And I was terrified.
I’ve learned how to write query letters, various lengths of synopses, and even 140-character twitter pitches. But to sit down in front of an agent with only a few minutes to convince them to take a look at my manuscript? I had no idea where to begin.
Luckily for me, the day started out with a mentoring session; I was in Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s group, and she was amazing. She had each author in her group give their pitch, and then gave them pointers on how to efficiently and effectively communicate what was important about their particular project. She has a gift for quickly evaluating and re-tuning that makes you feel supported and empowered in a few minutes; I left our session feeling far more confident that I would be able to maximize the day's opportunities.
She also gave us some excellent general advice:
- Take a moment to connect with the agent, even if just to ask how they are today. Don’t instantly jump into the pitch.
|My terror before the mentoring...|
- If the agent seems to desperately need a moment to drink some water, catch their breath, etc., give it to them. Basic human decency is highly underrated, and highly appreciated.
- Don’t read from notes, or memorize a spiel. Nobody likes that monotone and lack of connection that comes from reading/memorizing, and agents hate this. Know what you want to communicate, but have an authentic conversation.
- Don’t give a plot synopsis. Communicate the essence of your project—genre, audience, core idea, why you're the right person to write it, and why it will sell.
- You’re looking for a match, not a sale. This was a huge revelation for me. You have a specific product to sell. They have a specific market they’re trying to buy for. The question is, is there a fit between you? It’s not personal if there isn’t, and it’s not about saying what they want to hear. You want to find the agent that can represent your book well, not trick an agent into looking at something that isn’t right for them.
- Open your body up and breathe. Betsy explained that when you’re tense and sitting with your arms all crossed or pulled into yourself, you constrict your chest and breathe less easily, and all this makes it more likely you’ll get those shaky hands and knees. That makes you feel even more nervous, and makes you look nervous, too.
Not only did I find these events intimidating before today, I wasn’t sure how useful they were, regardless. I’m a complete convert. The truth is, agents know very quickly if they want your project or not, and this is a great way to sort through potential agents to find one who will actually be interested in your query. It’s also a great way for authors to get a feel for who the agent is as an individual; hours of research on the web can’t tell you if there is something about the person you will/won’t connect with—maybe you’ve heard an agent can be brusque and off-putting, but when you speak to her in person, you realize she just likes to cut to the chase. And for me, the event helped me hone my ability to think and talk about my project in ways that will transfer to other situations.
If you’ve never gone to one of these events, I encourage you to do so. And to help you with your first time, here’s some specific advice based on my experience:
- Research the agents before you go. Determine which agents are the best potential matches for your project, and rank order them. Learn about who they are, not just what their wish-list is. At my event, if there were more than 10 people in line, I knew I wouldn’t get to see that agent, and I only had seconds to pick the next line before it filled up. Thank goodness I knew exactly who I wanted to see, and why.
|They're just people like anyone else...|
- If there are opportunities to work with mentors, take them. Even if you think you’re pitch-perfect. A lot of what I thought would have been right turned out to be wrong--like giving any plot synopsis.
- If all the agents you want are booked for that session, talk to someone else, anyway. I spotted an agent who didn’t have anyone in her line, and asked if I could practice my pitch on her and see if she possibly knew anyone that might be interested in it. She was welcoming and helpful.
- Put your focus on honing your ability to pitch and navigate the event, not on how many agents request a query; you’re learning an important skill. Soak up everything you can, including any feedback about your project, your pitch, or the market. Ask questions about the current market if you have a chance. This way you’ll walk away with value even if you get no invitations to query; and, ironically, when you take the pressure off of yourself you'll perform better anyway.
- Talk to other authors in line while you wait. Practice your pitch, and let them practice theirs. Listen. You never know when the person in line with you knows someone or something that can help you, or when you’ll know someone or something that can help someone else. An author in line behind me had a problem I knew the answer to, and it felt good to help someone else.
So how did my day go? I learned a lot, and feel more confident in my ability to pitch my work. I also feel like I have another skill in my author tool-kit now.
Oh, and got three invitations to query. Guess what I've been working on today? :)