Advice for Myself
Yesterday, many of you shared your fears of the verbal pitch, and some of you told stories of being treated rudely or dismissively by harried agents or editors. I’ve heard these stories before—of writers being made to feel scolded or, even worse, like losers upon leaving the meeting. Part of me wonders who would treat people that way! But another part of me is always hoping it wasn’t me treating somebody badly because I was having a bad moment or possibly because what I said was misinterpreted.
So I decided to write a post to myself, similar to what I wrote yesterday for writers. This is what I’m telling myself before going to conferences:
Secrets for a Great Pitch Meeting: Agents & Editors Version
Let’s face it, it’s not easy sitting through pitches one after the other. It can be draining, especially when you’re hearing about books that you know fairly quickly aren’t going to work for you. 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, or bored, or annoyed. This is not about you. It’s about the writer.
Remember that everything you say will have a big impact on a new writer. Good or bad, it will stick with them. Be careful with your words.
Remember that 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.
Remember that 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.
Remember your power, and because of that, 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.
Remember that 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.
Remember that a smile goes a long way toward making someone feel comfortable.
Remember to compliment the writer… find something positive to say.
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 gently give them some helpful advice, either about their project, about the market, or about their pitch.
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… 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.
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 single most worrisome 10 minutes of their entire week or month.
So treat them 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