I asked this group to offer some advice on interacting with them in a conference setting. We've all heard stories about manuscripts being thrust under bathroom stalls and other inappropriate behavior. Below, our publishing professionals talk about what makes a good impression--including being yourself, not being too aggressive, and being memorable (in a good way). I also asked them why they attend conferences.
What's your advice on interacting with editors and agents during a conference?
KRISTA MARINO: Conferences can be overwhelming for everyone, even editors. At this conference we’re here prepared to critique not acquire. Cornering an editor and pitching your book idea will only make them less eager to work with you. They can’t lug home manuscripts and they can’t really have a spur-of-the-moment conversation about your work with you.
FRANCESCO SEDITA: When you go on "Wheel of Fortune," you are super-psyched to meet Pat and Vanna. You want to make the most of your letter choices. But Pat and Vanna have nothing to do with whether or not there's an "L" in the puzzle. Think of the editors like Pat and Ms. White. Yes, they may love your project, they may help you with it, they may even want to publish it someday but that doesn't mean you're going to say "L" when that's what their publishing puzzle requires. You spin the wheel and you hope for the best...I'll take a D, Pat. (P.S. My friends and I are obsessed with the BEFORE AND AFTER puzzles. We text them to one another all the time. Please stop me if you see me and give me a few good ones. Tina Turner Movie Classics. White House Music All Night Long. Jimmy Cagney and Lacey. Facts of Life Cereal.)
KATE SULLIVAN: Be memorable. But of course, be memorable for a good thing. You want an editor, if they ever see your stuff down the line, to say, “Oh, that’s the woman who had everyone cracking up at her honesty” or “I remember this guy. He gave the most thoughtful and constructive comments.” Obviously, this can backfire if we remember you for forgetting your please and thank yous, dressing in a costume made of foam, or sending increasingly large giftbaskets every time you ask for a status update on your submission.
KERRY SPARKS: Be your natural self--we are just people like everyone else! And remember that we really want your work to be great and we need writers in order to do our jobs. So it’s not an Us against Them sort of situation. Don’t bombard us with your pitch, but rather kindly ask is we are open to receiving submissions.
MARY KOLE: Be relaxed and try to smile when you're approaching an agent or just seeing one in the elevator. Don't come and aggressively start pitching. Read the situation. If people are hanging out and chatting, go with the flow of the situation and make normal conversation with an agent or editor. If the moment feels right, you can pitch (keep it really brief, though), or you can just make a strong connection and offer to send the agent a writing sample and query later. Not every agent encounter at a conference has to be a pitch...it's often enough to have a great conversation and then remind the agent later that you met them!
>>> For a little more on the topic, check out this helpful post from Dystel & Goderich VP/Agent Michael Bourret, who offered some advice after attending an SCBWI regional conference.
What do you get out of attending conferences?
KRISTA: At this particular conference I not only get to see new work, but I get to actually meet the author and see how he/she accepts criticism. Editorial direction and criticism is such an big part of the publishing process and it’s invaluable to an editor to actually get to participate in it in person. Aggressive, abrasive behavior will turn me away from even the most promising manuscript.
FRANCESCO: Laughs. A good time. And a chance to like go to a high school reunion sorta, without all those pesky gym class memories. And, really, a chance to bat my eyelashes at Lin. Love that lady. Steve's pretty cute, too.
KATE: Reconnecting with the beginning of the process, more than anything: It gives me perspective. I’ve also made great friends, and often learned something from those I’m there to teach.
KERRY: Hopefully, I get some new talented clients with great projects! And I also get to see editors and meet new editors which is a big part of my job.
MARY: I love interacting with writers, hearing ideas, and getting a chance to give a talk or address a crowd on a panel. I'm a teacher at heart, so I really do enjoy being helpful, whether it's with feedback on a pitch or answering a question during Q&A. Conferences are also great places to interact with SCBWI RA's and volunteers, authors, other agents, and editors. Not only do we meet writers, but we can network and have lots of fun with the faculty! Some of my best friendships, with writers and other kidlit professionals, have been forged at conferences!