Behaving in Public

Misty MasseyMisty Massey
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Dragon*Con’s been over for a while now, and many of you are probably tired of hearing about it.  And frankly, I’m not planning on talking about the con itself today, so you can let that breath out now.  I did notice, though, that in the last two weeks of posts about the con, a good many folks have commented on how scary it would be to talk to a writer/editor/agent/publisher even if you did get the chance to go to a big con.  You’ve probably heard the horror stories – there’s one for nearly every situation.  There’s the writer who follows an agent into the bathroom to pitch her novel.  The writer who pays the chambermaid to let her into the editor’s room to leave chocolates and the first three chapters of her novel on the editor’s pillow.  The writer who convinces the conference staff to give him the agent’s cell number.  If you can think of it, it has probably happened.

You guys have been faithful readers around here for a while now, and if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know what not to do.  So what should you do?  It’s pretty simple – behave the way your mama would expect you to behave if she was there watching you.  But if I behave myself, you’re asking now, how do I make the agent notice me?

Well, this depends on a lot of factors.  Do you have a finished manuscript?  Has it been edited and read by people you trust?  Have you listened to the suggestions with an open, emotion-free head?  Is the manuscript the best you can possibly make it?  Have you practiced a seven-second pitch?  Can you say it on the spur of the moment, with a relaxed smile?  We’ll assume the answer’s yes to all those questions (mostly because if the answer’s no, then you need to stop right now and go work on whichever of these didn’t get a yes.)  You’re ready to approach an agent or editor.  And you’re still nervous.  I get that.  We all do.  Even those of us who have published multiple books and can walk into a con and talk to a few big names as if we’ve seen them drunk and singing “Oh Danny Boy” can still feel the terror butterflies.  That’s kinda the point.  No matter how successful a writer is, there’s always someone we need to approach who’s big enough to make us quake in our boots.  Which means that while you’re nervous, you need to remember that the famous writer/agent/editor knows how it feels, too.

If you’ve arranged a private meeting with the agent/editor, be prepared.  Have a copy of your pages with you, even if you already sent one in for the agent/editor to read prior to your reading.  Have a business card with your contact information clearly printed on it.  Have a pen with you to take notes if the agent/editor deigns to offer them.  Treat this like a business meeting, because really, that’s what it is.  The agent/editor is there hunting for someone they can work with.  A certain measure of friendliness is essential, but don’t be too casual.  You’re not buddies.  Yet.

That’s right – I said ‘Yet.’  You may become buddies with the professional you’re approaching.  It’s been known to happen, and when it does, accept that you’ve found a friend.  Don’t try to force it.  Friendship blossoms and grows with time, more time than a weekend con can provide.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be friendly right from the start.  If you’re invited to go with the writer/agent/editor’s group to dinner, by all means, go.  Be charming, and listen to the other folks at the table.  You’re making connections, which is one of the most important things you can do with your con time.  If you present yourself as a person worth knowing, you’ll be someone the writer/agent/editor is pleased to see the next time.

The most important thing is to keep calm.  You may be so excited you can hardly breathe, but don’t let it show.  Deep breaths are essential.  If you can bring a friend with you to be your rock, do it.

I’d love to hear your stories.  We tell the scary, For-God’s-sake-don’t-do-this stories all the time, but we don’t hear the happy endings nearly often enough.  So that’s what I want today.  Have you met anyone you admire, and had it go well?  Made a connection that turned out successful?  Tell us about it.

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15 comments to Behaving in Public

  • When Book 12 of the Wheel of Time was released, TOR implemented a program where fans could apply to be helpers at each stop of the book signing tour. They were there to help with crowd control, transportation for the author and guests, setup, teardown, and recording of the event. As a part of the payoff for helping out during the signing, we got to spend an hour at dinner with Brandon Sanderson (the author asked to finish the series), Harriet McDougal (the late widow and editor of Mr. Jordan), and a TOR PR person.

    When I saw an opportunity to have an extended one-on-one time with an A-List author, a top editor at a major publisher, and a representative with TOR; I jumped at the chance. I applied and thanks to my involvement with the Dragonmount Fan Site, was selected to be one of these fan helpers in Lexington, KY.

    At the dinner, I was able to chat with Brandon about Wheel of Time, writing, and even some Magik Card Game stuff (which I know nothing about but I faked it). I talked with Harriet about editing and how to make homemade hot sauce.

    All in all I thought it was a very productive time and I made it out with a minimal of awkward moments. :)

    Moral of the story, take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way.

  • I happened to be at this little con in Columbia, SC in the winter of this year, with two little self-published novels at a table and a seat on two panels. I knew no one, and the other writers at the con were so welcoming and inviting, and so kind to the newbie, that I’m proud and honored to call them my friends today. I was absolutely flippin’ terrified walking into that hotel the first time, but those people were so nice to me and never looked down on me for pursuing a different publishing path, that I decided that if these folks could accept me, I could go anywhere.

    So thanks to you, and Faith and Kalayna for that. You guys were great, and I’ll always appreciate it.

  • I haven’t quite made a connection that turned into something like a sale, but I have had the chance to connect with authors at my local convention. There are a few big names like Michael Slade, Anne Perry, Donald Maass, and Diana Gabaldon who attend, and just having the opportunity to banish the pedestals and talk to these writers as regular people, not as Oh Emm Gee Famous folk, has done wonders for my self-confidence.

  • I had Charlaine Harris (squeeee! fangirl squeal) reach out me on my FB page and say hi. Really. And I discovered that she is a total sweetheart! Tho I still get nervous when I reach out to her. And I am *very* careful when I do, that isn’t wasting her time or bothering her or chit-chatting. *Very* careful! She is a dear. No *nose-in-the-air* attitude. And from that I was asked to do a story for her next anthology. (squeeee!!!)

  • sagablessed

    So I have met several published authors and agents, but have approached them. Why? Even though I always have the first three chapters, I am never sure if the prologue should be considered a chapter, or if not, if it should be included in the presented materials. Anyone have thoughts?

  • sagablessed

    Correction: I have NOT approached them. Sorry, puppy is determined that I cannot type without him.

  • Misty is away at the moment so I thought I’d toss in my 2 cents about prologues. As usual, ther is no *one right way* to handle this and every case is different. Here is how I would think about it:

    If it’s short (two pages or so) and is something set apart from the rest of the manuscript, then I’d add it to the first three chapters as a prologue. If it doesn’t have anything to do with the first three chapters and is long, then I’d consider omiting it totally. If it’s longer, I’d consider making it the first chapter. I once did a prologue that was 30 pages. Yeah — it became the first chapter.

    In mysteries, a lot of writers write the *killing scene* as a prologue from the killers POV. Then the reader never sees anything else from the killer’s POV. In fantasy, writes will write the inciting conflict (a scene where the dragon eats the hero’s boyfriend, or the flawed antag takes the magic potion and it turns him into something evil, whatever) as a prologue. These are devices that are overused, and until one is published, it might be wise to find another way to introduce that information to the reader. Why? Well, oddly, some editors and agents will take a lot of stuff from a published writer that they won’t from an unpublished one.

    Just my thoughts, tho.

  • Faith squeeing like a fangrrl!!! A vision that will leave a smile on my face for the rest of the day!

  • Sorry I vanished, folks. I ended up suffering a truly monumental headache all afternoon, but I seem to be back to myself again.

    Thanks, Faith, for stepping in for me. And sagablessed, Faith is right. I would add that the only prologues I like are the really short ones, less than a page, that do nothing but drop a hint or two and whet my appetite. But that’s just me!

  • Both Patricia Briggs and Lilith Saintcrow came up to me at Rustycon and Spocon respectively, and I was, well…you know. Lets just say it was unexpected.

    I mean I’m a nobody, just some girl who sits in on sessions and occasionally asks interesting questions.

    Funny thing, this is the Pacific Northwest. We suffer from this horrible thing known as The Seattle Freeze. We’re cliquish, fake and have impenetrable boundaries.

  • Almost 20 years ago, at a WorldCon, I bumped into a gentleman while browsing through one of the booksellers’ wares. We apologized to each other, then, noticing the books I held, commented on a few of them, recommended a few others, introduced himself as Mike, and walked away.
    A few hours later, as I was walking through the hotel bar, I felt a hand on my arm. It was the gentleman from the dealer’s room. He invited me to join him and his friends. He graciously introduced me to his wife, Carol, and his friends. It was then that I learned my new friend was Mike Resnick; this party consisted of several other “name” authors, a top-bill agent, and a senior editor from Del Rey books. I think it took a week or more before I learned how to breathe again!
    Since then, Mike, Carol, and I have become good friends. Over the years, he’s invited me to write for his anthologies, we’ve co-written a story together, he’s shared tons of advice and tips, and he’s yelled at me for not writing (while offering support and strength for the reasons I couldn’t). I’ve been a guest at his house, and I’ve even house and cat-sat for him.

  • [Coming up for air after two days of intensive revisions (with at least three more days to come.)] I met Stephen Donaldson at a con several years back, and sat next to him on a panel on writing. Now, I know that some folks aren’t crazy about his work, but the Thomas Covenant books are what made me want to be a writer, so I was nervous and thrilled and all that. During our panel, we wound up trading remarks and “yeah, me too”s all the way through, and after the panel we had dinner together. Still one of the great moments of my career. The key, as Misty says, is to remember who you are and how you would behave under any normal social circumstance. Don’t be phony — people can sense that. Just be polite, stay on an even keel, and be yourself.

  • Back in January of 2007 I went to ChattaCon because a friend told me they had Robert Sawyer AND Kevin Anderson as guests of honor, but most people went there for gaming, so I should have a lot of time and opportunities to get to know both of those writers. She was absolutely correct; I spent all weekend hanging out with those two giants of the genre and loved every minute of it. Somewhere in there, amongst all that, I ran into some guy named David B. Coe, too. Never heard of him before ChattaCon. Now he’s one of my favorite people on the planet Earth, bar none. Wasn’t why I went to the con, but it sure worked out well. (I see that Sawyer guy and Kevin whats-his-name around the con circuit every now and then, too. They’re not bad guys either, but they’re no David B. Coe.)

  • That was a memorable weekend. Thanks for that, my friend.

  • David! I am so jealous! Stephen Donaldson! I think I need to borrow one of Faith’s fangrrl squeals.
    SQEEEEEEE!