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

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. 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!

68 Comments

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  4. Hilarey on May 16, 2010 at 8:54 AM

    >Advice for agents? Remind the writers you are human too, which you just did. Thanks.
    I hope I show as much compassion as you have shown here.



  5. Janalyn Voigt on May 15, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    >Thanks for understanding what writers go through at pitch meetings.

    I've noticed (and heard writing friends discuss) that sometimes editors/agents give blanket acceptances to projects at pitch meetings. I suspect they do this because they think it's easier for a writer to accept a rejection that doesn't come face-to-face. Or maybe they want to spare themselves having to say no. Either way, they don't do writers any favors with this approach. Besides, writers are on to them and tend to discount their "yes," even when sincere.



  6. kanishk on May 14, 2010 at 9:08 PM

    >Thanks for this – I'm sure it will be a very popular post!
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  7. Helen Ginger on May 14, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    >A great post.

    As a former ED of the Writers League of Texas, I can also add that authors need to look at it from the other side. Agents and editors do indeed sit for a long time, listening to pitch after pitch. I always tell authors to relax. Those agents/editors are just people. Sure, they have power over your future, in a way, but smile, be friendly, and relax.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel



  8. William Shawn O'Brien on May 13, 2010 at 7:33 PM

    >Wonderful post, thanks.



  9. Terri Tiffany on May 13, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    >You made me cry with this one. Thank you for this. You know exactly how a writer feels.I just returned from a conference where I met many writers like me who felt just like that as we pitched. I'd like to take it a step further and say we feel the same way when we query. This whole process isn't easy and most of us are feeling our way, trying to gather as much information as we can so we don't come across looking foolish. I wish your attitude was everyone's. I wish you had been the first agent I ever met in person.:)Blessings!



  10. Rick Barry on May 13, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    >You've already received many kudos and amens, but let me echo them with my own compliment. Well done!

    I once received fantastic rapport and encouragement from the VP of one publishing house, and later in that same day been asked a series of belittling questions by a low-ranking editor at another. Quite a difference! If I hadn't already sold hundreds of short stories and 2 novels before I met the low-ranking fellow, he might have squelched my creative spirit.



  11. Susan Panzica - EternityCafe on May 13, 2010 at 8:03 AM

    >Thank you for your transparency and generosity of spirit. Talk about walking a mile in someone else's shoes!

    I have only had positive experiences in pitch meetings. At my first 2 writers conferences, every editor and agent graciously expressed interest and took my work. Naturally, I developed a rather inaccurate picture of what it takes to be published!

    But at my third conference I met with an agent who gave me some very constructive critism and then prayed with me. The sweet rejection I received that day propelled me to make some positive changes.

    Thank you for this blog which is such a rich source of information.



  12. Lucy on May 13, 2010 at 12:47 AM

    >Rachelle,

    Thanks for a lovely post–I enjoyed reading that so much.



  13. Julie Kibler on May 13, 2010 at 12:15 AM

    >My first ever agent critique at my first ever writers conference was a great experience. Agent Laura Rennert had ten pages of my manuscript ahead of time. She'd obviously read them and had made careful notes. Though I left our meeting clearly knowing I wasn't quite ready for prime time, the things she found to praise and her encouragement helped so much in making me stick with this dream.

    I appreciated her, and I appreciate this post from you. Yes, we're all human and have our moments, but kindness goes such a long way.



  14. Susie on May 13, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    >Rachelle- good post. now if everyone made conlusions about me from one meeting, like today during frapuccino happy hour at sbux they would NEVER read my book. rather they'd help pay for my counseling (o;
    so as an agent your allowed your bad days, like us all, but thanks for even having the foresight for a post like this. kindness really does go a long way



  15. Amber Argyle-Smith on May 12, 2010 at 11:39 PM

    >All the agents/editors I've met with have been really nice. And thanks heavens. Cause I didn't sleep for a month before I met with the first one. I don't know what kind of damage she could have done if she was mean.



  16. Leslie Maddox on May 12, 2010 at 11:36 PM

    >There's a lot of love in this post. Makes me wish I had something to pitch to you.



  17. Jil on May 12, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    >You're a good lady,Rachelle. I appreciate your kind nature. Never change,



  18. Roxane B. Salonen on May 12, 2010 at 10:36 PM

    >Rachelle, I wish all agents were like you. 🙂 If so, the world would be a whole lot more enjoyable to be in. I know you're not perfect. I know you have bad days. We all do. But the lengths you go to try to be a compassionate servant are admirable.



  19. Anna L. Walls on May 12, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    >That was really very very nice. I hope when the day comes that I can make it to a conference, I meet someone like you, or at the very least someone who read this post before sitting at their table and facing all those expectant faces.

    Thanks for being in my world
    Anna



  20. Margo Carmichael on May 12, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    >I've never had a rude encounter at an appointment. But if anyone is tempted to be impatient or what-have-you, I would suggest they heed this because I remember how kind and encouraging you were to me when you were tired but you let me pitch to you in the hallway. Thank you.



  21. Anonymous on May 12, 2010 at 10:20 PM

    >I had one agent who told me that no one would want to read a story about the small southern town I used for my setting. Intelligent people would only settle for Charleston, or maybe Atlanta! On the other hand, I talked with an editor who was not interested in my story, but wanted to pray for me before I left to have clear direction where I should go. I have experienced the best of both.



  22. Crystal Laine Miller on May 12, 2010 at 10:11 PM

    >This, too, was a great post, Rachelle.

    I had an editor (10 years ago!) whom I paid for one of those critiques. When I met with him, he must have been having a bad day, but still, he didn't give me even a thread to hang onto. I left that meeting with the distinct impression that he didn't even like me, much less my writing.

    At that same conference another editor talked to me from the same publisher. This guy not only encouraged me in writing, but I felt spiritually encouraged. He SENT me a book from their company to show me what kind of book they published with a short note thanking ME.

    To this day I cringe when I see the first man, and the second man I still have such respect for even though they basically told me similar things about my writing.

    I've been on the other side of the manuscript many times now (freelance editing and acquiring) and I ALWAYS think of these two editors and try to follow the second one's example. At least I hope that I do.



  23. KC Frantzen on May 12, 2010 at 10:10 PM

    >Yours is one of only 3 blogs I follow. Uh huh. 'zactly.

    Thank you much.

    At my first conference, I met a highly respected agent before a session. She had already graciously granted me a meeting at a book festival 2 weeks later, so it was nice to see her in person before.

    She was encouraging and nice at the actual meeting. Though she didn't end up asking for more, she was the perfect "first" meeting in so many ways. I will always be appreciative.

    The only advice I would have on such a day is to schedule one 15-30 minute break if it's going to be back to back to back meetings for the entire day. I would find that refreshing myself and would think that might help another's mental attitude as well.

    Thank you again Rachelle. It's truly a pleasure to read your thoughtful posts.



  24. Wendy Lawton on May 12, 2010 at 9:06 PM

    >Rachelle, I'm printing this out and reviewing it before every conference. We agents love writing and love writers. We've got to find a way to beat the exhaustion factor in pitch sessions.



  25. Anonymous on May 12, 2010 at 8:48 PM

    >Again, a wonderful post, and the picture's hilarious!

    One thing–it's a common misconception in the West to think there's a such thing as "good karma." There's not. Karma's just karma, and here's a definition.



  26. Lauren on May 12, 2010 at 8:33 PM

    >I hope that if and when my time ever comes to pitch my story that I get an agent who will be as considerate and nice as what you've written in your letter. I tend to be the vulnerable, harried type who is easily wounded and overly sensitive. I try not to be, but the words stick to me and I cannot detract them no matter how hard I try.



  27. Kathleen L. Maher on May 12, 2010 at 7:00 PM

    >I may not have pitched to you at a conference, but I can attest that you are one of those considerate professionals of which you write. After a full request this past winter–my first from an agent–I waited with baited breath to hear back. Though my manuscript was not as ready as I'd hoped, you took time out from your Valentine's Day celebrations to personally call and encourage me with suggestions to improve. Who does that? You clearly put people first, and that is why people love you.



  28. Menopausal Entrepreneur on May 12, 2010 at 4:16 PM

    >I'm completely in awe of your post. I certainly hope that many, many agents are reading this and have the humility to search their souls and honestly assess if they are treating writers respectfully. It's great to read that you acknowledge the stress on both sides of the table.



  29. Marla Taviano on May 12, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    >This is why I love you. Well, a combination of this and the snark.



  30. Carrie Turansky on May 12, 2010 at 3:15 PM

    >Thank you, Rachelle! I think every conference organizer should give a copy of this blog to the agents and editors who will have appointments at their conference.

    Most of my appointments have been positive experiences, butI have been to a few where it was clear the editor was tired and had a hard time focusing. A smile and a few positive comments can go a long way in helping an anxious author relax and do their best.

    Blessings,
    Carrie



  31. lauradroege on May 12, 2010 at 12:24 PM

    >This may qualify as a "stupid question", but is a pitch an absolutely necessary step in the getting published process?

    As someone noted earlier, an author may be tongue-tied in a verbal interaction but stellar in their written work. I'm part of the tongue-tied category (although not necessarily the "stellar in writing" one!) so I worry about pitching my novel.

    Thank you for posting this, Rachelle.



  32. Em-Musing on May 12, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    >Agents and editors are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’ll get when you agree to a pitch session,(and visa versa). Offer the writer a chocolate. It’ll break the ice and you’ll be remembered forever as being a classy agent/editor. It’s a win/win situation. I know, I know, too complicated and unnecessary. And I’d probably wind up choking!



  33. Kelly Freestone on May 12, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    >Wow, thanks for the post.
    that really helps the 'unattainable' seem attainable!
    You guys ARE real people, lol
    Have a good day, girl.



  34. Beth on May 12, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    >Great advice, as always. I hope both sides remember to be polite and kind, and it will be a win-win situation no matter what.



  35. T. Anne on May 12, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    >Aww, I heart you for this. There are a lot of nice agents out there, and you are definitely one of them.



  36. Jamie B on May 12, 2010 at 10:28 AM

    >You're First Class!

    Thank you for this!



  37. Loree H on May 12, 2010 at 10:26 AM

    >Dear Rachelle,

    Awesome post! Thank you!

    I can add one thing to the agents and editors don'ts: please don't offer an expensive writing class or a "buy my how to get published guide for X amount of dollars" immediately with a rejection of ANY kind.

    We feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story – "A crummy commercial!"



  38. Erica Vetsch on May 12, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    >Yep, I agree with Rachel O. You're going to be swamped at ACFW.

    Thank you for being so transparent and open, and for all the information you give here.

    I've only ever had gracious appointments with agents and editors, but even those were nerve-jangling experiences.

    This post would be an excellent addition to the staff/faculty packets for writer's conferences.



  39. Lori Benton on May 12, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    >And as writers we need to remember these moments, remember how it feels, the hope, the fears, the nerves, the stakes… and infuse our characters' goals with the same.

    Rachelle, this felt like a mini course on ratcheting up the tension in our novels!



  40. Daron D. Fraley on May 12, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    >I could really relate to your post today. The acquisitions editor which I pitched to last year is a shining example of what you described. Even though my manuscript wasn't a good fit for the publisher, I came away from that experience feeling confident and energized. It made a profound impact on me and to this day I have the highest respect for him.

    Thank you, Rachelle!



  41. Peggy Bechko on May 12, 2010 at 9:52 AM

    >Great post Rachelle. I remember well being that beginning writer and all you said was right on. Hope a lot of new writers stumble on your post.



  42. Reluctant Writer on May 12, 2010 at 9:48 AM

    >What a great post.



  43. Nicole on May 12, 2010 at 9:37 AM

    >Just one: please don't ask for samples of a ms. you really don't want (not that you would but some do).



  44. Anonymous on May 12, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    >The more I hear about agents–rude agents, holier-than-thou agents, agents who gossip and write boring crap on Twitter, agents who don't try to sell or promote your books–the less I want one. I think "no unagented submissions" is an invented "industry rule" perpetuated by agents and editors who are BFFs. What keeps us from submitting directly to publishers?
    Agents and editors who are cackling behind our backs and putting us down with queryfail. Sad, but true.



  45. Rachel Overton on May 12, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    >Boy, are you going to be busy at ACFW!! 🙂

    You're a sweetheart, Rachelle.



  46. Anonymous on May 12, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    >I would want an agent who was not interested in my book idea to let me know as soon as they feel that way– so I can pull out my list of questions I'd like to ask an agent, and get started asking those.

    I'd also like the agent to tell me if they have a recommendation of another agent who might like my idea. I think agents who come to conferences are 'legit' and would probably recommend a 'legit' agent. I can do my own research, but still, a recommendation is always appreciated.

    I just don't know how an agent can pick out a good writer at a conference. The verbal pitch is so much different than the written word…someone might be a nervous mess in person, but a brilliant writer. And, vice versa. I wonder how many clients you've found at conferences, Rachelle?

    The last conference I went to was in 2005, and there weren't many agent blogs around back then, so it was like meeting "the man behind the curtain" for me. Luckily the editor I chose to speak to was kind and encouraging. It meant a lot! Strangely, though, I went to a panel talk and all the agents took questions and they were pretty rude on panel. Giving answers like, "the perfect client for me is one who never calls, writes great books, and already has their own therapist – 'cause I don't have time to let them cry on my shoulder." Yikes! This is why it is so important for a writer to find an agent they get along with, and not just settle for anyone willing to take them on, especially if they feel disrespected.

    Rachelle, you are awesome for posting all this great information – at just the right time. I've finally got my book ready and my conference is coming up in June. And now, I feel extra prepared. Thanks!



  47. Sharon A. Lavy on May 12, 2010 at 9:02 AM

    >Thank you, thank you, thank you. Although, from my perspective you already do this.

    Always good to remind ourselves though, because we all have bad days.



  48. Jan Cline on May 12, 2010 at 8:56 AM

    >I was actually not nervous for my first pitch last weekend at the NWCW conference. I pitched 3 times and loved it. It wasn't nearly as bad as I anticipated once I saw the editors and agents faces at the opening session. I had read your blog advise on the subject and did some more research and felt I was prepared. I appreciate your help! I did get asked for a partial by two editors! Now to find an agent!



  49. Carole on May 12, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    >And your next conference that you will be listening to pitches is…?



  50. Nancy on May 12, 2010 at 8:49 AM

    >Thank you so much for this post. I too felt like tearing up. Reminded me of the many 'mini beratings' I received from instructors in the early sixties as a Black child in school.

    The wrong words can cut a soul and kill a spirit. It has taken years for me to shake the feelings of failure and non-worth off my psyche and really work on my writing.

    You have a God given spirit and I thank Him and you again for this post.



  51. Heather on May 12, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    >Rachelle, when I attended my first writer' conference in 2009, I've had a huge amount of respect for agents and editors. I saw the sheer volume of people you guys had to talk to, and I knew out of all those writers, there would be just one or two that would pitch an interesting project. I felt sorry for them, and wondered how they had the patience to be polite and helpful even when they knew a project wasn't for them.
    So, what can I say about editors and agents but…YOU ROCK! Thanks for helping us authors!



  52. James L. Rubart on May 12, 2010 at 8:39 AM

    >This post should be required reading for all agents and editors. Stellar.



  53. Liza Swift on May 12, 2010 at 7:47 AM

    >This is great! Its advice that we could all use for any situation.

    Imagine a world where all encounters went like this. *sigh*



  54. Jenna on May 12, 2010 at 7:46 AM

    >Rachelle-I've decided I like you. Most definitely.:)



  55. kathy taylor on May 12, 2010 at 7:44 AM

    >The business end of writing is so intimidating. I read your tweets and blog, which give me assurance that you are human and real. Yet in my query, I was "all business." I wanted to tell you that you're my number one draft pick, but I thought it might be inappropriate. Maybe it's better to tell you here, agent of hope, that your blog is a voice in the wilderness. Thanks for your insight and advice.



  56. Empty Refrigerator on May 12, 2010 at 7:30 AM

    >I loved this.



  57. Horrible Sanity on May 12, 2010 at 7:22 AM

    >A post like this is why your blog is one that I follow.

    Well said.



  58. Lisa Jordan on May 12, 2010 at 7:00 AM

    >Best. Post. Ever.

    And this, folks, is why Rachelle is one of the top agents out there!

    Thanks for presenting this through the writer's eyes. I have no doubt that agents and editors are brain numb by the end of conferences. I admire their stamina and the ability to smile through those pitches that are so not for them.

    I laughed out loud at this sentence: If their baby isn't cute, find a nice way to say it.

    Yes, I'm a bit warped. Struck me funny.



  59. Katy McKenna on May 12, 2010 at 6:51 AM

    >Truly wonderful post, Rachelle. You've put a lot of minds at ease today, and those writers will enter into their upcoming pitch sessions a bit less intimidated by the process. What a gift you've given by writing this!



  60. Wen Prior on May 12, 2010 at 5:26 AM

    >I'm with Jessica. Even when you're querying, one kind word can make it all worth it and it means a lot to know that those on the other side know that too.

    Maybe not every writer will get published, but every writer has their dreams tied up in their work and it means a lot to know that's respected.

    Thanks Rachelle. I teared up a little too.



  61. Krista Phillips on May 12, 2010 at 5:25 AM

    >Love this post!! I DO think most agents/editors do this. I've met some of the kindest people in pitch meetings. Steve L. was my FIRST pitch ever and when I got up from speaking with him, I felt encouraged, taught, and not rejected. He didn't even say, "this isn't right for me" he just gave me helpful hints to make it better and when we were done, said, "Well, It was great meeting you Krista." LOL, I think it was the nicest rejection I never got:-)

    And for the record, just as writers accuse agents/editors of "talking" about them… we writers are guilty of the same thing, LOL. I've only heard very good and positive things about you from those who have pitched to you.



  62. Jessica Nelson on May 12, 2010 at 5:19 AM

    >Wow.

    This kind of makes my eyes tear up a little!
    I loved your paragraph about power and humility. I think we writers could use that one too. 🙂

    What a sweet, lovely post. I'm kind of shocked right now by its (your) awesomeness.

    Thanks for the great morning read!



  63. Ellen Brickley on May 12, 2010 at 3:27 AM

    >Rachelle, this is a great post. You're right, we should always try to put ourselves in the shoes of people we're dealing with – doubly so if we have any kind of power over them.

    And Stephanie, can I just wish your dad the best of luck? Writing a book and social networking at 95 – he sounds like an amazing man 🙂



  64. Molly Hall on May 12, 2010 at 2:33 AM

    >This is really beautiful. It's amazing to see that someone in your position "gets" how it is for writers! It can feel like the most crucial ten minutes of your life! Thank you for your compassion and thoughtfulness.
    In my experience, the classiest and best agents/editors also find a way to connect with the writer (or audience) on a human level. We tend to forget that the publishing industry isn't a big iron-walled castle. It's people! So, anything agents or editors can do to share that they are also just human beings who love books and want to support writers in growing or finding their voices… is awesome. Thanks so much for this.



  65. Radu Prisacaru on May 12, 2010 at 2:00 AM

    >Fantastic blog. Keep on rockin, Radu Prisacaru – UK Internet Marketer & Web Developer



  66. @Writers_Cafe on May 12, 2010 at 1:49 AM

    >Rachelle,

    What a sweet, and transparent post! To see an agent put it out there in writing renews my faith in the system.

    People have bad days, but everything you said is so true. Agents must rise above the 'bad day' syndrome and be their best for the writers who paid to get their 10 minutes.

    I haven't gotten to that point yet, but it won't be long – and from the stories I'd heard, just thinking about it was an anxiety attack in the making.

    Thanks for this – I'm sure it will be a very popular post!

    Julie



  67. Stephanie Baffone on May 12, 2010 at 1:21 AM

    >Hi Rachelle,
    Ok, so I am a nerd. I was signed in on my computer on my Dad, Gene's Google name by accident. So the first comment I left under his name is not him, it's me.
    He's 95 years old and we are teaching him to blog and build a platform. He recently wrote a book, For A Better America and is enjoying his foray into social media.
    Stephanie



  68. Gene on May 12, 2010 at 1:16 AM

    >Rachelle,

    That might be the nicest thing I've ever read on an agent's blog

    While I am not a agent, I am a therapist (who is also a writer). There are days when my clients come in and I'm not always at the top of my game. I remind myself that while I might have heard their same stories just with different characters and plots over and over throughout my career, I need to remain present to them. Their stories are their lives.

    Thank you for the reminder to yourself. It made me smile.



I love words.

I love books and publishing and talking incessantly about them.

I love authors and all the intricacies of managing a writing life.

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