Your watch reads: 9:05. Your appointment was at 9:00. Sweat trickles down your spine, and you politely excuse yourself from the conversation, walking as fast as you can in your uncomfortable shoes. Your heart alternates between quivering and pounding.
You’ve only heard legends about these agents. Their teeth, sharp as daggers, are adept at ripping even the most beautiful of manuscripts to shreds. Their wickedly curved talons could seize both a writer’s dream and soul in one fell swoop. Their very mouths spew the fire of rejection. Why did I schedule an appointment? You ask yourself for the umpteenth time. If only you could escape from the dreaded agent appointment with your manuscript and dreams intact.
Writers’ conferences are both thrilling and scary. You meet unpublished writers, famous authors, and… take a deep breath… agents.
Conferences are expensive—concerning both time and money, so how can you make the most of yours? With the following tips! Consider this your guide to navigating the world of writers’ conferences. I’ll be breaking all of the tips into a series of posts.
Today, we’re addressing… (Play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in the background for maximum effect)
I’ve read that many people are terrified of agents—those powerful beings who can break or make your career. Agents are actually quite pleasant people, though there’s a rumor going around that they’re only mortals. 🙂 The following tips will equip you for what lies ahead, and hopefully, when it’s time to enter their cavernous lair, you won’t be quite so terrified.
Tip #1: Be Courteous
I was lying before… about the rumor. They really are human beings, and as such, they appreciate common courtesy. Nothing complicated. Just smile, say thank you, and ask how their day’s been.
“No matter what happens always, always, always thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Tell them you appreciate their time. You only get like 15 minutes with them and they will push you through there really fast. You won’t feel like you have ANY time to talk to them, but never forget to thank them.”
And this leads perfectly to:
Here’s the secret to conquering your nerves. Just don’t think about yourself. You can easily apply this to agents, as I mentioned earlier. And if you start feeling nervous, imagine how the writers around you feel. So, if you’re waiting for an appointment, strike up a conversation with those around you. But I’ll cover more on this later.
Tip #3: Read
Typically, at least for the agents I’ve researched, they have a few books they recommend writers read. Read those. Sometimes, they’ve published books of their own. Read those. And, of course, their clients have published books. Read those. And make sure that agent is looking for your genre! A lack a research is a big warning flag to agents. If you don’t have time to read all of these, just read the book recommendations. I’ve found that those are extremely helpful.
Tip #4: Bribery
No, not really. 🙂 But I do think it’s helpful to purchase something as a little thank you gift. Not only will it increase your chances of being remembered, but it shows them that you’re willing to invest in this.
Tip #5: Email Them Afterwards
This is another great way to help them remember who you are. Agents meet tons of writers at conferences.
At TeenPact (a leadership school), they taught us that the most important part of a campaign is name recognition. No one’s going to vote for you if they don’t know who you are, and it’s the same way with agents.
You want them to remember you. After the conference, shoot them a quick “thank you” email. I was on an emotional high after the conference and entirely forgot about this, so I sent a thank you email a month or two ago. I also gave them an update on what I was doing with my manuscript, since all of the agents had requested it. But even if they don’t ask for any part of your manuscript and turn you down flat, I’d still recommend a “thank you” email just to be courteous.
Tip #6: Talk to Them
Yes, outside of the appointment. But don’t be rude. If they’re in a hurry or chatting with someone else, do not interrupt. If you can, meet them before the agent appointment. That will take off some of the pressure for the actual appointment. And chatting with them afterwards is a good idea too, particularly if you have questions.
Tip #7: Have Your Book Completed
Some agents won’t accept your manuscript until it’s completed, so make sure it’s finished. I was still in the process of editing my manuscript when I pitched it to the agents, but all of them seemed fine with that.
Tip #8: RESEARCH
Please, please don’t go into an appointment or even attend a conference without plenty of research. Research is your most invaluable weapon. Leave it at home, and you’ll be scorched by the fires of rejection.
No one has an excuse for being ignorant anymore. The internet has boatloads upon boatloads of information on everything you can think of—and on some things you can’t. I’ve touched on researching a bit before, but don’t just stop at book recommendations or knowing what genres they accept. Look up every interview they’ve ever had. Get a feel for their personality, their quirks, their ideal client (most want writers to have a great platform, story concept, and writing), and what they’d help you with as an agent. Agents can help you with a variety of things, from brainstorming, to editing, to marketing. Does the agent require his/her clients to have stories with the three-act structure? Do they go to publishers in the ABA or CBA? You should know all of this. Even look at their social media accounts. You want all the information you can get about them. By the end of this, you should be feeling a bit like a stalker 😉
“All right, for the agent meetings, Google them now. Go to their website, learn as much as you can about who they are. Are they currently accepting what you’re writing? … Make sure they’re accepting what you’re pitching. They will usually have a page showing what author’s they currently represent, or at least a list of books their authors have written. Once you do that, I would go to the library and get one of the books…if they match what you write…and just read through it real quick, or skim through it to get a feel of the type of work they like.”
Author of the Sentinel Trilogy and Emberhawk
Tip #9: Have Your Pitch Ready
“Prepare your elevator pitch. (Your story in 50 words or less.) Practice it many, many times. When you meet other writers at the conference, they’ll likely ask you, “And what do you write?” Be prepared. No ho-humming around. Have it on the tip of your tongue.”
Genesis Semi-Finalist and Finalist
“My advice for pitching would be to not be afraid (even though I am…). Agents and editors are people, too, and they’re used to hearing book pitches all the time. That’s what they’re there for: to hear your pitch! But of course they don’t want to be attacked in an elevator or on their way to the bathroom or in the food line. Definitely research them and know what projects they’ve done recently so you can discuss them as an icebreaker. Just relax, and everything will be awesome.”
“The most important thing I bring to conferences is a memorized elevator speech–a quick synopsis about the work that I’m trying to sell at that time. Be able to accurately and intriguingly summarize your book in one sentence. Then when people ask you what you write, you’ll have something practiced to say!”
So, there are three pitches I used. First of all, the High Concept as a hook, then an elevator pitch, which sums up the basic plot of your book in a sentence or two, and finally I had a back cover blurb included in the query letter. The first two I had memorized. Of course, the bare minimum is the elevator pitch, but I thought it was important to include the other two. Make sure to practice your pitch over and over. Have it so cemented in your mind that even when you’re in full-blown panic mode, you can recite it.
Tip #10: Format Everything Perfectly
Guess what? More research! Generally, there will be specific guidelines included on an agent’s website for how they want the manuscript, query letter, synopsis, etc. Examine these carefully and don’t skimp. If you fail to meet the requirements, the agent will think you’re lazy and don’t particularly care about your writing. Show them that you do. Again, there’s no excuse for ignorance. You can find everything with a bit of research.
If a website doesn’t specify guidelines, search for general formatting and use that.
Tip #11: Thoroughly Edit Your Sample Chapters
Read your manuscript aloud. This is the best way to catch typos that you might otherwise glaze over. Show your manuscript to other writers and get some feedback. Now, I have a small confession to make here. After I’d completely retyped my first few chapters, I forgot to read them aloud again, so at my first agent appointment, my manuscript had this sentence marring its first page:
A few were glanced at their phones.
I felt terrible. But the story has a happy ending: the agent asked for my full manuscript. The other two agents I’d had an appointment with never saw this typo, since I used the hotel printer and immediately fixed it. 🙂
Tip #12: Have a Folder Prepared
In the folder, have every, single piece of paper the agent requested. If they didn’t specify, you can include a few generic things, like: the query letter (though I did see the agents in person, at least one read the letter), sample chapters (around 50 pages when double spaced), marketing ideas, a synopsis, and a one-sheet. Don’t expect them to take the folder—or even your business card, for that matter. If they took everyone’s sample chapters, synopsis, etc., they’d be lugging around suitcases and suitcases of paper.
“Keep in mind, though, that everything these days is digital. I had an editor request my manuscript once but not take any of my papers home with him–he asked me to email him everything. He would be flying home on a plane, so the last thing he wanted was a stack of manuscripts in his luggage!”
Tip #13: Have Loose Leaf Paper
Also, don’t staple the paper. My mom and I had brief disagreement about this where she wanted the paper together. And guess who was right! Ha. Hahaha! (I still bug her about that 😉 )
Tip #14: Address Query Letters Specifically to Agents
I’ve heard something that commonly annoys an agent is a query letter addressed to: dear agent, or something along those lines. You should know which specific agent you want, so use their name.
Tip #15: Don’t Send the Manuscript Immediately
This is something else my mom and I disagreed on. And guess who was right again? (And yes, I bring this instance up from time to time as well. I must savor being right when I can. 😉 ) Don’t send your manuscript to the agent immediately after the appointment. Edit and polish it to perfection beforehand. If an agent rejects a manuscript once, even if you rework it thoroughly before sending it to them again, it’s unlikely they’ll want to look at the same story twice.
I’m actually deep in this part of the editing process right now. It’s not easy, but I’m looking forward to sending my very best piece of work to the agents.
Writers’ Conference Tips Part 1: Agents
Have you ever had an agent appointment? What kinds of things did you do in preparation? What other conference tips have helped you, particularly where agents are concerned?