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.
(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?
Midwest Writers Conference in Muncie Indiana
Writers Digest Pitch Slam