What would be the best use of my time in private meetings with agents if the agents are not good matches for me personally? Normally I would just ask for feedback on my query regardless but I think my query's already working (8 of about 40 queries requested a full or partial).I'm not sure why you're participating in pitch sessions, or one on one sessions, with agents who aren't a good fit for your work. Surely you can ask to be re-assigned to another agent if a conference organizer made the matches. Or just not use the appointment and give it to someone who needs it.
Not good matches= they have rejected my first book and don't rep the genre of my current book (well one does but specifically says "don't send me books about X" and mine is about X). Would it be uncouth to (politely) say we wouldn't be a match, but here's what my book's about and here are my creds, and can you think of anyone where this would be up their alley? (But I also don't want to come across like I haven't been doing my basic homework, like scouring the internet for agents who *I* think would be up my alley.)
However, to answer your question, ask them about books they'd advise writers to read. Or books they think are really good. Ask them what they've read recently that they loved or hated.
Ask them what they wish all querying writers knew.
In other words, ask them about their tastes and preferences, not the tastes of other agents.
And certainly don't ask agents for info on who to send your book to. They probably don't know anywhere near as much about what other agents are looking for as you do. Plus, there's something a little offputting about a writer sitting down and saying "you aren't a match for me, but who else would be." Like asking a guy you don't want to date for info on the the other guys.
I normally don't comment (long time lurker) but couldn't believe there were no comments yet, so here goes.
I agree with Janet that you should leave the pitch/one-on-one appointment for authors who want to pitch their book. The conversation Janet recommends could easily be had in the bar or during a meal. Similar situation to people taking valuable job interview slots in college just for practice, with no intention of taking the job if offered. Used to really annoy me when I knew people frozen out of spots who truly wanted the job.
Both analogies work well (speaking as a long-time interviewer and the guy who in high school and college was often asked for info on my friends).
I volunteered at a conference recently where we had paid 15-minute consultations with an agent. The author could pitch, or just ask the agent questions of their choice. What happened was that some of the top choice agents had slots filled early, and then those who had already paid for this service elected to choose another agent to consult with--sometimes an agent that didn't rep their category. So, the questions Janet provided are definitely still helpful.
P.S. The line to see the agents was like a combination of Black Friday and Times Square. Some people were understandably angry--both from having to wait in line and having to switch agents when their first choice filled up too quickly...
Op: If you paid money to consult with an agent, go for it. Ask things like what direction they think publishing is going with story lines, characters and so on.
If you haven't paid to consult or can sell that ticket for a profit, I would think you would be better off networking with other writers. You need to find out if you have fatal flaw somewhere in your writing or if the agents who requested just weren't right for you. Eight requests in forty queries should be a champagne moment, not a head scratching one.
Time to crawl back in my hole and see if I can find my way back to a sane dimension. This bizarro, alt-universe is getting to me.
Jennifer, welcome to the comments =)
OP, I'd definitely try to either swap your pitch session for another agent (and don't just try the organisers, talk to other authors at the event because you might find they are in the same boat) or if no fee is involved cancel your pitch. I realise no-one ever wants to let go of a potential opportunity, but you also don't want an awkward 5 minutes where it becomes very apparent your ms isn't a fit and you already knew that.
If you have to go through with the appointment/s, in addition to Janet's questions, you could also ask "what advice do they give their new authors?".
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OP here, sorry I got to this late. There is no switching of meetings allowed and everybody got appointments. I was not thinking that private meeting = pitch session-- more like "time with an expert for career advice." And it wasn't that I'm not interested in them, but more like they have rejected at least one of my books which automatically makes you feel awkward/ ambivalent. This is one of the literary conferences where agents hunt for talent, not Pitchfest or something similar that is about pitching. Being paired with agents who have rejected you in the past is an awkward situation that occurs often enough that when I asked around my friends, they had been in similar situations and weren't sure what to do.
OP, I understand why you'd feel awkward (I'd probably feel the same in your shoes). The thing is - and I'm pretty sure Janet has said this herself, but if not, please correct me dear Queen, - if they rejected you from a query, they aren't going to remember you. And if it was from pages, they would be more likely to remember the story than your name, so don't bring it up.
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