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.