Agent Monday: Conferences – a Post Worth Repeating

Happy Agent Monday, everyone!  I’m a tad busy today and with next Monday being a holiday and all, I thought perhaps it’s time to repost something you might have missed.  With many conferences coming up in the Fall (you can see which ones I’ll be at by clicking here), here is another look at my post: Close Encounters of the Conference Kind.

SHere goes:

Close encounters of the conference kind can really instill fear. But they don’t have to, and if you keep a few things in mind, conferences can be so helpful to a writer’s career. And, dare we say it, enjoyable?

Nerves! We all get them.  As a writer, I well remember the sweaty heart-pounding panic that filled me when I realized that right there next to me was THE dream agent or THE dream editor.  Palms became damp just before I’d shake hands. I’d speed talk and ramble a bit.  I did manage to pull myself together enough to talk coherently, but after a close encounter, I felt like I’d aged a few years.  Zowie.

Some of us writer-folk are shy. I’m not exactly the shy type though, so what was going on? First of all, this was all so new to me. Fish out of water, and all that. I didn’t really have a good idea of what was expected of me, or how to act, or what, even, I really wanted from an editor or agent. No wonder I felt awkward.

But this newness was also exciting and challenging. It propelled me to go to the next conference, and then the next to get smarter, more comfortable, less mouth-flappy. I read up ahead of time about the editors and agents who were there. What were they really interested in? What was interesting about them? And what questions did I have for them based on this info? I also spent time at conferences listening more, learning, and talking a ton with other writers there. Fellow writers, I soon learned, were eager to swap thoughts and of course they make great friends, too.

I also think my nerves stemmed from me telling myself that this is it! The big moment! My huge chance! I can’t blow it!!! In this scenario, OF COURSE a writer will be nervous. You see the editor or the agent as your savior. The one person who will make your dreams come true. They are iconic. And you have this one and only chance…

Blah. Why do we do this to ourselves? I think after you are in “the business” for a number of years most of us “get it.” There isn’t one chance, but many continuous ones that build like a chain from one experience and encounter to the next. There isn’t one book, but many books and ideas that will flow from you, each a stepping stone to better and better things, even when some stones seem to be leading you backwards. You are learning and growing. You are meeting people and making contacts. And hopefully you are having some fun, too.

I remember standing in a pitch slam line waiting to talk to an agent. The writers waiting there shuffled their feet and exchanged nervous smiles. And one lovely writer turned and said to me something like, “I just try to remember that they are people. That we all love books. And we are just having a nice little chat. An exchange of ideas.”

Genius. They are people… That, more than anything else I read or heard, helped me so much.

Now that I’m an Associate Agent at the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I see the wisdom of this statement even more. When writers approach me as a person, and share their idea in a friendly way, we connect and enjoy it.

And when writers approach me all nervous and sweaty, I smile and tell them I understand, and that it’s okay. Take a deep breath. You’re gonna do just fine. Then we enjoy our own little chat. And it IS just fine.

In next week’s Agent Monday post I’ll share what it’s been like for me to now be on the other side of the pitch table as an agent, and some things I’ve learned along the way. Stay tuned!

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

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8 thoughts on “Agent Monday: Conferences – a Post Worth Repeating

  1. Here are a couple of convention tips I mentioned at the Main Line Writers Coffeehouse meeting:

    1) At most of these events, you will be given a name tag. Which side do you stick it on? Answer: your right. When you hold out your hand to shake hands with someone, that person has to look at your hand. By putting your name tag on your right side, you allow their eyes to travel easily upward from your hand to your name tag. It’s a subtle effect, but a real one.

    2) If you are holding a drink, keep it in your LEFT hand. (I’m assuming you’re not a Muslim or in a part of the world where the left hand is considered unclean.) Shaking hands with someone who has a cold, clammy, damp grip is unpleasant – and it really doesn’t matter if your hand is wet because you’re nervous, or because you just had a cold beer in that hand.

    3) Finally, if you’re going to “work” a room, try this old politician’s trick: have the bartender fill your glass just one-quarter full. Then, if you get buttonholed by a bore, you always have an excuse to leave. Just down the liquid in your almost-empty glass, then say, “excuse me – I need to go refill my drink!”

  2. Great post. I especially liked the part about there not being one chance, but many building on each other. I sure learned a thing on two at the first pitch sessions I went to and hopefully, will have more poise – and fun! – at the next one.

    • So glad you liked this! Really, the writer’s career should be viewed that way too: a series of steps and opportunities. No one big break and no one big fail but a series of experiences leading onward. :)

  3. Maria, Even just reading your monday blog; my palms became damp, I get the jitters (no- I don’t drink coffee) and I get short of breath, but that’s okay, the same thing happened when I met Karen Nelson (my wife) for the first time.

  4. Pingback: See you at the conference! | As the Eraser Burns

  5. This was a fantastic post. I’m new to this and it’s good to hear that others get nervous. I’m driving up to the conference today and I’m already nervous. Thanks, I’ll try to remember to breath. I appreciate the help.

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