If you’re serious about being published, eventually you’ll attend a writing conference and come face-to-face with an agent or editor.  In the same way that following guidelines gives the agent a good impression of you, so does your behavior at a conference.  Conferences can be loads of fun, and should be.  But like your mama probably told you all those years ago, the way you act tells people more than the words you say.  Want to convince an agent you’re a good risk?  Act like one.

For example, drink alcohol sparingly, if at all.  I don’t know about you, but most people think they can handle a lot more liquor than they actually can.  Ever been to a party where Joe’s had one too many and is now swinging from the chandelier?  Getting drunk at a conference can be equally ruinous, especially if you’re a talker.  Insult the wrong bestselling author, and suddenly all the agents and editors in the room know who you are.  For all the wrong reasons.

You’ve all heard the tales of people following agents into bathrooms in hopes of getting a moment alone.  It’s crazy, and rude.  But I’ve seen another version of that, just as annoying – the tagalong.  Would-be author Sharon met the agent on Friday while in line to check in to her hotel room, struck up a conversation, and decided she would stick with the agent for the entirety of the conference.  Wherever you looked, if you saw the agent, there would Sharon be, at her shoulder, glaring daggers at the person who’d had the gall to speak to HER agent.  Sharon was at every meal table, every panel discussion.  If the agent had one-on-one meetings with other people scheduled, you could be certain to see Sharon in the hallway, waiting.  By the end of the weekend, the agent was so tired of Sharon, she’d promised herself she’d never look at a single word Sharon wrote.

I’m not perfect, believe me.  I’ve blown it myself once or twice.  Several years ago, I was at a writing conference, and we’d thrown a small room party, to which an important NYC editor had come.  I was so excited I could hardly breathe – here she was, drinking a glass of wine at my party!  Surely this was a sign!  I spent a while chatting with her and her husband, until I saw my opening, and mentioned my fantasy manuscript.  Instantly her eyes changed, but I kept blathering on, until at last she said, “Why don’t you send me your first three chapters?”  I should have thanked her and gone to get her another drink, but I didn’t.

I almost don’t want to admit this.

I reached down to my bag, and whipped out my submission package like I was a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat.  “I happen to have them here,” I said, triumphantly.  “You can read them on the plane.”

Yes, I really said that.

She (being incredibly gracious) took the package and said she’d be in touch.  And she was true to her word – I received a very polite rejection about a week later.  She may have actually read the pages, but if she did, she was reading them with the memory of my pushiness.  I wouldn’t have wanted to work with someone like me.  I learned my lesson.  The next time I approached an agent, I was calm and professional.  I gave her my pitch, and when she expressed interest in talking further, I mentioned we had a meeting scheduled that I was looking forward to very much, then I let her continue on to talk to other people.  During our meeting the next day, I remained calm and friendly, and we had a delightful conversation about not only my book, but other authors we both enjoyed reading.

Sure it was hard to keep it cool, when all I wanted to do was throw myself at her feet and beg her to represent me.  But it paid off – she offered me representation a few weeks later, after she’d seen my whole manuscript.  I was elated.  Not only had I gotten what I wanted, I’d done it by following the rules.  I felt as if I’d redeemed myself for my terrible gaffe with the editor.

My mama is so proud.


5 comments to Impressions

  • I reached down to my bag, and whipped out my submission package like I was a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat.

    Oh, you *didn’t*….


    *hugs* 🙂

  • More hugs!
    Honey, at least you didn’t barf all over the agent.
    Seen that too, I have.
    And you got publisehd, which takes all the bad stuff away, and still gives you a great story to tell!

  • *laughs* Oh Catie, I so did! I haven’t run into that editor again, but I hope that if I ever do, she’ll allow me to apologize and maybe laugh about it. Especially since I learned my lesson!

    Faith, someone threw up on an agent? Suddenly I feel so much less of a doofus! 😀

  • For the record, I wasn’t the one who puked on the agent….

    The need to act professional doesn’t end with signing on at an agency. Writers — ALL writers, but especially beginners — need to remember that agents represent many writers. Each of us is but one person in a stable (yes, that’s the word) of authors. This means not being too demanding, understanding that no agent can drop everything because you have what feels like a crisis on your hands. It also means paying attention to the little things: thanking an agent for his/her time at the end of every conversation and email, taking the time to ask how the agent is doing and showing some interest in that person as a person. And finally it means comporting yourself professionally in all things you do: meeting deadlines, dealing with your editors professionally and courteously so that it doesn’t get back to your agent that you’re difficult to work with, behaving with class at public appearances. All of this sounds so basic, I know. People would be amazed by how many authors fail to do these things.

  • And though we hate to admit it, there are A-list clients, B-list clients and C-list clients.
    Should I say this? Probably not. So I will.
    A-listers make the agent a lot of money and therefore get a *lot* of agent’s time. B-lister’s just sold and make some money and therefore get time at the end of business day (EOB). C-listers have sold nothing and get time by EOB on Friday.
    And then there are agents who give no one time (sorry, but it’s true) but we ain’t talking about them.