Advice for Agents (Including Me)
I’m teaching at two writers’ conferences this month, and that means I’ll have quite a few one-on-one meetings with writers. There are plenty of blog posts giving advice to authors for how to behave at conferences… but for some reason, we never see advice for agents! I guess we’re just supposed to know this stuff by osmosis or something.
Anyway, as I head into a couple of conferences, I wanted to remind myself of some important things to remember when I’m doing those one-on-one meetings with writers.
Secrets for a Great Pitch Meeting: Agents’ Version
Sometimes it’s not easy sitting through pitches one after the other. But it’s important to remember that the writer not only paid a lot of money to be at that conference, they also used up their precious “agent meeting” slot on you. They’ve probably been thinking about this meeting for days or even weeks. They deserve your very best, even if it stretches you. Even if you’re tired. This is not about you. It’s about the writer. So here are a few things to remember.
Everything you say will have an impact on a new writer. Good or bad, it will stick with them. Be careful with your words.
Writers are getting conflicting advice from other agents, editors and workshops. Don’t berate them for doing something “wrong” like bringing a proposal. Or not bringing one. Give them credit for trying. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
This may the most vulnerable a writer has ever felt. This may be the first time they’ve brought their baby out to show the world. If their baby isn’t cute, find a nice way to say it.
Cultivate a spirit of humility. See yourself not as above others but as a servant to them. Use your words carefully. Speak the truth, but with kindness.
Many writers are nervous. They’re afraid they’ll babble on and on incoherently, they’re afraid you’re going to make them feel foolish. They’ve actually had nightmares about this moment! You can put them at ease by simply asking some questions to get them started. No need to let them stew in their angst.
A smile goes a long way. Use it to make others feel comfortable.
Offer helpful advice. If you need to say, “It doesn’t sound like this project is for me,” then try to follow it up with, “but can I offer you some input?” Then you can give them some helpful advice, either about their project, about the market, or about their pitch.
Be kind. If you’re having a rough day… if you’re exhausted from giving of yourself in workshops and meetings one after the other… you still need to remember how much a kind word of encouragement can help a writer, and how a rude or dismissive word can wound them—and come back to haunt you.
Represent the publishing industry well. Yes, you’re there to find good writers. But you’re also there as representatives of the publishing industry. You are comfortable there, while many writers are not. You have nothing at stake; they might feel like everything’s at stake. This is just another 10 minutes of your time; for the writer, this may be the most worrisome 10 minutes of their week or month.
Your next great client might be the person sitting across from you. Of course, this one’s not hard to remember. That’s why you’re here!
Treat writers well, practice good karma, remember that your words will be remembered. And you will draw to yourself the kinds of writers you want to work with. Be nice, and everybody wins.
Q4U: Any more advice for agents and editors in pitch meetings?