Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Houston Writer's Conference Countdown: How to Talk to Agents

This weekend, I'll be at the Houston Writer's Conference with the Houston Writer's Guild! This conference is especially close to my heart because, while I've never been to the conference before, I did grow up in Houston. So, in preparation for the big weekend, let's do a conference series!

Today through Friday, I'll be blogging about the ins and outs of some of the trickiest conference moments. 

For today? The Face-to-Face.

There you are, lurking sipping a cocktail near the bar after a fun-filled day of conference-ness. Across the room, you spot your Dream Agent chatting with Other Industry People, the group standing in what can only be described as a phalanx.

But with cocktails.

You want to go introduce yourself--after all, that's what you're here for, right? Some face time? Yes. You are. And this post is not about how to walk over there and politely break into the conversation. Because for that, you probably need this blog. Basically, walking over and incorporating yourself into a group of book industry people is just like incorporating yourself into any group. Watch for a lull in the conversation, approach from an angle that will put you next to the person with whom you want to chat, etc.

BUT. Once you get there, then what? What do agents like to talk about? Your latest book idea, right? Wrong. Don't pitch an agent at a cocktail party. Or in a bathroom or at lunch. Or anywhere except for a pitch session (which we'll discuss tomorrow).

You are at this conference for face time. You already admitted this to me. Face time is not pitch time. Pitches happen in one of two places: a query letter or a pitch session. Face time is about befriending, in some small way, the agent or editor you like. You should break the ice by mentioning something topical: a client's book release, perhaps. Or something he/she said on the panel you watched that you really agreed with or made you think or about which you've got a question (probs not the time to pick something you strongly disagreed with).

So, it'll go something like this:

You: "Um, Excuse me, Super Agent? Hi. I'm __________."
SA: "Oh, Hi ______. Nice to meet you."
You: "Yeah, I'm sorry to interrupt your chat, but I just wanted to tell you [TOPICAL THING]." (What you said about ____ today really got me thinking _________. or "I LOVED So-and-So's new/last book.)

You probably need some sort of immediate follow up: a question or comment of your own, because Super Agent's response may very well be "Thanks!" which gives you NOTHING to go on. Safest is to go with asking a question because then there is sort of a logical place for the conversation to go.

Do some chatting but don't overstay. Agents and Editors are (almost) all very friendly. If they're not engaging you in your purposefully un-pitchy conversation, it may be because something is happening that it would be impossible for you to gauge. Like, maybe they're doing their own sensitive networking with their Super Editor. Or something. So follow his or her lead. If you've got a card, offer it. Then say something charming in parting like "See you on Twitter!" (But only if they're active on Twitter! Don't show a lack of research!)

Questions? Lemme know!


  1. Excellent advice. Have fun at the conference!

  2. Joyce - glad to see you on here :) *waves hi*

    Meredith, I saw this link come across Twitter, and decided to share it with our Sibs at Pittsburgh Sisters in Crime because we were planning to exactly this at our pre-conference meeting. Since we had to cancel, your blog is the perfect source of info this week! Thanks!

    Personally, I like to break the ice by abducting something special to said agent - such as an octopus for instance ;)

    Enjoy the conference!

  3. Tamara, sounds great!!

    Except...you wouldn't be talking about The Shark's Scourge, would you???

  4. Meredith, Tamara and I also encourage people to show up in shark costumes.

  5. Great advice. Just found your blog and will be back to read more. :)

    Have fun in Houston!! Great city.