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Talking to Agents at Conferences

bathroomstallI’m prepping for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference this weekend, and it got me thinking about pitch appointments. But more than just that, it brought to mind all sorts of questions about how authors behave in face-to-face meetings with agents and editors — many of which occur at conferences. What are the dos and don’ts? What are the faux pas? What should you absolutely, never, ever think of doing?

Let’s start with the easy one first — don’t ever try to slip your full manuscript to an agent or editor while they’re attending to personal business in a bathroom stall. That’s pretty much a no-brainer.

But what if you’re washing up next to an agent in a multi-sink bathroom? Can you talk to them? Acknowledge them? Yes, absolutely. Tell them you enjoyed their panel, if they’re already spoken (and you did, of course), or that you’re looking forward to their workshop, if it’s an upcoming event.

How about in the halls, or the elevator? Same thing, unless they’re clearly on their way somewhere else, and your conversation is going to keep them from making it to that next appointment. Be aware of visual clues to tell if they’re standing somewhere open to conversation, or in the middle of trying to get somewhere else. Remember, agents are at these conferences to meet and talk to writers, too, but their days may be more tightly scheduled than yours. Be courteous, and ask if they have a minute to talk. If they say no, don’t take it as a slight.

Now, maybe you’ve made an appointment to talk to an agent or editor one-on-one, whether they’ve already seen your manuscript, or you’re going to pitch it to them. If it’s a pitch, be ready to TALK about your manuscript, don’t just READ from your query letter. Have questions ready to ask the agent — and if you can, make them specific to the agent, not just general questions, though those can be fine, too.

If the agent or editor is giving you a one-on-one critique on your material, don’t be afraid to take notes or ask them to clarify their comments. And if you want to avoid an uncomfortable answer, don’t ask them if they want to see more material. If I want to see more than what I’ve already seen, trust me, I’ll tell you. Otherwise, please take my comments as a chance to improve your work (if you agree with them), or take the opportunity to ask me for other helpful hints about the querying or writing process (if you think I’m off base).

Try not to argue with the agent or editor you’re meeting with. You are perfectly within your rights to disagree with our comments, but do be aware that it’s hard for us to talk sometimes about a manuscript that doesn’t work, and tell the author why. Let’s not get into a fight about why you think your work is the most perfect thing ever, and I disagree.

I’m sure there’s more tips I’m missing — and there’s a good chance I’ll think of some of them this weekend. But what tips do you have for your fellow conference-goers? And as attendees, what do you wish agents or editors knew? Let me know in the comments!

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