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?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Kira Budge on March 16, 2013 at 7:54 PM

    Oh this is fantastic. Thank you so much for posting this!

  2. Lynette Benton on February 8, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    We all want (and deserve) productive relationships with agents (and others in the publishing field). This post will go a long way to advancing that goal. Thank you!

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  7. Julia Greco on September 12, 2011 at 1:41 PM

    Thank you so much for this. I’m tired of agents feeling above the fold and taking out their bad moods on anxious writers who try their best to follow all the rules of decorum and respect. I had one agent snap at me, “Are you that woman who talked about how young us agents are?” I stammered out a no, but she’d already turned and walked away. And I’d only approached her to thank her for being on the agent panel I’d just attended! (The woman she was talking about happened to have curly dark hair like me and sat a row in front of me.)

    That was only one situation. Thankfully, those run-ins fall in the minority, but a rude agent can leave a lingering bad taste. As it happens, this particular agent happens to represent my favorite local author, and every time I see this author’s posts on Twitter or Facebook, I can’t help but think, “Man, I hope her agent treats her better than she did the writers at that conference.”

    Cheers to all the agents out there who give the same respect they ask to receive.

  8. TNeal on September 10, 2011 at 4:27 PM

    Those pitch sessions can be tough. I remember being initially tongue-tied (my wife would say, “A miracle!”) at an appointment. Andy applied your wisdom to the situation and asked pertinent questions. His response eased my discomfort to the point I relaxed and became more my normal self rather than the desperate guy who wanted to get his story published. Desperate guy still lives but thankfully good editors and agents know how to quiet the beast. I hope your days go well at the conferences.

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  10. John Waverly on September 9, 2011 at 10:36 AM

    I think every writer should read this list of suggestions, too. We know that the agent on the other side of the table is a real-life person, but it’s often hard for us to understand what this experience is like from your perspective. I appreciate the candid advice.

    It almost makes me want to schedule an appointment in the middle of the day, walk in and say, “I don’t have a book to pitch, but I brought you some soothing music, and a small snack. Just relax and recharge for the next 10 minutes. So, how are you enjoying the conference?” Then again, I wouldn’t want to waste your time, or take a precious slot from another writer.

  11. Linda Adams on September 9, 2011 at 7:10 AM

    I’d add one more — please, please accurate information about what time you’re leaving so the staff can schedule properly. I’ve run the pitch session at the last two writer’s conferences. Same agent left early both times and still had two writers left. It did not leave a good impression, and we had to ask other agents if they minded filling in so the writers were not left hanging.

    And just so you can hear about something good an agent did …

    An agent showed up at our conference and discovered that his associate, who was also supposed to be there, was a no show. He worked out with us how to take all of her pitches as well; we would just keep the rest of the sessions on time and let him take his as he needed. Everyone got to see this agent, and his pitches were only slightly delayed.

    One writer came in to see him and had to wait until he called her. So she stayed with us, the volunteers. She was 16 and really scared. She was so scared she started crying, and we were talking to her, trying to calm her down. Eventually, he calls her up, and she heads for his table. We helped a little, but she was still so nervous. We saw her when she left — all smiles. I don’t know what that agent did, but was able to calm her down.

    • Ishta Mercurio on September 9, 2011 at 11:33 AM

      Linda, that agent sounds golden. His clients must be pretty lucky.

  12. Ishta Mercurio on September 9, 2011 at 12:41 AM

    Great post, and great comments! I’ve never had a pitch meeting, but I look forward to the opportunity one day. In the meantime, I have a small piece of advice for agents at conferences in general: talk to writers. Don’t just say you want to talk to them in advance (like on your blog or in your speech), and then blow them off when they come up to say “hi” and chat (NOT pitch) in the coffee line.

  13. Hilarey on September 8, 2011 at 11:32 PM

    You have a kind spirit.

  14. Beck Gambill on September 8, 2011 at 10:04 PM

    This post warmed my heart! As a hopeful author, with all of the fears and angst you mentioned, it was wonderful to hear your side of things. I was encouraged to think one day I may have the pleasure of encountering an agent that will treat me with humanity regardless of what they think of my book!

  15. Jason Beineke on September 8, 2011 at 9:00 PM

    “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.”

    Oh, you noticed?? Would be nice if agents maintained an industry standard of some kind. <_<

  16. The Terrorland on September 8, 2011 at 8:09 PM

    Rachelle, thanks for this post! Self-accountability is the road-to-success… especially in these times when the entire ‘agenting’ and ‘publishing’ culture is being changed according to the demands of the Cyber Age!

  17. Derrick Camardo on September 8, 2011 at 7:53 PM

    I’ve said this before somewhere way out in internet land, but personally, I feel more compelled to buy books repped by nice agents. The nicer and the more helpful an agent, the more I want to buy a book they rep. In the past 3 years, I’ve only purchaced books plugged or discussed on agent blogs. And each of those agents feel like my friend even though they have no idea who I am.

    It’s not something I do with a sense of obligation or anything like that. It’s just that these nice people loved this book (obviously, otherwise they wouldn’t rep it), and I like them, so I might like this book…

    It’s something like that.

    But my advice to agents, do not be ashamed or shy about plugging books you rep.

    In fact, across the board, I’d like to hear from agents why they repped a book they rep.

  18. Dianne on September 8, 2011 at 7:40 PM

    Thanks for this. I’ve sat across from agents and editors many times, and you sure nailed it. I’ve been on the receiving end of some of what you mentioned, and while a positive meeting can keep a writer fueled for months, a negative encounter stays with us forever. How we are treated by agents and editors matters. A lot.

  19. Susan Mason on September 8, 2011 at 7:15 PM

    Thank you for that thoughtful post, Rachelle. I hope all the agents read it! We writers are a vulnerable lot and it’s so true that one bad experience with an agent or editor could CRUSH a new writer.


  20. LLKing on September 8, 2011 at 7:01 PM

    How kind and thoughtful of you, Rachelle! I have never sat down with an agent or editor at a conference, but when I do I hope it will be with someone like you.

  21. Dave thome on September 8, 2011 at 6:51 PM

    Thank you. Especially the part about conflicting advice.

    At one conference I attended, one agent said queries should be written in the style of your novel. Another said it should never be in the style of your novel. Another said it should be a “boring business letter.” One of the three said it should be brief–300 words or no more than one page–then pulled out a three-pager with tiny margins and at least 750 words per page as the best query she ever received. Not one of them said anything about what they wanted to see in a query on their websites.

    They all said everyone at the conference should query them and they would respond. The only one who did was the one who said at the conference that she was accepting fiction and non-fiction queries. Her response to my query two days later, “I’m not interested in fiction.”

  22. Lee on September 8, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    I appreciate your tips on being respectful. An agent may not love what they’re seeing, but there’s no point in
    shooting down someone’s dream in a negative manner. It’s all in how you say something.

  23. Tina Moss on September 8, 2011 at 5:26 PM

    Thank you! It is so refreshing to hear words of advice from and for agents. As a writer, I appreciate you taking the time to put it out there and make the most of conferences.

  24. Angie Dicken on September 8, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    This is so nice to read as a person who will be the eager writer pitching to an agent/editor. I hope whoever I get an interview with will take this advice! 🙂 Thanks for posting it. I hope to meet you in a couple of weeks.

  25. Cassandra on September 8, 2011 at 4:20 PM

    What a lovely post. I’m sure Rachelle would never do this, but
    to agents/editors in general — if you’ve sized up the writer across from you as just a kid, too old to be worth bothering with, useless at a reading or hopeless before the camera, don’t let it show on your face (yes, it happens). Remember Susan Boyle.

  26. Katie Ganshert on September 8, 2011 at 4:02 PM

    This is why I love you, Rachelle.

  27. David Todd on September 8, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    When you request material from a writer in one of your appointments, please say something like, “Now, if you haven’t heard back from me within 3 months after you submit this, feel free to send me an e-mail about it.” We writers have been conditioned not to bug agents/editors by e-mail, and we really need to hear the time frame after which it’s okay to make an additional contact.

  28. Chris Metteer on September 8, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    I love your advice to agents about being humble in spirit. I think that advice needs to go to editors as well. Nothing turns me off quicker than a massive ego, especially when it comes from someone I am thinking will be my partner in publishing. Come to think of it, being humble in spirit works in all avenues of our lives.

  29. Flower Patch Farmgirl on September 8, 2011 at 1:16 PM

    You exemplified every point back in July at She Speaks. I was scared stiff and you set me at ease immediately. You also magically helped me to see both how far I have to go AND that I just might have it in me to keep trucking.

  30. Marcus Brotherton on September 8, 2011 at 1:11 PM

    Rachelle–thank you, a great empathetic post, the perspective from the other side of the table.

    I went to several writer’s conferences early on in my writing career, and experienced all the angst over the initial pitch. It is indeed tough from a writer’s perspective. Thanks for showing the other side of the coin.

  31. Elise Daly Parker on September 8, 2011 at 12:47 PM

    I think you’ve covered the bases well, Rachelle. I had my first pitch about a month ago and I cannot recall a more nervous moment. The editor I had the privilege of meeting with was friendly, kind, respectful, interested, and even told me she loved these meetings and the many people she met through them. I was shocked in a good way and very thankful for this first experience…though I’ve been assured they will not all go the same way! Hope the conference is a blessing for you.

  32. Heather Hawke on September 8, 2011 at 12:40 PM

    I unfortunately witnessed an agent publicly humiliate a writer (I’m not talking about brutal honesty). The upshot was everybody at the conference heard about it. Many people clammed up for fear they might be treated similarly and others expressed they would never query the agent in question.

  33. Heather Sunseri on September 8, 2011 at 12:36 PM

    Rachelle, this was a beautiful, heartfelt post.

  34. joylene on September 8, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    I have to add my voice to this and say “Thank you”. Hopefully every agent reads this and considers your words. It will definitely make for a better relationship between author and agent if they do.

  35. Jessica Nelson on September 8, 2011 at 12:32 PM

    Great advice! I met with an agent once who I’d corresponded a little with in e-mail. She seemed very nice but before I even said anything about my story I was pitching, she said, “send it to me.”
    I went brain dead because I didn’t know what else to talk about and she was just looking at me…lol I ended up asking some questions about what she was reading (books I’d never heard of) and then I left early. Worst thing I could’ve done, I think, but I guess what I’m saying is try to engage the writer. I love that you’d be honest and straight up say something wasn’t for you. Steve Laube was the first agent I ever met with and I’ll NEVER forget him because he did such a great job of balancing honesty with helpfulness.

  36. Eileen Astels Watson on September 8, 2011 at 12:19 PM

    “If their baby isn’t cute, find a nice way to say it.” LOL, but seriously, do say it. No use pretending.

    Some writers use these appointments to feel out how they would interact with agents. They may not be ready to fully pitch a story, or put a proposal forward, but they’ve spent good money to learn at the conference and take the opportunity to narrow down prospective agents they may wish to seek representation from in the future.

    Do agents look at that as a waste of appointment times? Maybe I should be giving my appointment time away, but writer’s aren’t guaranteed to get a seat with agents or editors during lunch and even then it’s not one-on-one time to get a good feel for them.

  37. TC Avey on September 8, 2011 at 12:08 PM

    You seem so kind. I pray one day we can meet. Thank you for words of encouragement.

  38. Kate on September 8, 2011 at 12:03 PM

    This is really great information here and very encouraging to writers themselves! I think the only other piece of advice I can possibly think of goes to both sides: a pitch is an incredibly short business meeting, not an ass-kissing contest. I think as writers, we get so nervous that we forget that we’re bringing a product to a company who can use it to make money. As you’ve said in the past, without us, agents, publishers, copy editors and so on have no jobs. I think emotion has to be taken out of it and treat these conferences as business meetings.

  39. Ginny Martyn on September 8, 2011 at 11:35 AM

    “If their baby isn’t cute, find a nice way to say it.”
    Yes and AMEN!

  40. Meghan on September 8, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    I met with Jan Stob from Tyndale at last year’s Indianapolis Christian Writer’s Conference, and the moment she requested my manuscript was one of the highlights of my life.

  41. Sue T on September 8, 2011 at 11:11 AM

    Some agents I know have said they know they won’t be able to represent something but hate saying no to the author so ask for pages. I say, please tell the author, nicely, no right up front. It’s much worse to get excited about a partial and get that dreaded rejection letter. At least, if you say no during the session, and like you suggest, offer up something else, the author has something to hold on to. Please don’t eep the writing guessing because you don’t want to say no. (You meaning agents/editors not YOU specifically). 😀 Great post!

  42. elaine @ peace for the journey on September 8, 2011 at 10:57 AM

    Humility, kindness, and smiles always work when forging new relationships… when fixing old ones!

    Actions to live by–a good word for my heart today.


  43. Elizabeth Seckman on September 8, 2011 at 10:52 AM

    I pitched once. It was a major fail. The only thing I was proud of from my performance was that I didn’t pass out from the hyperventilation.
    I love that you understand.

  44. Beth Browne on September 8, 2011 at 10:35 AM

    Oh Rachelle!

    This makes me cry. You are a godsend to writers.


  45. Jillian Kent on September 8, 2011 at 10:32 AM

    I remember being at an RWA conference years ago. The day of my pitch I was exhausted from a roommate who snored all night. I was so tired I almost didn’t care about the pitch, almost. When I sat down with my editor who looked every bit as exhausted as I felt I decided to tell her the truth and she laughed saying she also had got little sleep. I read my short pitch to her and felt like an idiot. But then with that part out of the way we had a great conversation and relaxed.

    Our pitches may be far from perfect and we may think this is our last chance to make an impression but it’s not. I’d rather build a relationship and gain good advice at a conference than put all my eggs in one basket and be devastated. I’d encourage both the editors and the writer’s to enjoy each others company and try to learn something from each other along the way.

  46. Colin Smith on September 8, 2011 at 10:27 AM

    This is a great post, Rachelle. As I begin querying, I’ve thought about the power an agent has to affect lives with a simple rejection note or a phone call. I can only imagine what it’s like to dial a writer’s number, knowing that what I say to him or her will possibly make them shout for joy, cry, dance–certainly make their day. Or to send that rejection note, knowing the sense of disappointment with which it’ll be received.

    Not that an agent shouldn’t do these things: that’s your job, they have to be done, and we should all be able to deal with them. But you are absolutely right to remind agents that writers put a great deal of stock in what you say. You have been given the power to bring joy into the life of a writer, not just with an offer of representation, or a request for more material, but also in the way a rejection is presented.

    I don’t envy you. But I’m glad there many of you out there that appreciate this. 🙂

  47. Sarah Thomas on September 8, 2011 at 9:51 AM

    Fantastic list! Thanks for putting it into action. The other one I might add is to be approachable outside the pitch meeting (which you are!). I had a lovely conversation with an editor at the last conference I attended. Not a pitch–just a conversation about the industry and life in general. It went a really long way toward making me realize that editors and agents aren’t scary–they’re just people who even have interests beyond books.

  48. Cheryl Barker on September 8, 2011 at 9:46 AM

    Rachelle, loved this post. Thanks for putting yourself into the shoes of the person across the table from you. That’s something we all need to do, isn’t it?

  49. Joseph Baran on September 8, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    Rejections are hard, regardless of how they are delivered, even via email as a query reply. Honesty and kindness go far. But some constructive criticism or advice goes even farther.

    I am always struck by the fact that one agent will pass on a story thinking it’s “wrong” for her / him. And yet another one will pick it up and sell it. How can the story be “wrong”? After all, nobody ever knows how a given book will be received by the public and how well it will sell in the end.

  50. Susan Bourgeois on September 8, 2011 at 9:45 AM

    It’s nice to know that you’re aware and empathetic towards the writer who is offering a pitch.

    Sometimes, when I’m doing Pilates I close my eyes as a form of connecting fully to a particular exercise I am doing.

    It may sound strange but by taking away one of the senses, my sight, I am able to connect in a different way, a fuller way.

    I wonder if this process, as an agent, would take the pressure off the writer giving the pitch and enable the agent to absorb the pitch in a different fashion.

    I think we’ve all seen someone do this when it pertains to vocals.

  51. Heather Marsten on September 8, 2011 at 9:42 AM

    When I get to the point of wanting to pitch my story, I hope I find an agent that has taken your words to heart.

  52. Michael G-G on September 8, 2011 at 9:31 AM

    This is a wonderful post. You’re right:everything the industry pro says sticks with the writer. Even the body language. (Especially the body language?)

    I’ve been fortunate to meet with more dream-encouragers than dream-destroyers, and for that I give thanks.

  53. Kelly Combs on September 8, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    One of my favorite posts ever, Rachelle. Everything you said is so true, from the writer’s perspective. Yes, we need to learn to be thicker skinned, but grace is such a blessing. LOVE THIS POST!

  54. Janet Bettag on September 8, 2011 at 9:24 AM

    So far I have only had the opportunity to pitch at one conference. I had 2 pitch sessions, each limited to 5 minutes. It’s really difficult to get the nerves under control, say something intelligent about your project and get any feel as to whether there’s any chemistry with the agent in that amount of time.

    While neither agent felt the book I was pitching fit their line, one was extremely helpful and offered me a referral to a local publisher who might be able to help me. The other one…well, the best I can say is that she liked my cardigan and I didn’t puke on my shoes. I left that meeting feeling like my baby was an ugly mutant from Mars – and I wasn’t pitching sci-fi.

    Reading your blog encouraged me not to give up on finding the perfect fit. The project I’ve pitched isn’t going to be a best-seller because the target audience is too small. I’m going to proceed with a local publisher on that one and focus my agent-seeking efforts on the novels I’m developing.

    Thanks for an uplifting post!

  55. Elizabeth Carden on September 8, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Boy, Rachelle, you are a good egg! It reminds me of something St. Francis said,”Preach the Gospel always, if necessary, use words.” Your faith shines through in the way you try to deal with each writer. I especially love, “If their baby isn’t cute, find a nice way to say it.” Thanks for the excellent insight!

  56. Kati Woronka on September 8, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    The tone of this suggests that you haven’t ever found anything you wanted to represent at a pitch meeting, or that you don’t expect to. Is that true? I was always given the advice, as a writer, to seek these 10 minute moments because they’re a much better shot than a query letter, but is that a myth?

    • Rachelle Gardner on September 8, 2011 at 9:01 AM

      It’s not a myth. I get one or two new clients out of almost every conference I attend. But if I take 30 meetings, and one or two become clients, that means most of the meetings are with people who won’t become my clients. So I do have to prepare my mind for this process.

  57. Sharon A Lavy on September 8, 2011 at 8:07 AM

    I’ve had good experiences with agent/editor meetings, but one of my friends has not. I love her writing. Other published writers encourage her. I wish I could help her connect with the perfect agent.

  58. Sherri on September 8, 2011 at 7:45 AM


    • Charise on September 8, 2011 at 11:27 PM

      I thought the same thing- but I’d like a Diet Coke instead of the Dr. P. LOL!

  59. Leigh Caron on September 8, 2011 at 7:40 AM

    Don’t request material out of kindness if you don’t really think you’ll like it. It’s far better to be honest, (yes, the truth will sting), but that’s still better than getting a writer’s hopes up sky-high, only to have them wait weeks, sometimes months, for the inevitable rejection.

    And Neil…LOL…you’ve described it perfectly.

    • Cyndi on September 8, 2011 at 9:33 AM

      My thoughts exactly! While I’m always pleased (okay, and terrified) to meet agents at conference pitch sessions, I’d much rather they NOT ask for a full or partial simply to be nice. The inevitable rejection to those kinds of requests isn’t worth it.

  60. Peter DeHaan on September 8, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    This advice helps me put the process of pitching a project into a better perspective. I am one who could unhealthily hang on every word an agent or editor says.

    Being reminded that there are differences in opinion among agents/editors is good to keep in mind. (Even my own opinion of my work can change from day to day!)

    Also, understanding that the agent/editor may just be exhausted when I’m talking to them is helpful to be aware of.

  61. otin on September 8, 2011 at 7:23 AM

    Find something nice to say…

    If you say,”Otin, I really like your shoes”, then I know I’m in trouble! haha

  62. mark williams international on September 8, 2011 at 6:42 AM

    I loathe the idea of these kind of pitches.

    A pitch should be about a writer’s abilities as an author to tell a good story. The only way an agent or anyone else can tell that is by looking at the written word. Objectively, in private, at the right time, when in the right mood.

    “If you, dear agent or editor, are having a rough day… if you’re weary of hearing pitches for hours on end… if you’re exhausted from giving of yourself in workshops and meetings one after the other…” – then surely you should not be even thinking about make or break decisions on behalf of complete strangers who have pinned their hopes and ambitions on your verdict.

    Wouldn’t it be far better for all concerned to work a half day, take the submissions back to the office and look at them another time?

    • Rachelle Gardner on September 8, 2011 at 8:58 AM

      Mark, no make or break decisions are made at conferences. We DO take all this stuff home and make our decisions later. However, as in all kinds of business, there is value in meeting people face to face. Sometimes there is a personal connection that helps us make our decision.

  63. Jackie Ley on September 8, 2011 at 6:14 AM

    What a great reminder for us all. It doesn’t matter how gifted you are or how outstanding you are at your job, if you can’t couple that with being a compassionate human being, then your talents don’t count for much at all.

  64. Neil Ansell on September 8, 2011 at 5:07 AM

    To the best of my knowledge there are no such things as pitch meetings here in the UK. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me – they sound like one of the circles of hell.

  65. terri patrick on September 8, 2011 at 4:08 AM

    An editor, I think it was Erin Brown, formerly of St. Martin’s Press, stated she was terrified the first time she had to meet writers face-to-face at a pitch session at a conference. Her words of wisdom were we all need to remember that we all put our pants on one-leg-at-a-time.

    Writers need to remember that editors and agents are also introverts, happiest in a quiet room with words on the page. Agents are facilitators -not gatekeepers -between the writers and the publishers.

  66. Addison Moore on September 8, 2011 at 3:20 AM

    Sage advice for anyone in a leadership position! And one thing that I’ve always loved about you is your kindness. That, and the fact that you are the best cheerleader a writer can have.

  67. Dee Krull on September 8, 2011 at 2:54 AM

    Your list is great but you forgot one very important thing: Take care of yourself, make sure you get lots of sleep a few days before; eat three good meals a day and drink plenty of water. If you are rested, well fed and hydrated, we will notice; because that pretty smile will be genuine.

    • Rachelle Gardner on September 8, 2011 at 8:54 AM

      We’re usually well-fed at conferences and there’s typically plenty of drinking water. But most of the faculty at a conference will arrive already exhausted – they’ve been up nights trying to not only prepare for the conference but also prepare to be away from their desk (and their home) for days – and they’ll get even more exhausted as the conference goes on. That’s just the way it is! I’d say a well-rested conference faculty member would be a rarity.

  68. Julie Geistfeld on September 8, 2011 at 2:52 AM

    I just finished writing my latest blog post, Synopsis Short-Circuit, when I saw this post.

    It was about a similar subject, so I thought I’d mention a portion of it here…

    It’s like this…
    You hear that a Mr Leonardo da Vinci made a little painting called the Mona Lisa. You’re interested in this painting, but you don’t know if it will be worth your time and effort to actually travel to see it. Instead you ask him to send you an example, three brushstrokes, that are ‘similar’ to the Mona Lisa. You will use those brush strokes to determine if it’s worth your while to then view it.

    Ok, I’m not da Vinci and my writing may not be any Mona Lisa, but I’ve spent considerable time, effort, and a little part of myself to create my ‘work of art’. It’s a hard thing to do to then pick those three brush strokes, carefully put them on paper, and present them in lieu of all the time and effort you put into the original piece.
    Not impossible, but not easy.

    I would say the same thing goes for a pitch as well. Just try to remember that it’s a small fraction of the whole.

    And I loved your post, as always insightful and honest.

    Thank you!

    • Alisha Gabriel on September 10, 2011 at 2:28 PM

      Thanks for sharing such an interesting analogy. I just won the Would You Read It Wednesday pitch contest on Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog and understand that it’s extremely hard to boil an entire book down to one sentence.

      My one and only editor critique session at a conference two years ago was a huge disappointment and the editor would do well to read your reminders before her next conference. Thank you for sharing!

  69. Rick Johnson on September 8, 2011 at 2:49 AM

    Great advice Rachelle. I remember my first writers conference. I was so scared and overwhelmed–and went home so disappointed. But the next year was a treasure chest of blessings. I do remember most the few staff the first year who were encouraging and not impatient or condescending as I stumbled my way through the process. Always remember, as an agent your words carry more weight than you might intend them to.

  70. Dianne Gardner on September 8, 2011 at 2:45 AM

    What a thoughtful post! You’re right. There is an over abundance of advice to writers about behavior and this is the first advice to agents I’ve seen. I have to tell you, the last conference(NWCW)I went to I was impressed at the integrity all the professionals had. Not only were the agents, editors, and speakers thoughtful of authors, but they themselves were sitting in on the classes right along side of us. I was impressed.

  71. Camille Eide on September 8, 2011 at 2:31 AM

    You’ve been listening! Thank you for understanding. And thank you for a glimpse of what it’s like for industry pros. That actually helps us (me) get the focus off that crucial 10 make-it-or-break-it minutes of my life and remember the feelings of the other human in the meeting.

    I do hope your fellow agents and editors take your words to heart, for the sake of those preparing to pitch. And while I don’t expect editors and agents to take such extra pains to be this sensitive—after all, we’re grown ups in a grown up biz—it’s still nice to know someone understands the deep impact these meetings can have. (I have a friend who was crushed into writer’s paralysis after a very flippant insult during an agent meeting.) I don’t know why writers bruise so easily, we just do.

    So Rachelle, on behalf of editors & agents: Thank you for understanding, and for acknowledging all that time, money and angst we spend preparing ourselves in hopes of not boring your socks off.

  72. Jo Murphey on September 8, 2011 at 2:07 AM


    Good reminder. I just posted on how I edit others which isn’t always kind. I’ve had several agent and publisher meetings over the decades, each one raises a lump in my throat. Quite a few agents did not have these things in mind…needless to say, they did not become my agent either by their choice or mine.

    One thing you didn’t mention is that agents are dependent on authors without them the agent would not have a job, salary, or be in the position they are in. Humility is a double edged sword for both author and agent.

  73. Karen Nolan Bell on September 8, 2011 at 1:54 AM

    Rachelle, thank you for being all the things you listed above for me. Believe me, I thought I might throw up before I walked in your door. Actually, Suzie Eller stopped and offered to pray with me as I sat outside waiting. Guess she could clearly see how I felt. You were my first appointment in my 57 years and I needed your smile and kind words. I carry your positive comments with me in my heart every day as I sit at my computer and force myself to keep writing even when I have no clue where it will take me. Bless you for being more than a mere agent.

  74. Heidi on September 8, 2011 at 1:52 AM

    I’m hopefully going to be pitching to you this weekend at the RMFW Conference, and you’re right, nerves abound — at least for this writer. 🙂 Thanks for reminding us that it can be taxing for the agents as well. Humility, grace, understanding and smiles are great things to bring on both sides of the table. Looking forward to meeting you!

  75. Sally Apokedak on September 8, 2011 at 1:49 AM

    Wow, that’s great stuff. I’ve never had an agent appointment, though I’ve been to many conferences. I can’t bring myself to speak about myself of my book very easily. Not that I’ve ever been afraid the other guy would make me look foolish–I’ve always known I can do that job quite well by myself. 🙂 So I’m glad to hear that you ask writers questions to get them going. That’s very kind of you.