Agent Monday: Conference Tips for Introverts

MP900386035Happy Agent Monday to all! Right now we are in the thick of writer’s conference season. I myself will be on the faculty of two in the next few weeks: The Push to Publish Conference on October 11th, and the SCBWI Mid Atlantic Conference October 25-26th. I really enjoy meeting writers and editors and agents at these events – but as writer myself, I well remember the first few conferences I’d attended. I was nervous and shy and searching for that EXIT sign! That’s why I’m so excited to welcome my client Erin Teagan here today, who will be sharing ways that even introverts can enjoy writer’s conferences.

Conference Tips for the Introvert
guest post by Erin Teagan

You’ve signed up for a children’s writing conference. You know it’s the perfect place to recharge the writing bug, learn from the pros, and make some writing friends. But now you’re panicking because — if you’re a shy-writer-type — the very thought of going to a conference crawling with real-life authors, agents, and editors is enough to make you hyperventilate. Maybe networking or small-talk isn’t your strength, maybe this is your first conference and secretly you’ve already emailed the conference coordinator begging for your money back.

As a shy-writer-type myself, I have some tips to get you through this:

1. You belong here. You may think your writing stinks or feel like everyone around you is sporting two book deals and more qualified to write than you are – turn that voice off. Half the people in the room will be thinking the same thing. The writing community is warm and welcoming and supportive. Even the multi-published/award-winning authors feel inadequate at times. They still get rejections. They still have to revise their books a thousand times. They are just like you.

2. Volunteer. Before the conference, find the ‘volunteer here’ link or the email address of the volunteer coordinator on the conference website and sign up for a job. Can you show up the night before and stuff folders? Can you unload books for book sales? By conference time, you’ll have twenty new friends and a dozen more familiar faces.

3. Take advantage of the free activities. If the conference offers peer critiques, a first-timers meet up, or a cocktail party, pick an activity where you’ll feel the least awkward. These will be smaller groups and another good way to make a few friends. And nothing makes a conference less stressful than going with a friend.

4. Memorize a one-liner about what you’re working on. Mine is: ‘I write humorous middle grade for girls.’ Chances are while you’re waiting in that bathroom line or finishing up your bagel for breakfast, someone will ask you about your work. Chances are this will happen several times throughout the conference. Maybe you’ll find someone writing in the same genre. Maybe you’ll find a critique partner or at least someone to sit with at lunch.

5. Don’t hide during breaks. You know what I mean – introverts are great at hiding in bathrooms or bookstores (I did that once) or even in plain sight by not making eye contact with anyone. Put your phone down. Make yourself available for random conversation. People are going to want to hear your one-liner. They’re going to want to vent about their awkward (I didn’t say there wasn’t going to be ANY awkwardness) manuscript consultation or their new pen (like me – I love talking about pens).

6. If you see an author that you absolutely adore, say hi. Authors are so nice. Even the ones that have a thousand books published and a hundred awards. And the secret truth is, most people will be too scared to talk to the big-time author. Tell her you like her book. Ask her if she’s working on anything new. When you become a big-time author, won’t you want people to talk to you?

7. Don’t pressure yourself to mingle with the agents or editors. They will be bombarded with conference attendees, critiques, and speaking responsibilities as it is. They probably won’t remember every conversation they had at the conference. So, if introducing yourself to your dream agent is giving you hives, I give you permission to sit it out. When you send her your query letter, compliment her on her talk or the wisdom she shared on a panel. This will probably make an even better first impression than, ‘remember when I met you in the bathroom and I told you about my vampire zombie romance idea?’ (Also, don’t do that.)

8. This conference will not make or break your career. Do what you can. You don’t have to pitch your book to one of the industry guys. You don’t have to pass out business cards. You can wear something comfortable. You don’t even have to buy a new set of fancy folders (unless you’re me and then you HAVE to). Without even trying, you will learn a ton at the conference. And you will still be able to submit to the editors and agents on the faculty when you get home, even if you didn’t talk to them personally.

9. Eat the afternoon coffee-break cookies. Because for some reason cookies at a conference taste so much better than cookies anywhere else.

10. Get to work when you get home. Revise with all the new tools you’ve learned. Follow up with new friends. Go over your notes. Make a goal to submit to the faculty when your work is ready. Not everyone has the opportunity to go to a conference. Putting the conference name in the subject of your query or in the cover letter of your submission will get you out of the dreaded slush pile. And let’s face it – you earned it!

 

Erin TeaganErin Teagan has a master’s degree in science and worked in biochemistry labs for more than ten years where she wrote endless Standard Operating Procedures.  She’s an avid reader and has reviewed middle grade and young adult books for Children’s Literature Database and Washington Independent Review of Books.  She’s active in SCBWI and this will be her eighth year co-chairing the Mid-Atlantic Fall ConferenceSTANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURES will be her debut middle grade novel. Erin is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Conference Encounters from the Agent’s Side

Last week I shared some things I learned as an author about meeting agents and editors at writer’s conferences. So, BAM! Let’s switch pitch table sides. Now, as Associate Agent at Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency, I really am on the other side, taking pitches, sitting on the panels, and walking around conferences to meet writers and hear what they have to say. So here are some thoughts, and some tips.

First of all, like I said in last week’s post, the important thing to remember is that agents and editors are people. And most are pretty nice, too. Take the folks at last weekend’s great Push to Publish conference.  I wish I had time to hang out with these agents and editor and swap stories about our clients and our projects. But that’s one thing many conferences are tight on: time.

So as an agent, I arrive with a schedule in hand. For some conferences, I may have just been whisked over from an airport, and have barely arrived before I’m “on.” I love to meet my fellow agents and editors. But above all, I want to meet you writers! But time is short. So I meet with you during pitches, or chat with you during registration, or swap ideas with you during panel talks.  Longer conferences are great because there are more chances for real exchange. Exchange of biz cards, yes, but also exchange of conversation and ideas. There can be time during a cocktail party or in line for breakfast, or just hanging out in the hotel lounge after the main events are over.

But there are often many of you and few of us agents, so when we do get time with you, it’s important to use it well. I’ve done pitch sessions that have run anywhere from 5 minutes to 15. If a writer comes to me and is especially nervous, I understand. Sometimes however, this wastes our valuable time together as we spend our minutes more on getting focused than on talking about a book. In these cases, I think it’s best for the writer to have their pitch written out. If you just admit right up front that you are really nervous and ask if it’s okay to read your pitch, I for one will smile and say of course.  Then you can take a deep breath, read the pitch, and then our conversation can begin from there. And I bet you’ll feel better after that.

Some writers are naturals with pitches and with chatting. And for me, it really is a chat. As if we are sitting together for a moment at a coffee shop, talking shop. These writers smile, and introduce themselves and shake hands. They then sit and say something to the effect of, “I’m here to tell you about my new memoir called ‘About All That.'” And then they say their brief, focused pitch. These authors allow me to then respond with my reaction to the pitch. They listen to any questions I may have and answer them as well as they can. And they ask me questions like what do I think about this sort of book in the marketplace? They listen and allow us to interact, with note-taking happening after our allotted time.  This is all time well spent.

Sometimes writers squander their pitch time because they come to me unfocused. They haven’t thought ahead about the market of their novel (is it YA or mid grade?), or come up with a succinct way to describe the novel to me. So we spend our time together learning about the author, her approach to writing, what she wanted to achieve, the many ways she approached creating this book. Everything but what the book is actually about. And because of that, I can’t give any viable feedback or know if this novel is something I want to look at.

Sometimes writers come into the pitch with only one goal: sell!  I’m not naive. I KNOW that is the goal. But I think this sort of over-focused writer can miss out on great opportunities that lead to the sell. It’s not just about getting that jazzed reaction from the agent and the green light and that book deal. Seriously. It’s about coming into it ready to learn and pick up cues and adapt and make connections. And all of these things can lead you to the sell, so don’t be short-sighted.

Here’s an example of what I mean. A writer comes up to me very confidant with a pitch. She’s ready to sell it, and is sure a smart agent will snap it up. So I hear the pitch. I may be interested, but I’m confused about something so I ask a question. Over confident writer immediately deflates, convinced they’ve failed. Or withdraws, upset (yes, I’ve seen tears in response to questions). Or grows hostile, convinced I’m ridiculous to say no (which I haven’t even said yet) and that there is nothing more I can do for them and so they should just move on to wow the next person.  Every single one of these writers is simply blowing it. Why? Because as long as we have minutes together we can be learning from each other.

I can learn more about the novel in response to my questions. If my concerns are addressed, then maybe I will be interested. The writer can spend time building a relationship with me. Maybe this book won’t fly, but another book might in the future. Why burn bridges? The writer can also be paying attention to my reaction to this pitch. Even if I’m not the agent for you, did I become interested in certain things? Did I become puzzled? Did I express concerns about certain aspects? Then perhaps you can tweak your pitch and your queries to future agents based on this, and be more successful at your next pitch appointment. Ask me, “what do you think?” And if I say I’m not interested, ask me, “do you have any advice that I can use?”

When it comes down to it, I’m looking to work with pros. Even a debut author can be a pro. People who are open to discussion about their books, who are open to suggestions, who are folks I’d consider working with. If you are overly emotional, then I can’t picture you handling changes from an editor or meeting deadlines. If you are hostile or a prima donna, I’m never going to want to work with you. There are many talented people, and even if you are a major talent, if you are sending up flares that you are a difficult person, then I’m not interested.

When I go to conferences, I’m there to meet you, chat with you, and swap ideas. I’m hopeful that I will be finding my next client sitting right across from me. Someone who is professional and interesting and ready to work hard. I meet tons of fascinating people at every one of these conferences. Not all of them end up as my clients, of course. But many of them end up as people who I hope to hear from and interact with again.

I encourage you to remember that a pitch is more than a sell. Conferences are a place to meet people, to make contacts and to learn.  Get questions answered. Try out different pitches for your novel at different conferences and learn bit by bit which parts are most effective and which are not working so well.  Remember all of this can lead to a sell. I always enjoy meeting people who are passionate about their writing. It’s energizing and exciting.

Enjoy the process, and best of luck!

*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.

Agent Monday: Close Encounters of the Conference Kind

Happy Monday! This week I’m getting ready for Saturday’s Push to Publish Conference, where I’ll be on a few panels, plus doing “Speed Dates” with writers. So this seems like the right moment to share a little bit of my own experiences on both sides of a pitch table, as both a writer and an agent. 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, they 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.