Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Social interactions with agents

In the next four days I'll be attending several festive events that bring together writers, agents and others of our ilk. None of these events are writing conferences or involve scheduled pitch sessions.

Nonetheless they are an excellent way to meet agents IF and only if you don't behave like a yahoo.

Here are some suggestions for staying on the right track:

1. If you are at a cocktail party and see an agent you'd like to meet, say "hello, my name is Celia Cephalopod, how are you?"

I will then say "Hello Celia, nice to meet you." Conversation will ensue.



2. If you are at a dinner and find yourself seated next to an agent, say "hello, my name is Celia Cephalopod, how are you?"

3. If you find yourself in the elevator with the agent of your dreams you say "hello, my name is Celia Cephalopod, how are you?"

Notice none of those phrases include are you an agent?, what are you looking for? can I query you? can I pitch you my book?

You'll notice the sentence I've given you is a general, pleasant friendly greeting. That's how you meet and talk to an agent. Like they were people. Of course, we're not, but pretend for awhile, ok?

I was at a party recently with several dozen writers. I ended up sheltering next to one I'd known from a previous event to avoid the other writers swooping around the room. My pal was talking to two other writers. I had a chance to visit with them, and make a connection. I encouraged them both to query me. I have their names in my date book, and I'll remember them when they turn up in the inbox.

And all they had to do to get my interest? Stand there, and not be yahoos.

I'm frustrated and exasperated in turn with how simple this seems to me, yet no matter how much I rant, it never seems to get better.

29 comments:

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Hmmm...

Does this technique work for picking up girls, too?

Note to self: File under "Lessons Learned Too Late"

Douglas L. Perry said...

I attended the SFWC in 06,07 and I have to admit I saw some of the same behavior. I guess there are some writers that don't have a lot of what people would call social skills. Maybe writer's conferences need to offer sessions on that topic.

Hi, my name is Doug, how are you doing?

:-D

Dana said...

Now, why couldn't you post this last week before I went to my conference!
No, hopefully I wasn't too much of a yahoo... though you'd have to ask Nathan Bransford about that' :)
However, I am one of the most shy people I know, and I still managed to treat the agents like people (I think) which to me, means that everyone else should be able to as well!

Scribe said...

"Celia Cephalopod" made me laugh out loud. Now my boss knows I'm not working.

Kim Kasch said...

Um...um...ah...ah...I'm...ah...

I guess I'm too shy to do this one right.

But, at least I won't be loud and boorish - I hope.

Sarah said...

"Don't be a yahoo."

Nice motherly* advice. When I read that, I could HEAR this voice telling me to stand straight, always be sure to wear clean underwear, and- for sweet pity's sake- don't be a yahoo.

I, alas and alack, am so often afraid of being said yahoo that I become utterly tongue tied at conferences.

ps. Jonathan, it definitely works for girls! Though definitions of "yahoo" vary, so guys should be sure to query widely.

*if your mother swigged single malt.

morphine-moniza said...

haha I'm going to make an educated guess and assume that declaring undying devotion and attempting to bribe victims/agents with cookies doesn't work either.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

You're right, Janet, but a lot of writers will always view you as a sort of royalty and get tongue-tied around you. You have something people want, and that inspires Yahoo-ish-ness.

Hell, even Hetfield has said he got nervous on meeting some of his musical heroes. If THAT man thinks he lapses into Yahoo-ism, anyone's vulnerable.

jdcoughlin said...
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Rick Daley said...

What if the agent is online wearing a chicken suit?

Sara J. Henry said...

And never ever say Are you THE Janet Reid? when what you really mean is Are you the Janet Reid that writes those wonderful blogs I love? :-)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

I just got back from the Pikes Peak Writers conference. I watched MANY people act like yahoos. I'm proud to say I don't have that asinine quality in me. And BECAUSE I acted normal I had some interesting and NATURAL conversations with agents. Being normal makes a much better impression.

Jonathan E. Quist said...

Rick - if it's a good agent, she'll keep the feathers numbered as a precaution against any eventuality.

Sarah - the last girl I was truly interested in thought I was being a yahoo. Before I worked up the nerve to ask her out, she asked me on a pre-emptive date, so she could dump me good and hard. In November we celebrated twenty years of wedded bliss...

I see this as a sign that, sometimes, even a yahoo can get a good agent.

jdcoughlin said...

Hey, would you stop with the tips.
How is a non yahoo, okay, maybe a closet yahoo, supposed to stand out from the crowd?

How about suggesting people go to conferences with their query printed on a t-shirt or handing out business cards with $20 taped to them, or dressing like their protagonist and speaking in character?

I mean, standing out at a conference is tough enough without all your helpful agenting stuff evening the playing field.

Food for thought;)

Myra said...
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Myra said...

Exactly how does one pronounce "Cephlapod?" Because it would be *totally* embarrassing to mispronounce it should I have the chance to introduce myself. ;)

Mike Cane said...

Being not good with verbal skills, I had cards printed up that said, "Hi. My name is Mike Cane. How are you?"

Every agent complained about me querying them!

(I joke, of course.)

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

these are all good suggestions, Janet, the fact remains that many agents always complain how they hate being approached by writers at parties or events.

There's really no way to win over an agent and get their interest, unless I'm magically stuck in an elevator with a famous agent for 4 hours.

Rowena Cherry said...

One pronounces Cephalopod SEH-fah-low-POD and it means octopus, squid, or cuttlefish.

Oh, clever. Authors are clinging, ink squirting creatures with soft big heads, and eight or ten tentacles.

Massively intelligent, of course....

-Kelly Meding said...

No matter how much you rant, the real yahoos never get it. They don't bother to research and read agent blogs, because the real yahoos already know how it's done.

Abby said...

I'll also throw in a tip--don't try to add a personal touch by saying, "I'm Celia Cephalopod. You rejected me." I still don't know how to respond to that one--half the time I'm left just mumbling, "Um...better luck next time?" Which makes us both look like yahoos.

inthewritemind said...

It seems to me it's common sense :P Act normal and make a connection rather than stalking the agent and making them hide in a corner.

Amy Platon said...

Great advice. Yahoos are total buzz kills.

Sleeping with Ward Cleaver said...

What if my name isn't Celia Cephalopod?
But seriously, I've always thought that agents and editors must feel like a giant bowl of kibble amidst a pack of starving dogs. Doesn't make for relaxing chitchat when all your dining colleague wants to do is devour you!

Julie Weathers said...

At Surrey, I didn't approach anyone outside the classrooms even if I recognized them. I figured they had enough people trying to get their attention and didn't need me interfering with their down time.

Oddly enough, several struck up conversations with me and we talked about normal stuff. I brought up my WIP after they asked about it.

Works for me. I was kind of embarrassed for the ones who were obviously stalking agents and authors.

Livia said...

Don't be surprised if people really start introducing themselves as Celia Cephalopod.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Hey! Have you been reading Animals Without Backbones ... ewww creepy book, especially the picture of the dissected brain with the worms in it! ewww gross!

Yes, this is all common sense. Hi, I'm me. You're you. And I'm pleased to meet you. Very polite, and as it should be.

I think most people had their ears closed when their mommies taught them manners, or their mommies lacked manners and never taught what they did not know.

Pixies have impeccable manners. Except on one day that rotates through the week. When Sunday meets Monday .... oooo boy!

Oh, and I've reactivated my old blog. Ummm that'd be the one this post-it name is attached to. I'm lonely over there. Come visit. Practice your polite social interaction. Leave a comment.

jimnduncan said...

In defense (albeit very slight defense) of writerly yahoos, they are likely told, over and over again about the benefits of making connections at conferences with agents and editors. Many are likely thinking they might have about ten seconds of the agent's time if they can manage to get "Hi," out of their mouths without endless stammering, before someone far more socially eloquent comes along and steals them away. Given this rather overwhelming anxiety and fear, it's not terribly surprising that the first words out of their mouths come from the land of Yahoo.

monica said...

How about this for grabbing the attention of an agent?

"Hello, Janet. I am your driver for the day. Welcome to the Chariot of Death."

Monica

PS-See you in June at the LIRW Luncheon!