season is upon us, and with it, we have dozens of writers’ conferences
we’re itching to attend. If you’re like me, you want to meet with an
editor or agent to pitch a novel (in the hope of securing a publishing
I remember only too well the
terror that preceded those ten-minute meetings. So, after surviving a
few, I interviewed dozens of agents and editors to find out what
they’re looking for (and what they hope never to
see) during those meetings. Their advice, combined with information
gleaned from published pros, created the bones for a workshop I’ve
taught a slew of times:
Before the conference:
1. Prepare yourself
Will you meet with an agent, an editor, or both?
b. What type of book will you pitch?
c. What’s your writing background?
d. If you’re pitching nonfiction, consider your topic
Is it timely?
2. Will it have a long shelf life?
3. Can the book be updated annually . . .
4. or is it a one-shot deal?
5. Is it different from other books like it on the shelves (does it
have a unique
2. Do your research
What is the editor/agent you’re meeting with looking for (genre,
b. Does your book meet that criteria?
c. How does this agency/company prefer to receive submissions?
2. Query first?
3. Full or partial proposal?
Who else is writing for that agent/publisher, and how is your work
e. Sign up early to secure a prime time slot.
3. Think of the meeting as a job
interview . . . because it is!
Appearance is important!
b. Credentials count!
c. Come prepared!
d. Show up on time, and don’t stay longer than your appointed time!
4. It’s “just” ten minutes . . .
Use your time wisely; don’t spend all the session selling your book.
and the editor/agent will remember you!
b. Ask questions about the agent/editor to find common ground (i.e.
conference? How many of these do you attend a year? What’s your
favorite aspect of these meetings? Family? Pets? Hail from NYC? etc.)
c. Remember what you’ve talked about (above) because it’s what you’ll
refer to in the
first line of that all-important query letter you’ll write when you get
Dear [first name of editor/agent
. . . and you’ll know, because he/she will give you a business card]:
we met at the [Name of Conference] on [Date], I’m the one who, like
you, [insert common ground discovered in session (owns a talking
cockatiel!)]. You suggested I send the story we discussed. Enclosed
you’ll find a synopsis and the first three chapters of [Title]. I is
approximately [#] words and is a [genre].
I hope you made it back to
[City] with no travel hassles! Looking forward to hearing from you
Regards, [Your Name]
to Bring with You
One 3x5 card
with easy-for-you-to-see text that outlines your book’s:
Brief (1 to 3 short sentences!) overview of story
Major story conflicts (and how you’ll resolve them by story’s end)
A business card
A positive attitude
A friendly smile!
Don’t be intimidated! (These
folks belch after a hearty meal, same as you!)
Understand your own story well
enough to sell it! (No meandering: State the obvious, then hush!)
Don’t tell them it’s a viable
story . . . show ’em!
Know what they represent or
publish, and don’t try to talk them into your story if it is not a fit
Know how they prefer to receive
Show some excitement about your
story and writing in general.
Listen when they talk, and never
ever interrupt them.
Remember at all times that the
agent/editor-author relationship is extremely important for both
of you, so show them you can and will cooperate, that you’re willing to
be flexible, and that you’ll be fun and easy to work with.
And there you have it, my
friends! Many of my students have told me how well this system has
worked for them, and it can work for you, too!
Good luck at your next