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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.