis-spelling of your name! :)

Casey said...

This post is incrediably helpful for me because I tend to stew about things. ;-)

But what has been so helpful is joining in on the newbie loop and seeing that these people aren't JUST industry professionals to thrust on an unreachable pedestal, but real people that can be helpful in growing my writing. :)

Thanks for the post, Cindy!! I appreciate it. :)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Keli, great words of advice and experience. It's so nice knowing we all have moments where we're self-conscious and unsure but that, as you said, it doesn't all ride on one moment - there are many steps.

Angie, I wish I could have met you last year. Those insecurities would have bonded us, because I sure felt them, too! :)

Casey, great point about industry professionals helping us grow in our writing. You're so right, they do tend to get put on a pedestal, but most of them are truly there to help us grow, learn, and be the best we can be.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Thanks for this post! This is one of the best I've read - concise and to the point. Terrific.

I will try to keep all these tips in mind. Just knowing the spiritual backing is there will be tremendously helpful!

Cheers,
Sue

Pepper said...

Great post, Cindy
And reminder!!

I'm always afraid of looking like an idiot in front of an agent or editor (I get silly or over-chatty when I'm nervous)
And NO- Sherrinda- I am not nervous ALL OF THE TIME. ;-)

Cindy R. Wilson said...

Susan, thanks for stopping by! You're right about the spiritual backing--it's so helpful. We're only human and manage to work things up bigger than maybe they should be, but thankfully the journey isn't solely up to us.

Pepper, I can't imagine you looking like an idiot. You were so composed and well-spoken when I met you. It was me who felt like an idiot, not knowing what to say :) But, alas, it's so different with agents and editors - good thing they probably have silly moments, too!