Thursday, September 27, 2018

More on what to do/not to do when encountering agentfolk in the wild

In the comments section of yesterday's blog post Karen McCoy asked some good questions:

Case 1: Strike up a conversation with author at a conference, and agent happens to be standing nearby. Recognize name tag as an agent who rejected.

Do you a) casually mention the rejection if it comes up in conversation, with a quick (and honest) no hard feelings, this is a business, and then continue to other topics? Or is it wiser not to bring up the rejection at all?

Unless you are wearing your email address as a nametag, I probably won't remember you queried me. I certainly won't remember passing. That's why I always laugh to myself when someone reminds me they have already been rejected. They've shut the door on any interest in their work, should we get on to that topic later, and they've mortified me. I don't like rejecting work. I don't like making authors feel bad. I HATE to be reminded of it in a social situation. Hate to the point that, for a while, I made my minions wear my name tag.

Here's the standard: never mention rejection in a social conversation with an agent. Not now. Not ever. Never. 

Should the topic arise when it's a business situation, that's different. What's a business situation? We're at a writing conference talking about your work. We're on the phone discussing representation.
We're in the visiting room at Rikers discussing bail.

Think of it this way: when you tell me I passed on your query, what are you hoping I'll say?

Golly, I'm an idiot, please resend (I don't remember you or your query.)
I know, the writing was just awful, are you still stumbling along? (we are not characters in The Nanny Diaries)

Or are you just hoping to embarrass me, cause if you are, check the box. I'm totally mortified. GREAT way to start off a social conversation! 

Case 2: At an author event, author encourages you to approach agent and strike up conversation, and even ask if you can query. Agent says yes, please query, and tells you to make sure you mention said event. You agree--only to get home and realize you did query this agent, and you forgot they rejected.

Do you a) query anyway, mentioning the event, but not the previous query, especially since the novel has changed significantly since the original query? or b) just move on, and don't query at all? 

The author erred in encouraging you to ask to query.
You erred in not realizing the author was wrong.

In any social situation (and an author event is a social situation) asking if you can query is a misstep. If the agent has some particular interest she'll let you know.

Bottom line: You don't need permission to query. You do not have to ask if you can query.

Even though you've already queried and the agent said no, you've now got this polite "sure, send." It won't kill anyone (except Miss Manners) if you follow through with a query. As the agent instructed , make SURE you say at the top of the query "as per our conversation at the Kale Club Bar & Boozefest with Felix Buttonweezer" here's my query.

Do not expect different results from the first query. 

None of this stuff is anywhere near asshattery.
It's the warp and weft of pitching, selling and navigating  the unknown shoals of publishing deportment.  You'll never go wrong, truly wrong, if you're paying attention. (Reading this blog means you're paying attention)

Writing contest this weekend!


Timothy Lowe said...

I suggest "warp" and "weft" as prompt words. Cool phrasing.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

If I could avoid "social" situations for the rest of my mortal existence, that would be best I think.

Writing contest this weekend? Gulp. Hopes the prompt words are cat, mat, is, was, not. :)

french sojourn said...

I hit a written speed bump with that last sentence. I had to change the voice in my head and read it again. Vocal acrobatics, great exercise.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here’s the scenario.
If I were at a literary event, where the (nightmare) circumstance of mingling among accomplished literary-types presented itself, I would be intently studying the flowers on the wall. If during that wall inspection, a literary-type were to approach AND I were to notice by way of your name tag that the literary-type was you, I would fluff my scarf over my 2Ns name tag and discuss Sherwin Williams as an alternative to wallflowers.
Once you moved on, I would then upchuck my tasty beverage into my Vera Bradley.
Just saying.

Lennon Faris said...

2Ns! I'd sit with you. We could make up stories about strangers passing by.

I can understand the allure of mentioning the rejection (even though in my head, I know it's bad bad bad and hopefully would never). When people feel awkward they want to make a connection and that's the only one they've got. Time to push yourself a little and think up something else interesting to talk about. If I ever go to a conference, I'm going to be the geek with a note card of topics in my pocket.

Colin Smith said...

I think the key to handling social situations is to remember agents are people too. If, like me, you are somewhat socially awkward, come up with a list of topics to talk about. Things that interest you, and (if you've done research, or you know the agent online) interest the agent you're talking to. At the very least, make conversation around the event you're at. "Hey, Janet! Lovely to meet you at last! How was the trip from NY? Do you have any clients on panels at this event? Are you moderating any panels?* Any speakers you particularly recommend? Mind if I buy you a drink?" That last one's definitely a heart-winner. :)

Contest? This will be my *official* 100th Janet contest, as in, the 100th Janet contest I've actually entered. The last one was the 100th that I've written entries for--one of those I failed to submit for some reason. That's if I enter. I'm not sure... the competition is stiff these days. I can hardly get a passing glance anymore, let alone a mention. But it's fun trying... ;)

* Trust me, you'll want to know if Janet's moderating a panel. And if she is, you'll want to be there. All I'll say is she's a good singer... ;)

Katja said...

"In any social situation (and an author event is a social situation) asking if you can query is a misstep."

Oh my, if I can misstep THAT easily, I'd maybe rather stay at home. I kind of understand, but then, if ASKING this innocent question is a mine that blows my chances... Well, it blows my mind at least.

And if I went, I'd stay quiet, not have a checklist of what I can ask/say and what not. How is that social, it's a cramp with wet hands and sweaty shirts.

By the way shirts: I'd search for Mr. Nice Blue Shirt who didn't want to believe (or hear) it was possible to cut his looong novel. I have just (yesterday) made it through to the 100,000-word-line. Coming from the other end, of course - CUTTING.
My thing once was 269,000, now it's at 99,935 with 16 more pages to go through. Not just SHORTER but A LOT better.

Please, Mr. Nice Blue Shirt, I am shaking you, if you are a lurker :).

Happy writing contest everyone!


Colin Smith said...

OH! I should have shared this, but didn't, so apologies for the extra comment:

The first time I met Janet (Bouchercon 2015), before we parted ways she said to me: "Do you have any questions?"

Guess what I asked. Go on. Guess. Yep. "Can I query you?" I can see you all face-palming. She said, "Of course!" And while that's encouraging, what else would she say? She's an agent. She figures I'm not an a**hat. I've won a few of her contests. Why wouldn't she want me to query her?

Here's the truth. I asked THAT question because the REAL question I wanted to ask was one I knew she couldn't honestly answer: "Am I good enough? Good enough to be an agent's client? Good enough to be published?" To my knowledge, she hasn't read any of my novels, so how could she know the answer to that.

So yeah, I asked the WRONG question... but it was probably the least awkward one. :)

Julie Weathers said...

I was at a conference where a writer mentioned to an agent on a panel, in front of God and everyone, the agent had rejected her. It was mortifyingly awkward. I'm not sure what she thought she was accomplishing, but probably not what she actually did.

Janet Reid said...

What Julie Weathers said has happened to me too.
There's only one thing to say at that point "Obviously, I was drunk at the time." Which lets everyone off the hook with a quick laugh but trust me, I will never forget the person who said that. I wanted to sink into the floor.

I really like what Lennon Faris said about wanting to connect. I get that. I'm a total social nitwit myself (all evidence to the contrary.

The thing to remember is what really connects us all is BOOKS and reading. Want to connect with me? Ask me what I've read lately that I love and think everyone should read! Then I'll ask you, we'll have a little Book Club of Smart Savvy Readers going on, and by god, I'll NEVER forget you.

Brenda said...

WeRe in the visitors centre at Rikers.

I know which side of the glass I’d be on.

Thanks again, Janet.

JEN Garrett said...

Question from the hamster wheel section:
What are those social encounters really for anyway? I've found myself more than once prepared with a pitch and ready to give it but then strike up a conversation about books in a casual social gathering with an agent in the wild, and when she asks (it always seems to be a 'she') "So, what do YOU write?" or "What are you working on?" A little panic voice sounds off in my head, "Does she want me to pitch? I'm not supposed to pitch!" and I freeze like a hamster in the headlights. Finally, I manage to say in a very brush-offish way that implies said agent would never be interested, "Oh, I write picture books." And change the subject as fast as I can.
But said agent might have been interested if I gave her half a chance! Or did I do right not to pitch in a social setting? Whrrrr Whrrrr Hamster wheel spins! Somebody help!

Colin Smith said...

JEN: I would say if the agent opens the door, go in! Be comfortable enough with your pitch so you can make it conversational. If she says, "What are you working on?" Describe your novel as you would to a friend. That's basically your pitch. If she asks "What do you write?" you could answer with, "I'm currently working on a picture book about..." If you've got a strong concept, you might get a response along the lines of, "That sounds cool. Query me when you're done!"

That's my 2c. :)

Anonymous said...

OK. I understand why it's rude ... and I understand that it's shooting yourself in the foot ... but, like many rude and wrong things, I ALSO understand the very very strong temptation to do it.

I did everything "right." Professional query, researched the agent, followed the specs on their site, queried a novel that seemed tailored to their "what I'm looking for" ... and then they rejected me. Ooops, sorry, not me, "it." They were not rejecting "me," only the thing that I've worked for 3 years to make publishable.

It's kind of like dating. I THOUGHT I had showered, dressed nicely, didn't have anything stuck in my teeth ... but apparently I was wrong. SOMEthing is wrong. What it is, I will never know.

So, yeah, I'm mortified too.

This post is a good reminder to bite your tongue really really hard.

Karen McCoy said...

Thank you, Janet! Your answers, as always, are extremely helpful. And yes, I have definitely warped, and welped, through this process, and I'm glad, at least, others can learn from my experiences.

Most of all, it is a relief to know that this is nowhere near asshattery, because I might have er, screwed the pooch on Scenario 1. I did what you suggested on Scenario 2, though, and agent sent a friendly rejection (which, if I ever run into her again, I will be sure not to mention!).

Thank you to the reef too--I love this community with all my heart. We all do the best we can in each situation--and it will never be as perfect as we want. The best we can do is move forward.

Karen McCoy said...

And yes, talk of BOOKS is definitely a winning topic, always. My former English teacher called me this morning, and we raved about the Odyssey, which she is re-reading before her trip to Greece.

John Davis Frain said...

Gotta love the unknown shoals of publishing deportment. I think I live in those shoals many nights.

Quick plug for Anthony Horowitz' THE WORD IS MURDER, which Janet recommended a short time ago right here. Any writer will love this story, even if you don't write crime fiction. The writer (Horowitz) is a co-protagonist of his own story, so talk about getting inside the head of the main character. You'll see yourself in there. Pick it up if you get a chance. First-rate storytelling and apparently most of us will recognize the socially awkward aspects as well.

Oh, now I won't be able to bring up this book when I meet everyone. Great news--gotta go read something new!

RachelErin said...

I've been having babies and moving and launching homeschooling, so I've been MIA. I put my first 1000 words of a new WIP on paper yesterday, and then celebrated by catching up over here.

As someone who has met one or two agents, including our gracious host, I can attest to the ease of talking about books. It's a piece of advice offered here and on other agent blogs. Read something recent (which is part of our job anyway) and have something to say about it (every writer has opinions on stories, right?). And ask the agent what they've read and enjoyed recently, which works especially well if you consider yourself shy and don't like to talk.

I tend to talk too much, and at least this keeps me from talking about myself unless I'm asked. Then there's a chance I might remember to listen to the interesting folk around me.

I wish everyone read as much as writers and agents because then it would work in every social situation.

And everyone in publishing would be making more money.

Craig F said...

I would like to offer up an apology for my asshattery comment from yesterday. The day was a serious strain and I apologize for taking it out here.

I don't do writing conferences. They seem a lot like Christmas parties to me. Some folk are there just for the party, others have ulterior motives.

I'll take a sweater if you are knitting one. I promise I will have it for the rest of my life. Florida doesn't get a lot of sweater weather, less every year.

Joseph S. said...

At the only conference I went where ten or so agents attended I struck up a conversation with a woman riding in the elevator. Walking together, I learned she was one of the agents. I had studied her profile and it was clear to me she didn’t represent my category of novels so I didn’t mention my novel. Later at the luncheon she sat at my table of eight, and during luncheon she passed me a note asking me to send her my manuscript. (My initial reaction to her profile was correct: She didn’t represent novels like mine - She must have found me likable though so that’s a silver lining).

Joseph S. said...

E.M., 2NNs. Colin

I'm a conference wallflower too. I despise the social hour and meet and greets. I do my best to avoid parties when at friend's. Ironically, when I'm the host or close to it, I command the room and am quite gregarious and charming. Hard to reconcile.

Joseph S. said...

At times I've had former students tell me I gave them a very low grade. My usual response has been "Sorry." and them move on to a different topic, (Or if it was the most recent final, I'll ask. "What happened? I expected you to do much better.")