There is something of a Catch-22 when it comes to writing and it's all tied up in one word:
I remember hating that word a few years ago. Few publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts and yet I couldn't get an agent to represent me if I wasn't already published. This is very frustrating for an unpublished, unknown author.
So how do you break this little circle and get an agent interested in your work?
I know we here at Scribble Chicks harp on this ALL the time, but...
Writing conferences are the KEY to finding an agent who is willing to represent you, finding a publisher who is willing to look at your material, and finding out that you know nothing about the industry or what shoes qualify as "comfortable" while running from meeting to class to Q&A sessions. I learned SO much from these conferences. (I still don't know what shoes to recommend to you, though. Only that you should definitely plan in time for caffeine.)
An agent is so much more willing to look at your work if you are sitting across from them, obviously serious about your writing because you are at a writing conference. You become more than just a name on a piece of paper - you become a person with a story to tell. And if you are nice, that's just even more bonus points for you. ;)
So, here's a list of a few things you can do to make a good impression on a potential agent when you get the chance to meet them at a conference:
1. Be on time to your appointment.
This is huge. Be early if you possibly can. Show them that their time is important to you. If you are meeting them in more of a group setting, say around a table at dinner, then be polite. Don't hog the conversation and don't interrupt someone else. Politeness and punctuality carry a lot of weight in publishing!
2. Be friendly.
This seems obvious, but I have definitely witnessed meetings where the author sits down, doesn't even bother with a "hello" or a "how are you", but just launches into tell the agent why he or she should be represented by them. The standard length of appointments with agents is typically fifteen minutes. You can spare a few to be friendly.
3. Remember that you are not their only appointment.
The agent you are meeting with has likely already had DOZENS of meetings that day or that weekend. I had an agent ask me one time after our meeting if I could stay a few
minutes extra and watch her table for her while she ran to the bathroom. Remember that friendliness is the best way to make an impression. Be courteous of the fact that they are likely worn out and are most likely not going to be hauling dozens and dozens of full-length novels home to read. Bring your business card and your proposal, but leave your book in the hotel room. If they want it, they'll ask for it.
4. Slow down and breathe.
Typically, after exchanging greetings and such, the agent will look at you and ask you what your book is about. This is where that "elevator pitch" comes in. Give him or her a two minute, quick synopsis of your book but leave them hanging as to what the end is. Take your time - don't rush. In the beginning of my meetings with agents and publishers, I could barely inhale after telling my story because I was so panicked. Take a deep breath and try to calm down. An agent isn't necessarily evaluating your book - they are checking out your ability to write and what kind of client you would be.
5. Ask lots of questions.
After telling the agent your pitch, ask them if they wouldn't mind glancing through your proposal. What do they think of your idea? Do they think it has a place in the current market? What do they think of your writing style? What do they think of the layout of your proposal? Be prepared to have a thick-skin here, guys. They might not tell you what you want to hear, but they will tell you the truth and that's what you came to the conference for.
6. Be prepared to change.
When I was first coming to these conferences, I was trying to shop a mystery novel. I was in one of these meetings when the person I was talking to set my book down, looked at me and said, "Honestly, Erynn? You are twenty-one years old. I have a huge market right now for books about twentysomethings and I can find no one who has a voice that sounds authentic." That's when I showed them Miss Match, my little for-fun writing I was doing on the side and they were ecstatic. Maybe you won't end up writing suspense or historical fiction or sci-fi or whatever you think you will. Be prepared to stretch a little. If an agent says, "I don't see a market for this, but have you ever thought of writing this instead?", don't just shut them down. Think about it. Pray about it. Practice. You might change your mind.
7. Sometimes it's not your writing.
Not every agent is going to be a good agent for you. And not every author is going to be a good fit for one particular agent. 95% of the time, you may not be talking to your agent, but for that 5% of the time, you want it to be an enjoyable experience and so do they. You can have amazing writing but a horrendous personality and that is going to be a big drawback for whatever poor agent has to work with you.
7. Do your research.
On the flip side of this, you also need to be researching these agents you are meeting with as well. Just like they are going to be mentally evaluating you, you need to be evaluating them. Are they personable? Do they have a good reputation? Do they represent authors who have similar styles to you (this can be a big plus - they know better then what publishing houses are accepting your style of books)? Do they seem hardworking? What is their strategy for selling a book? If you get an offer from an agent who wants to represent you, take a week or so and ask some of their current clients what their thoughts are about this person. If you have contacts in publishing houses, ask them as well to get the other side of that equation. A good agent won't mind in the least.
Above all else, remember that God has a plan for your writing that far exceeds the one you have for it. Maybe nothing will ever happen and He'll use you in ways that you can't even imagine right now. Maybe you'll become the next big bestseller. Maybe you'll never be a bestseller, but you'll still have a small, faithful following. Whatever the case, know that we here at Scribble Chicks are rooting for you - in whatever great adventure God's got for you!
Please let me know if you have any more questions regarding agents! I will do my best to answer them.