Successful Schmoozing with Agents at Conferences–a post by Jenny

Say you are an author looking for a literary agent and you go to a conference.  And there are literary agents at this conference, perhaps even literary agents that you are interested in representing your work. How can you best maximize this opportunity? I’ll talk you through a few steps.

  1.  Prepare, prepare, prepare. Before you go to the conference, really research all the agents who will also be there. Check out their websites, their page on Publisher’s Marketplace, their recent deals. Get to know their client lists. Is there a client they represent who writes books that are similar to yours? Or a client that they have who you particularly admire? Make a mental note of it. Check out their twitter feeds. Do they like candy (hmmm, wonder who that could be)? Dogs?   Jogging? Keep it in mind. It’s not stalking, it’s PREPARING.
  2. If you have a pitch session with the agent, begin it by showing you have a familiarity with their list. Say something like, “I’m so glad I’m sitting down with you.  I know you represent so-and-so and I really love their work.” It may feel like sucking up, but the agent will really appreciate that you did your homework.
  3. If you meet the agent at the bar, or at a meal, or outside having a cigarette (I don’t smoke anymore, but when I did, it was a great way to chat informally with writers), don’t automatically start pitching. Have a fun, social chat. Agents are people too, and we like just hanging out at conferences, meeting people informally, basically just chilling out and having a little break from the work stuff. Most of the time, the agent will eventually ask YOU what you write so you don’t have to pitch them first.
  4. While you shouldn’t pitch the agent in an informal setting, you should definitely demonstrate that you know what they rep. That’s probably the best way to get them to ask you what you’re working on. It’s the same as when you pitch–just say, “oh, it’s so nice to meet you, I love your list, particularly the work of X writer.” Something casual like that.
  5. If the agent’s panel or workshop at the conference was useful to you, don’t hesitate to tell them.   Again, if it’s genuine, it’s not sucking up. We work really hard on our presentations, etc., and we love hearing that it was helpful for you.
  6. Volunteer to help at the conference. Pick up an agent at the airport, for instance.  It’s another great way to meet them informally and I know a surprising amount of agents/editors who met clients that way.
  7. Relax and be yourself. I know the stakes are high, I know this is a really big deal, and believe me, I get that this whole thing is stressful. But truthfully, as I said above, we are just folks, and conferences often make us nervous too. Most people in the publishing industry are introverts just like most writers are introverts and conferences can be hard just in the sense that there are so many PEOPLE around. We welcome the chance to meet a friendly person and just have a casual chat.
  8. And finally, I do hear a lot about agents being snobby or whatever when they meet authors at conferences. I have only this to say–often shyness can come across as snobbery.   One of the kindest, most special agents I ever knew was painfully shy and I think a lot of people thought she was unfriendly. Not!  She just took a while to warm up to people. So it could be a case of that–again, most people in publishing really are natural introverts. Or maybe the agent is just a jerk.   In that case, it’s probably not a good fit and chalk it up to a learning experience. But again, conferences are stressful for everyone, so take every experience with a grain of salt.
Okay, that’s it for today.  Good luck and hopefully I’ll see you at an awesome writer’s conference soon!
P.S. And check out our links to the conferences we’ll be attending on the lower right hand corner of this blog!
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19 Responses to Successful Schmoozing with Agents at Conferences–a post by Jenny

  1. Cheryl says:

    Thanks for these tips, Jenny. It was great meeting you at WriteAngles last year. Even though I knew you didn't rep Christian authors, it was good practice.

  2. Jenny Bent says:

    Nice meeting you too, Cheryl, and thanks for all your nice comments on this blog.

  3. Thewritemare says:

    I find your blog very helpful and friendly. I, too am an introvert who tends to blurt embarrassingly stupid things when I get nervous. At my first writer's conference I had done my homework but totally blanked at my first pitch. The agent had said put my notes away and I panicked. Second went much better. I didn't look at the paper but holding it was like an anchor holding me to sanity.

  4. Jenny, I like your suggestion of volunteering for a writers conference. If I did so and was finished with my assigned task, I would take my seat in the room where you were appearing on an agents panel before the room began to fill. When you had your microphone adjusted and had looked over your notes, I would approach your table. When appropriate (you would have looked at me) I would ask you how you acquired Ingrid Ricks as a client. I would smile, thank you for your answer, tell you, "I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say today," and return to my seat.

  5. Conferences must be overwhelming to everybody involved, so this list is a great reminder on how to best act in such a setting.

  6. Sand says:

    The very thought of going to a conference and trying to get an agent seems so desperate and stressful to me that I have simply given up the idea altogether and put my four and soon to be five e-books up on Amazon where one in particular has been doing very well. I would love to have an agent but just can't bear the nerve wracking stress of going through all that again.

  7. Great post. I have a question about agent lists that could be mentioned in a query. Generally speaking, if an agent repped a book about pink panda taking over the world, would the agent be more likely to less likely to be interested in zebras conquering the moon? Do agents tend to spread out their interests for focus more narrowly when possible?

  8. Mirka Breen says:

    Thank you so much Jenny. It never occurred to me that agents can be shy, as they are on the *selling* end of the industry.
    It's worth a whole post on how a shy person can be successful at sales… hint-hint.

  9. Jenny Bent says:

    You know, that's a good question. I think it's impossible to answer because it will differ by agent, but I would say it's worth a shot and you should mention it in the query.

  10. Jenny Bent says:

    I totally hear what you are saying. I always advise people to go to conferences NOT with the expectation of finding an agent, but more to network with other writers and learn your craft. If you happen to meet your agent, that's just icing on the cake! Also, many of my clients just queried me cold–it's certainly not necessary to go to a conference to get an agent since you can get one just by querying.

  11. Mary Uhles says:

    Great post, especially the reminder to just try to have a friendly conversation. BTW I was in the back of your crowded session on queries in LA. We didn't get to meet but I enjoyed the session very much.

  12. Jenny Bent says:

    Very glad it was helpful! Thanks for attending.

  13. Ha! I guess I did follow Rule #1 in your list when I responded to your tweet a few days ago. But I totally LOVE Celia!

  14. Jenny Bent says:

    Which means you followed a rule that I didn't include, but should have: be GENUINE. You're doing all the right things. 🙂

  15. Jenny,

    The warmth your writing gives out to other human beings, especially writers, is very pleasant to receive. This blog entry, like most of yours, presents advice in an upbeat, helpful way. There are many agent blogs, on things like pitching to agents, how not to write a query, and even how to handle rejection, but yours are unique in showing love for your writers. Others are downbeat, with admonishments like, “don’t yawn while an agent is talking.” Yours are vividly upbeat, such as, “your pitch is successful if you don’t throw up on my shoes.” You are funny, but with tremendous kindness, intelligence, and sympathy.

    You have a writer’s eye for character. You words about how both agents and writers are introverts, and writers are under stress meeting agents, shows that you understand us, and feel for us. We know that no matter how good our work is, we will be rejected 46 out of every 47 times we submit a query (the stats from Catch 22). It helps if we also know that the one rejecting us feels our suffering. The best writers understand and absolutely love their characters, as you understand and love your writers. (Forgive my blog plug, but see "How can you be happy when Prince Andrei Nikolaevich is dying upstairs?” Your understanding of character not only shows you have the brilliance of Tolstoy, it also provides you and your writers with a shared camaraderie, as well as knowledge that you care for us.

    Your joie de vivre, though, is the most impressive thing about you, and it comes across on your blog, your tweets, and the choice of authors you represent. From Ashby and Bain to Spielman and Wilde, your writers embody humor, romance, and joy, which I think describes you. Most agents tweet about their writers when books are published, but your enthusiasm is far more real than most, and makes me want to read their books. But mostly, it’s simply you. When you tweet about heirloom tomato, beet, and goat cheese salad, polished off with circus peanuts and candy corn, there’s a joy to life that’s contagious. One can feel it in the twinkling smile of your Twitter and Facebook photos. Your joie de vivre makes the lives of everyone around you a bit happier.

    Jenny, please imagine me down on one knee, putting a ring on your finger, and asking, “Will you be my agent?”

    –Shawn Oueinsteen

  16. This is wonderful advice. Definitely takes some of the pressure off. Thanks, Jenny!

  17. Love this, thanks for posting!

  18. ChiTrader says:

    Excellent advice. Bottom line seems to be treat agents the way you'd like to be treated. Thanks.

  19. Giles Hash says:

    It's all great advice! I think you're spot on with the tip to just chit-chat with agents. I've made some great friends that way. And I met at least one agent over the years who really appreciated the warm welcome, especially since it was a regional conference, and those tend to be extremely clique-y which makes it hard for introverts to feel like they're a part of the experience. 😀