Friday, July 18, 2008

Ask The Agent

For a bit of a change this week. Elaine, fab agent from The Knight Agency, is giving some conference advice in honor of RWA Nationals coming up. I decided to put up a pic of one of our first conference meetings. Without further chat from me here's Elaine...

As RWA nationals hurl towards us at lightening speed I thought today I would talk about conference etiquette. Hopefully I can share some advice that will answer a lot of peoples questions about what is and what isn't ok to do at one of these events and help you make 2008's national conference your best yet.

We all know what its like to watch a golden opportunity pass by because we were unsure if our intentions would be well received. Only then, when the moment is gone does the fog clear and we say "if only I had . . . ". Conferences are a breeding ground for this type of regret. The anticipation of being surrounded by so many published authors, agents, editors, and industry professionals leads to a build-up of expectations and also nerves that can be our own worst enemy when faced with a situation that can ultimately change our career.

I know that for many of you reading this post, attending any conference means having to take vacation from other jobs, make family sacrifices, and spend a substantial sum of money all in an effort to take your writing career to the next level. For all of us industry professionals one of our goals is to help you make the most of these investments. So, with that being said I want everyone to remember these brief pointers - seriously, if you keep these SIMPLE things in your head you will definitely walk away from the conference without any hesitation towards saying "Now that was worth it"!

*I have said this before on this blog, and on many other blogs, and on many panels and in many interviews,* but still, it can never be said too many times - "Agents are just people!" Let me tell you folks, when we step on an elevator and we see people drop their eyes and go quiet, we notice. We can feel the awkwardness that oozes off situations when people are essentially afraid to talk to us. And guess what? It makes us feel just as awkward. I wake up every morning and brush my teeth, and drink my coffee and read the paper just like you. Don't EVER hesitate to acknowledge us with the same common courtesy that you would any other conference attendee. We will not be walking around the Marriot just waiting to breathe fire at the casual passer-byer who politely says hello as they pass. We will not pull out our "blacklist" for the person who makes small talk during the ridiculous line outside of the coffee shop. And we certainly won't call NYC and have it posted in Times Square if you dare enter the restroom at the same time as us. Just act normal!

The conference is a time when we are all focused on the business of publishing and the craft of writing, but remember, this is not all there is to life. We all know that its not always appropriate to pitch your book i.e. that moment you enter the bathroom at the same time. However, it is appropriate to groan about the fact that every one of the soap dispensers is empty. It is not important if I catch your name or what you write during these casual encounters, what is important is that when another instance presents itself that DOES lend itself to pitching I'm going to remember your friendly face. I'm going to think to myself "Oh I remember them, they were so lovely back there", and that is going to make me want to stop and learn more about you as an author. Its a chain reaction. Conferences are great because we are all co-existing, there are hundreds of opportunities to build up a "rapport" that can come back later and really work to your advantage when the time is right.

So what about the not so casual encounters? What about those moments that you *really* want to talk to someone about your novel? When is this ok? Well - building off of the "we are people" mantra use your people skills and some common sense. Realize that at these events we have meetings scheduled one after another. Your best opportunities are going to be after a panel or a session when the hosts are standing around the room waiting to talk to the audience. But remember, be receptive and don't take it personally if the agent is running off to another meeting and seems harried. If you see an agent sitting alone casually approach them and see how the mood "feels" - if they are open to chatting you will know pretty quickly. Sometimes in my down-time I like to just walk around and feel the vibe and energy that is associated with the conference. I am up for meeting new people and often when someone approaches me I'll pull them over to the side and have a great conversation. However sometimes I need a few minutes for just me, to collect my thoughts and prepare for my next event, in these cases my stare is a little blank and my responses are pretty clipped, if someone keeps saying "I need to go", wrap up your conversation. Read the signs and you'll be fine! If I represent your best friend or critique partner ask them if they can introduce us at the literacy signing or during the keynote luncheon. When possible I try to attend the publisher signings and spotlights, if you see me browsing around casually say hi!

And now the negatives, a few things that are never appropriate. (And yes, I know these may seem obvious but yet I'm never surprised). Do NOT try to force material on me, or hand me your sample pages at any point during the conference. This is NEVER a good idea, nor will it ever be; Instead ask if you can query me following the conference. Do NOT ever feel the need to open up a conversation with "Hi, you rejected me six months ago". What good is this ever going to serve, really? It only makes the conversation awkward from the get-go. Be mindful of what you say, where, and to whom. Seriously, voices carry and we all have ears, no one ever looks good in the process of smearing someone else. One would be shocked at how much gossip is casually "overheard" in the shared spaces of the event. Do not ever interrupt me when I am in the middle of a sit-down meeting. Period. Do not stop me if I am obviously running through the lobby, I'm probably already late and I don't want to be forced to be rude to get away. And lastly, (and no I'm not kidding), no knocking or slipping things under my hotel room door, its happened before and its never ok. Its creepy. See? These are easy enough rules. If you avoid those major traps I think you are off to a great start and our encounters will be positive!

Remember, we are going to meet hundreds (literally) of new faces while we are out in California, in addition to the hundreds of familiar ones that we have existing relationships with. Its a whirlwind week and the chances of having an earth-shattering moment that is going to sky-rocket you to the NYT list by January is one in a million. Be smart about how to use the conference to your advantage. Attend panels, spotlights and sessions where you can learn more about your craft and how your manuscript realistically fits into the market. Have it in your head that you would like to meet 3-5 people who you can hopefully send material to after the closing remarks on Sunday. During the course of the event take advantage of the small opportunities and remember usually the opportunity to expand your network will be more valuable than the elusive request for a partial. You will be light-years ahead of the competition just by showing that you are another confidant and professional participant in our industry.

Thanks so much Elaine! Now don't forget to post your questions. We really need them to keep Ask The Agent going.


P.S. Scroll down for more of my silly thoughts for the day. Have a great one and a wonderful weekend!


Kristen Painter said...

No slipping anything under your door?

Crap. What am I going to do with that deflatable Chippendales dancer now?

Santa said...

Naturally, you're right. You are human like the rest of us - except our fate and the fate of our books lie in your hands - other than that - you're human to the bone.

I've been guilty of not saying hello on elevators and halls. I was passing it off as New York Aloofness. I'll try to work on that.

Is it okay to give you our business card whether or not we've had a conversation about our manuscript?

Marilyn Brant said...

Wonderful post, as always! Kwana, will you be in SF? Hoping to see both you and Elaine there :).

Kwana said...

Yep I'll be in San Fran. I can't wait. Please be sure to say Hi to me when you see me.

Marley Gibson said...

I witnessed someone trying to pass pages under the bathroom stall at RWA in NYC in what...2004? I was embarrassed for the woman.

Rhonda Stapleton said...

Wow, this was a fantastic post. Thank you so much for your time, Elaine!!

Authorness said...

Excellent advice! Thanks, Elaine and Kwana.


Anonymous said...

Hi Kwana & Elaine,

That was a terrific post. Thanks! I'm thinking of attending a conference soon and your insight was very much appreciated. :) My problem is I'm very shy and even in normal circumstances I find initiating conversations quite the challenge. But, c'est la vie! The only thing I can do is try to be as relaxed and as open as possible. ("paralyzers", anyone? Hah, just kidding!)

Kwana, I don't know if you passed this on or not, but I'm still curious to hear Elaine's reply to the question asked by Natalie on June 6: "Do you feel that the state of the economy has affected book publishing? Are editors more skittish about acquiring books by first-time authors, for example? Or once a book comes out, are smaller marketing budgets making it harder for an author to get the word out about her book?"

You can also add my own question to the queue if you like. This one hasn't been asked yet (I checked) but it's a standard question so I thought I'd throw it in the hat:
"Can you discuss the genres you represent? (Feel free to talk about your current clients and/or fave reads if applicable) Are you looking for anything in particular and/or what's on your wishlist?"

I know I can probably find the answer by doing a little online research, but I'm curious to find out about your most up-to-date interests.

Thanks, ladies! This weekly feature has been very helpful to me as a writer.

pve design said...

As my mother has always told me to "just be yourself" and things will work out.
Love this post and think that as far as etiquette, well the "squeaky wheel gets the oil" and that is another thing that my mother told me! Squeak, squeak! :)

Kwana said...

Thanks for the comments everyone and your kind words.

Carmen, we have your questions. I'll put it in line for Elaine along with the old one and hopefully she'll get to it. I'll see if I can make it a special request. She usually does one a week. Whichever strike her that week so it takes a while and unfortunately not all get answered but I'll definitely put it in line. Thanks so much! Oh and although I'm a pretty good faker I'm terrible shy too so I know how you feel.

Kwana said...

Here is a question From Cathy that I'm posting for her:

Great advice!

Is it a good idea to pitch more than one book if the author has a few ready?

Natasha said...

Hi Kwana!

Interesting post! :) Having come across your blog, I cannot help but ask you to join us at We'd love to have someone like you (ever the enthusiast!) join our ranks. We're women who meet and talk online, exchange articles, blog, gossip, have fun and enjoy life. Basically, we're women who believe in ourselves, and are into embracing the changes that occur in our lives and transition smoothly into the new beings we're becoming!:)

Visit us and see for yourself.

Kwana said...

Hi Natasha! Thanks so much for your kind words and I'm so happy you came to visit. Please stop back and comment often. Sadly, I don't meet the criteria for Womenectera. I'm off by 10 plus years:) But they are going fast, so soon... Thanks for thinking of me though. I'll be lurking there because it looks like lots of great info.

Elaine Spencer said...

Santa - The business card question is always a doozy because really in my opinion author business cards serve little purpose unless I'm looking for the information to contact you. As I said I will meet hundreds (literally) of new faces next week and the business card isn't going to help me remember you unless it perhaps has your picture on it.

During the course of my day I don't flip through my business card piles looking for authors to contact to try to find new material.

You can certainly pass your business card along to be polite, and it won't make you look like a crazed author, however, will it really benefit you? Thats an entirely different question.

Elaine Spencer said...

Cathy -
Your question about how many books to pitch is a great one. THe best thing to do is to be prepared and educated about what types of projects the agent/editor you might be meeting with is interested in. Or if you don't have the time to plan you can just ask them "what are you interested in" - If you have a project that matches those interests focus on that.

I see a lot of authors who want to take advantage of their time and so they try to pitch their life collection of work hoping one of the titles sticks, in my opinion this is a mistake. I think authors should focus on confidently *key word here* pitching one title, selling that manuscript and their talent hard core. That is going to hook me and make me want to jump into that, then if that snags my eye of course I'll be interested in what else you have an eventually the conversation will lead there anyways.

Basically your goal should be to get your best piece of writing seen. If the story isn't for me but I love the writing, again I'll ask what else you have and naturally be led there.

You don't want to appear desperate though and pitch 6 different titles because it can have the adverse effect of making you look unfocused -

Hope this helps!

Elaine Spencer said...

Anonymous - I'll post on this question this week, I figure this is a good topic for anyone who might be crossing my path in SF! Should help folks like Cathy out too!

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