Why would I be nervous you ask?
Well, let's cue up the replay tape on yesterday's blog comment trail:
Ugh, I sometimes have nightmares about my first agent encounter at a conference. I ran into an agent whose blog I REALLY admire (not, thank all the gods, the illustrious QOTKU) at the cocktail party and managed to put my foot so far down my throat I was farting toes for days. (That's gross, isn't it? It is. And it doesn't even begin to cover my embarrassment.)
Said agent was chatting with some folks and when I introduced myself and expressed my admiration for the agent's blog and clients, it became mortifyingly clear that the agent was not super pleased with said client at that moment and DID NOT WANT TO TALK TO ME. AT. ALL.
So there I stood in awkward silence for a full minute before backing away and finding the bottom of a glass (or two) of wine with my writer buds.
I definitely could have handled that more smoothly. Next time!
When I read that, my first reaction was Bad Bad Agent Girl! Several blog readers said pretty much the same thing.
But, do you know how easy it is to be that Bad Agent? VERY.
What could be fatigue comes off as not wanting to talk to the writer.
What could be preoccupation with something else comes off as not wanting to talk to the writer.
What could be mortification from an earlier conversation in which the agent put HER foot in her mouth (yadda yadda) comes off as not wanting to talk to the writer.
What could be a sudden urgent need to use the ladies loo comes off as not wanting to talk to the writer.
In other words, you shy woodland creatures assume that anything less than enthusiasm is somehow not wanting to talk to you.
That's a pretty stiff social burden to bear dear readers.
So, let's go over some ways you can interact with agents away from their Lair to keep your foot out of your fangs:
1. Do not initiate conversation about your book, your project, your query.
2. Do not mention you've queried the agent and been rejected, not even if you think you're being nice about it, or you learned from it.
3. Don't ask if they're having a good time. Generally speaking, conferences are work for us. Would you ask someone if they are having a good time when they're at work?
4. Don't ask if they're finding anything good. That can be a very loaded question. I've been to conferences where every single project I saw was unpublishable.
So, that's what NOT to do. Here's what you can do:
5. Mention the books by her client. The more specific you can be the better. Despite the example above, this is really the most direct avenue to an agent's heart. Sure you can trip up here, in that the agent may no longer rep that client, but you have to take some risks. This is a reasonable risk to take.
6. Mention the agent's blog or twitter feed and that you've learned something from it. Again, be specific here if you can.
7. Ask what they're reading for fun. Most agents have a book in their bag. Hopefully they'll like it and you can talk books.
Once you've served up a conversational gambit, it's incumbent upon the agent to keep it going. It's rude for anyone in a conversation to simply say "yes" or "no" and leave you hanging like a flummoxed interviewer on Good Morning Carkoon. It's also rude to make you feel like you're a plate of chopped liver (as the agent in the example quoted did.)
If you find yourself with an agent who is sending off the "I don't want to be here" vibe remember it's NOT YOU. How could it be? All you've done is be pleasant!
Here's what to do, rather than stand there and feel awful or that somehow this is your fault:
8. Say "it was lovely to meet you. Thank you for coming to the conference. Will you excuse me? I need to attend to my friend over there" and wave in the general direction behind the agent (contrary to popular opinion agents do not have eyes in the back of their head). Then you step away.
9. If you're feeling particularly kind, ask "is there anything I can do for you right now that would help you out?" If the agent needs to go to the loo, or can't figure out where she left her glasses, sometimes an offer of help is just the thing. You're under NO obligation to offer help. You're not some sort of handmaiden in the Temple of Agents.
10. If you're feeling particularly evil, and at this point, who wouldn't, you can say "Janet Reid's July 22 blog post told me not to take hostile attitudes from agents personally and man am I glad I read that. Have a great day!"
I can assure you that at least once in this coming weekend an author will come up to me in a social situation and do either 1 or 2 or BOTH. Since I have yet to figure out a way to handle that gracefully, and I know that authors remember Every Single Thing an agent says to them, now you can see why I'm just a tad nervous about Writers in the Wild myself.