Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Conference etiquette: Agents in the wild

When you meet an unagented writer socially (i.e., not because they've scheduled time with you at a conference), do you expect them to talk about their novel? (1) Are you waiting for them to initiate that conversation? (2)  If they keep the conversation casual, are they missing an opportunity to talk about their work to you? (3) In other words, how do YOU like writers to approach you? (4)  Not that you're a benchmark for all agents, but you're the only agent in the room talking at the moment. 


(1) NO.
(2) NO
(3) NO
(4) With whisky and chocolate. Preferably with glasses, and napkins, and enough for the both of us.


I will be at several upcoming conferences*** in the next few months so this is a very timely question.

I fully understand that many people are absolutely tongue tied when meeting an agent in an unexpected spot. If we're alone in the elevator and I'm not just knackered to the point of incoherence, I generally will try to ask a general question like "are you having a good conference?" or "I see you're from Carkoon. Has anyone seen Colin there lately?"

Notice neither of those are about your book. And generally they're things you can answer pretty easily.

If you get off the elevator and kick yourself for "missing your chance" stop kicking. There's no way you can pitch your book in that moment and have me ever want to read it, or want to interact with you further, cause pitching in that moment means you're tone deaf. And by tone deaf, I mean oblivious to the situation you're in and just hell bent on getting what YOU want.  That's NOT a quality I look for in a client. Tenacity and focus are important; knowing how to be around people is equally important.

If you meet an agent in the elevator, you can use those exact same questions to initiate conversation: "Are you having a good conference?"  "I see you're from New York; has the weather warmed up yet?"

General small talk conversational gambits.

THEN, if you want to use that moment to your advantage, you WRITE me a query that says "I met you briefly in the elevator at the Summer Synopsis Camp on Carkoon and we talked about the weather in NYC."

That helps me remember you and reminds me that you are clued in about how to talk to people, and when NOT to push your book.

If someone comes up to me in a social situation and says "Can I pitch you my book" I've always wanted to say "Sure go ahead" and let them ramble on. When they finally stop, I want to say "no, that doesn't seem very well written" so they will huff and puff and say "but you haven't even read it!" to which I can reply "exactly. I need to see the writing. Send me a damn written query."

I've never been able to bring myself to do that in all these years, but man oh man I want to.

What I generally say is "I'd prefer you didn't, but please feel free to send a written query." At least half the time, people start pitching anyway.

I've made other people wear my name tag at parties to avoid this kind of thing. I've hidden behind friends to avoid this kind of thing.

I hate this kind of thing.

I mean seriously hate hate hate it.  The reason is I KNOW I am curt and dismissive and brutal in real life. (Please don't everyone pile on here to deny it; trust me, I'm self-aware.)  I simply can NOT reply in the kindlier way I can on paper.  I try very hard to avoid being put in these situations, but when it's unavoidable the only person who hates this more than you is ME.

My slithery colleague Barbara Poelle is masterful at in-person pitching moments like this. She's forthright without being brutal, and often very helpful. It's the only reason I stand next to her at parties (well, that and she knows the shortest route to the bar.) But even Barbara HATES this kind of in person pitching. (You'd never know it to talk to her, but she does.)
 

On the other hand, if at some point during a conference I do ask about your novel, you know to Be Ready, right?




***
ThrillerFest/CraftFest
Midwest Writers Conference in Muncie Indiana
Writers Digest Pitch Slam
Bouchercon
CrimeBake


69 comments:

brianrschwarz said...

This should be a benchmark for meeting contacts in any industry in general.

People generally (even us furry woodland creatures) enjoy not feeling leveraged. When you begin with the weather, or an anecdote about your puppy dog, or perhaps a recent encounter with a shark, you create a personal connection. When that personal connection doesn't feel as if it's contrived for the sole purpose of pitching your book, that connection is a lot stronger.

Being a confident writer means trusting that you will see agents/editors/authors again, because you're going to be around - because you're not going to quit under any circumstances. I think it shows more tenacity to not pitch unless asked. It shows you believe in yourself and in your product enough to trust it will get where it needs to go, preferably with (but also without) the help of any other individual.

Great post Janet! Great question Colin!

Amanda Capper said...

I think it's downright endearing that you thought we'd pile on to deny you are curt. We know, Ms. Reid. We know.

This post is one of the most important posts I've ever read, and I agree wholeheartedly with brianschwarz about how it should be a benchmark for meeting contacts in general. Actually I agree with everything he said, so...a good start to the day.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

We miss you at Pennwriters.

Okay, *I* miss you at Pennwriters. 'cause it's the only conference I can get to right now, and only when it's in Pittsburgh.

Flowers McGrath said...

Good morning blog. So happy to see you.
Since you said don't, i won't pile on my impressions of you.
I have never pitched anyone. I have been stopped on the street or been at parties or in various social situations as an actor or singer and been asked to pull out an accent, sing something or play at being some character. It's the very worst feeling. My ex husband pitches everyone at all times. Nothing makes me want to hide under a rock more than when he finds out someone is something and just literally starts to essentially hard sell them. Total humiliation to be associated with that.
I am so glad to find out it isn't a requirement. In the end I think there are some people who have personalities tuned in to that stuff, or who don't find it inappropriate and they are maybe a segment of the population, because some people want it, at least in entertainment. In the appropriate setting and with preparation I am entirely extroverted, but it just doesn't feel good elsewhere. My two pennies on the subject.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I keep saying agents are humans pieces of meat and I still see people giving out advice for authors to act like blind dogs after meat wagon.

It's fine to be prepared in case someone asks about what you're writing, but otherwise, just have a pleasant conversation. Someone once told me to be a fascinating conversationalist, you make the other person feel fascinating.. There's an art to this without being phony, but it is true. Mainly it's being an easy listener.

Anyway, perfect post and thank you, again.

And I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the crowd here. I always read the comments and appreciate them, but seldom respond to as many as I would like. That would usually be all of them, but y'all are great. I'm just butt deep in starving hogs and have to trim time somewhere, but I do love each one of you.

Susan Bonifant said...

I've been away seeing the married daughter and this post blended nicely with my back-at-home recall of the last few days.

Best advice I ever got when I was raising children: Never miss an opportunity to shut up.

I think there's a parallel here in that when we rush to seize - or waste - every opportunity to "act" we can disable our best tool - intuition - which often does its best work in silence.

Less can be more. Eye contact, a smile, a nod, and maybe a little throwaway can put you on the same page pretty quickly.

MB Owen said...

Wow. So maybe THIS is where all those CONSTANT reminders to BE POLITE should actually be applied. I can't imagine going up to an agent (stranger) and being all gorilla sales. Eew. Dignity People! I might, however--as was mentioned--ask them to point out the bar. (Red wine + chocolate.)

W.R. Gingell said...

This could also be applied to writers on Twitter: i.e. don't shove your book down your followers' throats. Be entertaining and witty (hopefully) and they'll (hopefully) find your book all by themselves.

I personally HATE being pitched at, whether it's someone else's book for sale, services for sale, etc etc.
I don't see why agents should feel any different.

Also there's such a thing as common politeness.

Julie.M.Weathers said...

Janet just tweeted she can't attend a conference she wanted to. We are sad. This woodland creature actually pays attention to things like that. If they write two books a year and do twenty conferences, when do they do agenty type work?

Anyway, it reminded me of two guys I met while waiting in the pouring rain for Garth Brooks conference tickets. Mini John Astin and Tweedle Dum traveled around the country and did nothing but go to Brooks concerts...and smoke a little weed.

I'd like to be able to hit a few conferences a year, but, alas, if I make one this year, that will be my limit.

Anyway, if y'all want to read about the other adventure, here it is. Elves Between My Knees

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Great post, and comments. Trust and listening.

Am coming off of vacation which ended up with a funeral, my nieces' father died unexpectedly. Little sleep and no wit.

But I did have to smile at the image of a Shark hiding behind...a whale? A manatee?

MB Owen said...

W.R. Gingell--Completely agree w/ the Twitter comment: Hi! Thanks for Following!! Buy my Book!!! (Unfollow)

Dena Pawling said...


I get this at parties sometimes.

Attendee: “So, what do you do for a living?”

Me: “I'm a lawyer.”

Attendee: “Wow, really? [No, I just lied to you.] Can I ask you about my legal problem?”

Me: “You want me to evict you?” [I love using this line.]

Attendee: “What? No!”

Me: “I can do it here, or I can wait until you get home. Which would you prefer?”

Attendee: [Finds someone else to talk to.]

I have a friend who is a police officer. When he gets a question like that, he's been known to respond “you want me to arrest you?” That's where I learned to use this technique.

I have a bit of experience in other areas of the law also, but this one works well. Sometimes I tell people I stay home with my kids. Most people think stay-at-home moms “don't work,” but if they still want to talk with me, I'll agree to talk forever about my kids =)

If I'm really paying attention, want to be nice, and don't want to lie, I'll say "I'm a lawyer, what do YOU do?" and then steer the conversation in their direction.

I talk for a living, so when I go to parties, I usually toss out conversation-starter questions and let other people talk. This has the added benefit of the other people thinking I'm a great person [a closed mouth gathers no feet], because when a person does most of the talking, that person generally walks away with a positive feeling about the person who was listening. I do sometimes give general legal advice at parties and elsewhere, but more than half the time, the advice is “wow, you really should be talking to a lawyer who practices in that area of the law.”

If you see your dentist at a party, do you ask him/her to look at your aching tooth? What about your gynecologist? Proctologist?

I love the idea of hiding behind your friends [are they still your friends after that? and does your dorsal fin still show?] and asking someone else to wear your name tag. Or maybe wear a button that says “ask me about my cat.”

W.R. Gingell said...

MB Owen- EXACTLY. Urgh. And DMing the same spam is no different, even if you're giving it away.

It's obnoxious. I'm not saying we shouldn't be ready (like Janet says, 'If I ask, make sure you're ready'). But if the opportunity doesn't arise, spam and hard sell is NOT the answer.

(Nor is pitching when someone tells you'd they'd prefer you didn't! Good heavens! I didn't realise there were writers quite THAT obnoxious. I should have. But I didn't.)

jack welling said...

Not at killer Nashville? Well. The gin will be safe. Sad because I was brining my own emergency reserve.

My bags clink. How will I explain?

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

I agree with Brian, be self confident. Great question, love the straightforward NOs.

Susan, funny.

A long time ago I had a painting exhibition in a medieval tower in Tuscany. That was when everyone was reading Under a Tuscan Sun. I had a copy with me, was torturing myself with it. Some woman came in, saw it and was convinced I was Francis Mayes. She went wild then was SO disappointed to learn I was just the local artist.

It's painful to think that you have to ask friends to wear your name tag.

Seems often people are social misfits and don't understand naturally how to behave, or they are too egocentric to care. Then there are the quivering woodland creatures.

brianrschwarz said...

Amanda - Thank you for agreeing! You've started my morning off with a smile!

Dena - You said you're a lawyer? Because I'm currently being evicted for housing a gaggle of cocaine addicted geese and I could really use a hand with the legal battle. Also, you mentioned you knew a proctologist? Because I have this other painfully-frustrating issue...

A friend of mine has an interesting defense mechanism to word vomit. When someone realizes who he is and starts to tell them about their own art or how they worship the ground he walks on, he either acts like a robot or a paranoid. In particularly bad situations he combines the two. I've seen this happen once or twice and almost fallen over laughing.

The response is usually the same... a very awkward walk backwards. However one time someone actually responded by continuing their pitch in a robot voice. I wasn't there to see it, but I'm told this resulted in high fives (yet still no success in pitching).

stacy said...

I couldn't fathom pitching unless it's prescheduled, like a meeting. Doing otherwise would make me feel like a jerk.

Colin Smith said...

Dena: "A closed mouth gathers no feet"--love that. I'm shamelessly stealing it. You don't do copyright law so I figure I'm safe... ;)

Janet: Thank you for answering my question. It was just what I was hoping you would say, and I REALLY hope this is true for other agents beside yourself and the awesome Ms. Poelle. Frankly, I'm so looking forward to meeting you, and any other agents that happen to be at Bouchercon, as well as my woodland friends, that I would rather not have the added pressure of having to think of a way to turn the conversation onto my latest novel. Indeed, one of my life's ambitions is to go to NY and sit with you, Ms. Poelle, and a bottle of your favorite adult beverage, and just listen to the two of you banter and trade stories. :)

Angie: Writers are prone to be social misfits, which is why we need to be open to suggestions on how to behave in public.

Believe it or not, I tend to be very quiet around people I don't know well. I'm not the type to make small talk. If you've ever been in a conversation with someone, and having asked them a question, they've responded with a one or two word answer followed by awkward silence--I'm that person! I'm trying to be better about this, but small talk doesn't come easy to me. But I love people and getting to know people. That's probably one of the biggest dilemmas in my psyche. I would be incredibly gregarious if I was better at talking to people.

So... um... how's the weather with you? :)

Craig said...

If we are tongue-tied with our brains in neutral can we drop to our knees and kiss the back of your hand?

Hopefully it will be the one without the glass of scotch in it. Then again it might be more memorable.

Skip the pitch, do this and hope you remember?

It doesn't apply to me because I have accepted your challenge and quest to make my manuscript the next big thing. You said it is akin to finding the Grail. I and my manuscript are up top it.

It also doesn't apply because I will not be at any of those conferences. It isn't that I don't relish a chance to meet you. It is just that I haven't the desire to make a fool of myself in public this week. know I will if I end up in your august presence.

Brenda Buchanan said...

Well said, Janet, as ever. First rule is to remember to be a person.

Delighted to know you will be at CrimeBake this year, where we can hang out in the bar and chase our drinks with chocolate.

Colin Smith said...

Craig: I'll be in her October presence. Does that make a difference? :)

(Sorry, Dad humor. My kids will beat me up later.)

Rakie said...

THANK YOU for this! I met an agent in the bar at an event last year and afterwards was wondering if I should've subtly steered the conversation around to "hey, lookit my book pls?" (I might have been drinking at the time). Thank you for reassuring me that I made the right decision to make inane conversation and offer to buy her wine instead (hopefully not in a creepy stalker-ish way). :)

Dena Pawling said...


Brian – well I'm more likely to be the one evicting you and your gaggle, but I have friends who defend slime-ball tenants such as yourself who gets your geese cocaine-addicted. Those poor geese! Don't think I didn't pick up on that little reveal :)

I've evicted pot farms and meth labs. Those are two entirely different types of evictions, trust me on this.

I'll have to refer you to someone else re your other frustrating problem...............

Colin – steal away. I stole it from someone initially, so I have no specific rights to it.

Craig – LOL. “Dear Ms. Reid, I met you briefly at [conference] and you were charming. I'm the one who kissed the back of your hand and was rewarded with a mouthful of fine scotch. I don't plan to wash my mouth for the next forty years, at least not with soap.”

Colin Smith said...

Dena: So if I use it, and the copyright owner finds out, could I be sued for possession of stolen goods? And wouldn't you then be liable? Or would you just evict the prosecutor for kicking up a stink? ;)

MB Owen said...

Colin--Do we have you to thank for organizing the blog/lists?
Compliments of JR of course for hosting it on her site.

Colin Smith said...

MB: I am responsible for compiling and maintaining the list of Carkoon's Most Wanted. I appreciate the thanks, but prefer people show their gratitude by making use of it. :)

The Carkoon Pinterest Board was created and is maintained by Christina Seine. Please shower her with your love and gratitude for it is a work of art and deserves your attention. :)

Colin Smith said...

I use the smiley a lot, don't I? Sorry if that annoys you. I do tend to smile a lot. Someone once asked me to pull a mean face for a picture. I ended up laughing. Just couldn't do it.

There. Small talk. I'm trying! :D

Colin Smith said...

Oh, and just to clarify a point of terminology: Her Most Excellent and Gracious Sharkly QOTKU has honored us by linking to the list. The list itself is hosted on my website, which is why I am responsible for maintaining it.

Jenz said...

Susan Bonifant: "Best advice I ever got when I was raising children: Never miss an opportunity to shut up."

Great advice!

I met Peter S. Beagle in a slow moment at an event. I didn't know what to say, so he talked. For a half hour, I listened to stories about his life. It was freaking awesome.

I saw some other people interact with him, and I actually felt bad that some of them didn't realize if they would quit dominating the conversation, they would have a much more amazing experience. Seriously, which sounds preferable: I told Peter S. Beagle how much I love his work; or, Peter S. Beagle told me some great stories about his life?

Colin Smith said...

And just one more thing (spot the Columbo fan), QOTKU might feel differently about this, but I would encourage you to treat that list like the Chum Bucket--i.e., don't advertise it outside of this blog. The purpose of the list is not self-promotion. It's to get to know one another and support one another whatever stage of the publishing journey we're on. It's not for those who just want tons of people to come visit their blog. I'm sure the blog regulars (whether commenters or lurkers) understand and respect that.

That's my feeling, anyway.

Kitty said...

Dena, I used to get questioned by the female employees when my husband had to attend a company function.

Female Employee: What do you do?
Me: I'm a stay-at-home mom.
FE: But what do you do?

At which point they would move on to someone else without waiting for my response. I got tired of being treated like a non-person. One time on an impulse, when I got the What-do-you-do question, I told them I was a nuclear physicist. It just popped out, but it turned out to be a safe answer in that crowd, since none of them knew what a nuclear physicist did, and they stopped looking through me as though I wasn't there. Then I discovered their conversations revolved around husbands and kids. Go figure.

Lizzie said...

Gee, I can't imagine making a beeline for an agent only to enthusiastically discuss the weather. Call me silly, but I introduced myself as a querying writer and then tired to steer the conversation to something nice about their agency, or the weather. A lot of agents have much longer response times than Janet, or are closed to non-referral queries, or hold pitch sessions. It's an awkward tap dance being shy and trying to be confident, but it's also really nice to chat with agents in their habitat. As cold as rejections can sting, agents can be shockingly friendly and human.

Susan Bonifant said...

I just saw the Pinterest board and the list that Christine and Colin worked on.

Wowee, I'm so grateful to you for the work you did, and to have been included.

Let's all start listing this in our credits.

No, no. JK, as the kids say.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I have a big mouth. I do not mince words, I say what's on my mind BUT in a room of strangers sometimes my tongue is tangled in a half-hitch OR I am way too inappropriate.
I would be the one behind Janet who is behind Barbara P.

b-Nye said...

I did not read any of the comments...you got my life long approval by saying you're 'self aware'... you are everything any good writer needs. Sycophants are buyable. You...an uncut drunk diamond.

Dena Pawling said...


Colin – possession of stolen goods requires GOODS, which are movable, tangible items of personal property. Using a phrase doesn't qualify as goods. Sorry to disappoint you - I know how much you wanted a stint in the Carkoon jail.

Kitty – I was a stay-at-home mom until my youngest was 2. At that time my husband got laid off and couldn't find another job, so we switched and now he stays home [he works part-time from home, computer programming] and I work full time. I miss staying home, but honestly it was more work than working full time. I've heard some moms say they are a “residential management consultant” or something similar, which I wish I had stolen and used when I was home. I never thought to tell someone I was a nuclear physicist tho, that's awesome =)

Colin Smith said...

Dena: Darn!! Craig's done a wonderful job on those toilets. I was hoping for a short visit. Maybe there's something in Carkoon "law" about word theft... :)

Adib Khorram said...

I had not even noticed the Carkoon Pinterest board and blog list in the corner until today.

I wonder who will be the first to put out the Complete History of Carkoon?

I've only been to one conference so far, and that was SCBWI Kansas (which was in Kansas City). I actually ate lunch with one of the agents attending, but we talked about barbecue, music, and the Midwest in general (the agent in question was from Iowa). I didn't consider it a missed opportunity at all—it was a genuinely nice conversation.

I am very much looking forward to Midwest Writers, though now I'm going to be very suspicious of anyone wearing a "Janet Reid" name tag.

Speaking of which, is anyone else going to Midwest Writers? I think we should try to organize a Felix J. Buttonweezer Memorial Costume Contest and Kale Cookoff.

"Janet Reid" can be the judge.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

There's a point at which you HAVE to be brutal, because otherwise people think there's wiggle room. Self awareness is a blessing!

Frankly, I hope never to "have" to take part in a pitch session. I'd be relieved to meet an agent I respect in an elevator and bitch about the weather. I feel I write FAR better than I speak, especially on the spot. It just seems to come from a different part of my brain, one closer to what I mean.


Karen McCoy said...

Very well put! I've generally found this to be true in meeting authors at conferences as well; unless they ask, don't tell.

The closest example I know of (besides Dena's amazing one) is when I was approached by a student in the real world, outside library walls, at a potluck. I was trying to juggle a plate of food, and was approached thus:

Student: You're so-and-so from the library, right?

Me: Yep. (Trying not to drop food)

Student: Yeah you helped me with [insert generic library problem here].

Me: Yep. (Juggles plastic plate with cup)

Student: Could help me with [subsequent generic library problem] right now?

Me: I'm sorry sir, but I'm off the clock.

(What I probably should have said: Feel free to come to the library at your convenience and someone can help you then.)

The student then got very brusque with me, told me to think about "manners" and "respecting my elders" and I can't remember what else.

Solution? What Dena said. The "ask me about my cat" button would work especially well, I think.

Donnaeve said...

There's a time and a place for everything - as the old saying goes.

What is it about being in the presence of an agent that makes some folks lose their common sense, or come across like narcissists?

This persistent urge to "pitch out of place" sort of reminds me of road rage. Put someone who's generally a calm, rational person behind the wheel and have someone else "get in their way," (you know, by driving down the same highway) and suddenly, they lose all reason, and become a lunatic. Cut the other person off. Swerve in front and slam on brakes. Purposefully go slow, then speed up.

It makes no sense. They arrive at their destination and the cloak of crazy drops and they go on about their business, oblivious, without a care in the world.

Very strange.

Colin Smith said...

Adib: The 50 Volume set, CARKOON'S GRAND AND GLORIOUS HISTORY by Malcolm P. Buttonweezer is required reading at the Buttonweezer Correctional Facility. An hour before lights-out, residents sit in a padded room reading. Residents have been known to gouge out their eyes rather than read these books, which is why they are deprived of sharp objects before entering the room. I'm reliably informed that they actually look forward to the kale and lima bean broth after reading time.

And as far as I know, Felix Buttonweezer is still alive, so they aren't dedicating any memorials to him. Yet. Unless that last prison inspection didn't go well...

Sarah Meral said...

Thank you for the great advice as always!

So far I'm only a reader (and beta reader) but since I'm interested in the whole world of writing and recently had an idea for a story I'm thinking about going to a conference one day.

I'm not good at small talk and wouldn't be able to walk up to someone and just talk to them about a story, so I'm very relieved to hear that it is not only not required, but not nice either.

Amy Schaefer said...

The issue stems from identifying the person in front of you too strongly with their job. You only see the Literary Agent/Rock Star/Librarian/Lawyer/Stay-at-home Mom, and fail to notice the human being lurking behind the title.

One of the things I love about the (sailing) cruising community is that no one ever asks you what your job is. Because no one cares. We're all just people who live on boats and enjoy sailing. It is very freeing to break the cocktail party habit of "So, what do you do?" It creates a very different dynamic in the conversation.

Christina Seine said...

What an incredibly awesome and much-needed post!

I've owned my own business for years, and each fall I do the craft show circuit hawking my bubbly (soap) goodies. I have always been too shy to do the hard sell thing. Fortunately I have enough regulars that I wouldn't need to anyway. But I get a kick out of watching newbies do the hard sell thing - driving potential customers away. The best thing in the world you can do to sell soap is stand there with your mouth shut and let people sniff your samples. I just need to make sure parents don't let their kids take a bite out of my kitchen soap, which is mocha scented.

As to being a SAHM, I have finally developed a thick skin. I "gave up" the greatest job as assistant editor of a parenting magazine to do it (basically I had carte blance with that magazine; it was my baby and I ran it, when wasn't taking hour and a half lunches with friends). Ah the good life! Now I homeschool 5 kids, make soap, write stuff, raise chickens & bees & the occasional farm animal, maintain a 1600sf garden, cann & process hundreds of salmon and so on. A poor unsuspecting ER nurse once asked me if I was "still unemployed." I think she's still afraid of me. I wouldn't change a thing though. Well except that I with I had my same energy I had in my 30s!

Colin Smith said...

One of the things that struck me when I moved to the States was how much, whether consciously or not, people seemed to judge/value you based on the work you do. It's the first question people ask. And it annoys the mess out of me. If you really want to know NOTHING about me, ask me what I do for a living. Because what I do for a living (as much as I enjoy it) has nothing to do with what really interests me (at least at the moment--one day...). I make no mention of my day job on my blog, because I don't need to. If you read my blog, you know me better than most of my co-workers who only know what I do for a living.

kdjames.com said...

This is great advice on what NOT to do at a conference. I'd add: do hang out at the bar, but don't get drunk. Treat it the way you'd treat any business meeting--- one that lasts 24 hours a day, for several days.

I think it's worth it, if you're unpublished or perhaps haven't attended a conference, to think about what you DO want to accomplish. As fun as they can be, cons are also expensive and time consuming. It's not necessary to set conference goals, but it's a good idea. This is not MY advice--- I've heard it from dozens of experienced writers.

A goal is something you can control and achieve: to attend classes or workshops to learn about craft or publishing; to meet up with writer friends you've talked to online; to experience what it feels like to be in a huge crowd of writers who "get" you (it's awesome); to meet new people.

My goal at my first con was simply to survive the overload. Which I did. Barely. I also attended a ton of workshops. SO WORTH IT.

It's also nice to have a goal so when you look back on whether the con was a good investment of time and money, you'll have something to gauge rather than just whether it was "fun."

It is NOT a goal to say you're attending a con because you hope to get published, or want to have an agent request your ms, or even simply to meet an agent/editor/famous author. You don't control those things. And they might not even be all that valuable.

Years ago, I happened to meet a Senior Editor of a Big 5 publisher at a conference. She was a friend's editor and I recognized her name immediately. My lasting impression is that she was very tall and had short dark hair and was quite elegant. And polite. I'm sure I was one of 3,000 writers she met that week and that she didn't remember me five minutes later. Had it been my "goal" to meet her (it wasn't), I would have been disappointed. As it is, I was relieved I didn't do or say anything to embarrass myself (or my friend, who introduced us). Did meeting her have any impact on my writing career? No. Not at all. Not even a little.

So, don't leave a bad impression. But do consider setting realistic and obtainable goals, even if it's just to survive.

bjmuntain said...

Thanks, Janet.

My first year at SiWC, there was so much information being thrown at us about pitching. Most of it was about the pitch sessions - good - but some of it was, what do you say to an agent if you meet them in the wild (aka an elevator)?

We were cautioned not to approach agents in places they felt were private (the old story about someone pushing a manuscript under the bathroom stall door is a classic). But we were also encouraged to develop 'elevator pitches'. Which scared me to death, but I think I worked out a good one. I still use it as a groundbreaker when I do pitch sessions, and usually the agent will say 'tell me more'.

Now, it may be difficult to believe, but I am as much a woodland creature as anyone here. It takes a lot of courage for me to talk to someone I don't know - but I will. And usually good things happen because I do.

I do believe that I'm pretty good at social situations (except for, you know, being totally unable to speak at times), but at least at knowing what people want to hear. Everything about 'elevator pitching' just seemed so off the mark to me, but it seemed to be something a person was supposed to do in conference situations. I'm happy to see I wasn't wrong about that, and it makes me feel better about being polite.

I've never been good at sales. Marketing, sure. I can do that, and well. I've even been paid to do that. Out-and-out sales? Not so much.

You see, a lot of people will joke about how polite Canadians are, and often tell us we're too polite and we have to stop being so polite. More specifically, they tell *me* this. Which always leaves me wondering what to do in a social situation. My first instinct is to sit, listen, and not say a word. My second instinct is to babble on about stuff that no one cares about. Somehow, I have to figure out where middle ground is.

Kitty: 'Stay-at-home mom' isn't good branding. It's as bad as the outdated term 'secretary'. Both are considered non-work (stupidly, of course, but people get ideas in their heads about things). Rather than titles, it's often best to describe what you do. "I stay home to keep the kids out of jail and the house from burning down." "I supervise young people in their daily routines." "I manage a home." Or even just, "I work from home." If they press for details, you work with kids. Because there's nothing about being a stay-at-home mom that deserves to be ignored. It just needs better press.

Colin Smith said...

So, do you suppose it might be different for a young agent, perhaps still fairly new and building a list? Might that agent be more likely to want writers to talk about their work? In other words, might Janet and Barbara's hatred of the "elevator pitch" come from their years of experience, and the fact they are well-established?

What do y'all think? :)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Ha, during the seven years I stayed home with my two daughters I worked part time, when my husband was home. Once my oldest was in school full time, I opened my own business and took my youngest to work with me. I even helped out in my daughters' classrooms. It was hard, often crazy and yet I wouldn't trade those tough years for anything.

Back then I wrote quite a few op-eds in favor of staying home with your children, that was when we were told we could have it all. It sure stirred up a few bees.

BTW you can have it all, you just can't have it all at the same time.

Back to the question at hand.
I would either be one of the flowers on the wall, listening and watching, or I'd be in the middle of the room doing ten minutes of stand-up.
Elevators are great for lame jokes. You've gotta be quick though, only a few seconds between floors and the laughter always sounds so fake.

Donnaeve said...

Colin, I couldn't agree with you more..., i.e. the old tech job I used to have was as aligned to me/my personality as a nightclub to a nun.

As a dessert bar in fitness club.

As a big greasy hamburger to a vegetarian.

You get the picture.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You just named three of Carkoon's most popular establishments: Nun's Nightclub, The Fitness Dessert Bar, and The Vegetarian Greasy Hamburger. They're all torture to visit... but that's kind of the point... :)

Leone said...

I love this post, partly because I've met Janet at a conference so I can say with authority that she is not unkind. (Unless people equate kind with perky.) I am defying the instruction not to comment on that, because it relates to the point of my comment: the writing community.

I met Janet at the Malice Domestic conference a few years ago when she donated a first-few-pages critique to the charity auction. Unkind? I don't think so. I won the bidding on that critique and I still refer to her notes.

My point is, we're all part of the writing community and we give to it in our own ways. So my suggestion for folks nervous about attending a conference is to worry less about how others see you and more about how you can help. For example, I offer to moderate a panel. If you prefer, you could offer to staff the registration table or some other less public activity. Whatever you do, you're giving to the community, which not only helps you get to know people without worrying about pitching, but also gets your focus off your own nervousness.

Two comments in one week. I'm getting positively chatty.

Colin Smith said...

Leone: It seems to me that staffing the registration table would be a good way to get to know people. My wife works the coffee table at church and she knows just about everybody from second time visitors to long-standing members.

Two comments, Leone! Did you want to go the next step and offer your blog/FB/Twitter/AOL/CompuServe/MySpace home for the list? :)

Donnaeve said...

And so..., she leaves her vomment simmering on the back burner, for, oh, IDK, like minutes, okay, lots of minutes so that by the time she goes back to her computer and hits "publish" other vomments have been made and hers is now OUT OF SYNCH. Like me and my job of yesteryear.

Colin - to that other point about Shark/Poelle being burned out -I mean seasoned - very good to ask. Maybe a less established agent would be more willing..., or not. Who can say? If they hang out with JR/Poelle, they will learn very quickly methinks.

BJ - great points about "stay at home," and I can see why you were paid for marketing!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sorry Janet, I don't mean to hijack your blog but sometimes a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do.

Hey Colin check your web page. The Lima bean duel continues.
For those of you love the little bean which shall remain nameless, all I have to say is, Colin started it.



Donnaeve said...

Argh! Minutes lapsed and still not up to speed...

Colin! I love those Carkoonian Establishments! I will proudly visit them so you all can hear me Whoop! when I enter the doors!

Colin Smith said...

Donna: I was just thinking how Janet might accidentally use "vomment" at a conference and everyone would be confused. But that would never happen. Everyone who's anyone in publishing reads this blog, so they'd all know exactly what she meant!

2Ns: Oh, I saw your clever come back! The new Mr. Bean... lol... :)

Christina Seine said...

Okay, that's it. We need a secret woodland creature handshake for conferences. Since the Carkoonian branch of the Ministry of Silly Walks is currently closed for remodeling, I humbly suggest we extend our arms and open and close them in imitation of shark jaws.

Either that, or watch the Pinterest board for a downloadable sticker we can print out and wear at conferences (or print on a t-shirt). Any suggestions as to what it should say? :)

Colin Smith said...

I think the shark jaws might be a little awkward, especially in a crowded room. And particularly when you're trying to talk to an agent about your manuscript... :)

Definitely the sticker. What to say? "On Day Release from Carkoon"?

bjmuntain said...

I like that sticker idea, Colin. Only blog visitors would understand.

I was thinking 'Shark Bait', but I'd rather be 'On Day Release from Carkoon'.

Christina Seine said...

Or maybe "The QOTKU sent me to Carkoon and all I got was this stupid sticker?"

Or ... "Property of the Carkoon Lima Bean Eating Team"?

Or ... The old standby "Kiss Me I'm Carkoonian"?

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey, did Janet ever tell us her favorite movie?
That would be one of those friendly elevator questions. Just me being me and not trying to act too stupid.

Stares at name tag on stranger's chest.
S'cuse me Ms. Rrrrried, what's your favorite movie?
Wait, you're not Ms. Reid. She paid you to wear her name tag. Ah, you're the third person I've seen wearing a Janet Reid name tag. I thought you might be the real one because of your sharp teeth, the fin on your back and Whiskey breath.

Oh, me, I'm not wearing a name tag. I thought most people would recognize me by my pants suit, so I left my tag at home. I'm Hilary and I'm looking for an agent.

Lance said...

How about two in one? Chocolate wine?

DLM said...

Okay, one: I think it's both crackheaded and adorable that reCAPTCHA just asked me to match the cakes to prove I'm not a robot.

Two ... my experience of writers is actually NOT that they're social misfits, at least not as a breed. They're just people. Some are twits, some are inept, but I've been to Conferences and though there can be an increase in nervous energy outside Pitchapalooza and the agent one-on-ones, I see no reason to say writers really share any tendencies at all, other than writing.

This is one of the things I find most invigorating about writing community events - the luminous and wonderful, indescribable variety of poets and screenwriters, journalists, and novelists. Some are shy, but more are just inexperienced with the milieu than actually awkward.

My own shyness (I'm amusedly picturing the complete lack of surprise when I say this) is buried pretty deep indeed. I have some, but I beat it like a cheap drum. It's not allowed out of the house as a rule.


I am struck by the fact that we're discussing elevator pitches - and how many times I've seen same discussed from podiums during plenary sessions - and how terribly undesirable they are. Leaves you wondering - how did "elevator pitches" gain enough traction to become A Thing, even as we all know the equation of person with profession is cliche' in its tediousness?

Probably because some writers are indeed social misfits ... :)

Colin Smith said...

Lance: Years ago, Cadbury's made a milk chocolate cream liqueur. It was wonderful. I had some on New Year's Eve 1991. Haven't been able to get it since. I believe they stopped making it. Shame. It was the best.

bjmuntain said...

Chocolate wine is definitely a thing. My sisters, mother, and cousins rave about it, talk about it, and compare brands. I understand brands range from 'oh my holy socks, this is so good and chocolatey' to 'where's the chocolate?' to 'yuck'.

Me, give me my chocolate milk or dark. Milk is the only beverage that should be combined with chocolate.

Sam Hawke said...

Colin, I remember that chocolate liquor! It was a go to in my early 20s. It's even possible I still have the remnants of a bottle in my pantry, as I'm not sure I've ever managed to actually finish a bottle of liquor! I must have about 50 down there.

french sojourn said...

If there are any fellow motorcyclists out there, I'm thinking of making up some;

Carkoonian Angel's

M / C Club


Emblems.

Cheers!
Felix "shifty Henri'" Buttonweazer