that time of year again, when your
toughest decision is which conference to attend. If you’re like me,
your biggest fear isn’t finding a pal to share your hotel room or
wondering how you’ll find her in the enormous throng of other
conference-goers . . . it’s signing up for the dreaded editor and agent
You do it, of course, because
you’ve heard it’s one of the
best ways to meet the people who have the power to help you get
published. Trouble is, once your appointment time arrives, you’ll be
sitting face-to-face with the people who have the power to help you get
Having been in that position a
time or ten, myself, I know it can be
a knee-knockin’ experience, especially if you go unprepared into “the
den.” In fact, I’ve survived enough of them that many editors and
agents have moved from my “mere acquaintances” to my “writing pals”
list. These days, when we get together, it’s to discuss all the
nerve-wracking ways this wacky, ever-changing industry has affected us
personally and professionally.
At the conclusion of every class
I teach and workshop I lead,
someone invariably asks how they, too, can live to tell the tales of their
successful editor/agent appointments. The result? A one-hour workshop
that I’ve led at dozens of conferences and writers’ group meetings:
“Those Critical Ten Minutes.”
Below, I’ve summarized the hour.
Before the meeting:
1. Find out which publishers are
buying the type of book(s) you’re writing, and choose editors
representing those companies.
2. Decide whether a meeting with
an agent, editor, or both will best
advance your writing career. Then schedule your session(s) as early as
possible, or you’ll find yourself answering the “if your first choice
isn’t available, who else would you like to meet?” question.
3. What kindof
book are you pitching? Romance (historical or
contemporary)? Mainstream? Action-adventure? Mystery? Suspense? A
combination of one or more of those?
4. Once you’re comfortable with
the genre, nail down and become very comfortable with your story’s
theme . . .
5. . . . and your audience.
6. Is the book a stand-alone,
part of a continuing series, or a trilogy?
7. Can you describe the entire
book in one sentence?
8. What is your writing
experience/what credentials make you the best person to write this
9. How is your book different
from others like it? (And which titles/authors have succeeded with
books similar to yours?)
10. How much do you know about
the company “your” agent or editor works for (or owns)?
So now that you’re armed with
those nuts and bolts, let’s review some of the basics:
1. Dress as though you’re going
to a job interview . . . because you are.
2. If you don’t already have
one, get some business cards, and leave onewith the
On a 3x5 card, write:
your book’s title
your book’s theme
a brief overview of your story (major characters
only, conflicts, how you’ll resolve them, and how the book ends)
You will not
hand this to the agent/editor; this is just a guide that will help keep
you focused on the purpose of the meeting.
In closing, I’ll share some
direct quotes from my agent/editor pals:
“For heaven’s sake, show up on
time, and if you can’t make your appointment, get word to us!”
“Don’t be intimidated. We’re
ordinary people who belch after a hearty meal, just like you do!”
“Understand your own story well
enough to sell it. Don’t meander
around the theme. If you can’t describe your plot in a sentence or two,
us it’s a viable story, show us!” (This is where
the info in #s 3–9 come in handy!)
“Know what we’re looking for,
and for the luvva Pete, don’t try to
talk us into buying something we can’t publish or represent.”
“Know what other books, similar
to yours, are selling . . . and why.”
“Know how we prefer to receive
“If we want to take something
(other than your business card) with
us, we’ll ask for it. Please don’t expect us to haul a bunch of paper
on the train or the plane!”
“Above all, listen!
Everything we tell you during one of these meetings is free advice, so
take advantage of it!”
So there you have it, boys and
girls, expert advice from the experts, themselves.
Here’s hoping you’ll sell
whatever you pitch! Meanwhile, write on!