In the six writers’ conferences I have attended, I have had roughly fifteen editor/agent appointments. Some have been a lesson in humility, and a couple were divine appointments, but regardless of how things turned out, the editor/agent appointment has become one of my favorite things about attending a conference. Based on my experience, I’ve come up with some tips to help you make the most of these important opportunities to network and learn more about the publishing business.
1) Do your research. First, make sure that you request meetings with publishing representatives that would be a good fit for your book. Study the information on the conference website and go to each publishing house’s website. Study the kinds of books they publish. You don’t want just any publisher to say yes to your project, you want the right publisher. Once I get my editor appointment sheet at the conference, I also like to go online and check out their recent releases. If I’ve read any of them, I make it a point to mention them. If I haven’t read any of them, I usually ask questions about a couple that interested me.
2) Have a plan. I wouldn’t suggest scripting a conversation. Each editor and agent is different and I think it’s best to approach them as individuals. That said, it is beneficial to have a general plan of what you would like to say. I usually start by chatting about the books their house has released. (If it’s an agent meeting, I ask them how they’re enjoying the conference.) Then I give them some brief information about myself. How long I’ve been writing, magazine articles I’ve published, my professional background. After that, I go through a brief overview of my story, usually revealing just enough to get them interested. (If you need help with preparing your pitch, there are a lot of good resources out there. Specifically, literary agent Rachelle Gardner has some great tips on her blog: http://cba-ramblings.blogspot.com/search/label/Pitching) After the pitch, the editor or agent will usually ask questions, or possibly ask to see a sample of your writing.
3) Bring along a professional one sheet. Most people are visual. A compelling one sheet can be a valuable asset, not only serving as an outline for you, but also showing the editor or agent that you understand the basics of marketing yourself and your work. It gives them something to look at, and, if you use the right graphics, it can help them picture your story. If you’d like more information on doing a one sheet, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is something I have spent a lot of time with, and I would be happy to send you some examples.
4) Adjust your expectations. While the editor and agent meetings are a good time to pitch your project, they are mostly about networking and learning. It’s highly unlikely that someone will contract you on the spot. In fact, even if they request material from you, it will likely take months for you to hear back from them. Knowing this can actually help calm your nerves. Your whole publishing career will not hinge on one appointment at a conference. So relax and focus on building relationships in the business over time.
5) Learn everything you can. Take the full fifteen minutes to gain all of the wisdom that you can from the agent or editor. If they tell you in the first five minutes that they aren’t interested in what you’ve pitched, don’t run away and hide in the bathroom. Instead, use the rest of the appointment to ask them questions. Ask what they’ve worked on recently. Ask them about the market. Ask them about their favorite books. Show them that you’re interested and that you want to learn.
A lifelong storyteller, Sara Richardson is passionate about communicating reasons for hope. Previously she has been an advertising copywriter, an Internet communications manager, and a whitewater rafting guide. In addition to writing fiction, Sara has published nonfiction articles in parenting and family magazines. As a member of MOPS International, Sara enjoys speaking to moms’ groups. She earned a master’s degree in journalism from Regent University. Visit her at www.momstories.org.