10 Tips on Landing an Agent at a Writers’ Conference

When I was ready to seek representation, I chose not to approach agents in the usual way—by email query—even though most agents prefer that method. I wanted to get a face-to-face impression of my future agent’s personality and communication style, so I decided to attend writers’ conferences. Over six months, I pitched to nine agents at two conferences and ended up with a 100% success rate for material requests. After a few weeks of follow up, I signed with Rachel Ekstrom at Irene Goodman Literary Agency, who later sold my debut novel, SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, as part of a two-book deal with HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. Here are 10 tips that helped me land my agent at a writers’ conference.

jeff-garvin-author-writer Symptoms-of-being-human

Column by Jeff Garvinauthor of Symptoms of Being Human (Feb. 2, 2016,
Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins). While studying at Chapman University, Jeff won
awards for classical guitar and visual storytelling before graduating with a BFA
in Film. As the front man of his rock band, 7k, Garvin released three albums and
toured the United States. When the band dissolved in 2011, Jeff, who had always
written short stories and lyrics, found his passion in full-length fiction. Jeff lives
in Southern California with his music teacher wife, their menagerie, and a
respectable collection of books and guitars. Follow him on Twitter

BEFORE THE CONFERENCE

1. Find out which agents are attending. This information is usually available on the conference’s website.

2. Read their bios with these questions in mind:

  • Are they taking on new clients? Some agents only offer critiques and feedback during pitch sessions; focus on the ones who are open to new clients.
  • Do they represent the kind of material you’re pitching? If you pitch your Dystopian Sci-Fi to an agent who specializes in Non-Fiction, you’re probably wasting your time and the agent’s.

3. Do your homework. Now it’s time for some next-level research. Find each agent’s website and read their bio. Google their name. Read interviews with them and blog posts by them. You can even follow them on Twitter—but keep a respectful distance. (Liking and re-tweeting appropriately is ok—spamming them with random tweets about your WIP is not.) The point of all this research is to learn more about the agent’s preferences and perhaps discover something you have in common:

  • Do they represent anyone you know? Any authors of whom you’re a fan?
  • Do you like the same books?
  • Do you share any favorites—a love of dogs or Harry Potter, for instance?

Don’t be creepy; just learn about the agent to whom you’re pitching. You may sense a connection with one that moves them higher up the list.

(Classifying Your Book: How to Research & Target Literary Agents.)


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:


4. Customize your pitch. Now that you’ve got a target list, compose your pitch. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Follow the conference guidelines. Some have a strict three-minute window, others allow for a leisurely ten-minute conversation. Craft your pitch accordingly.
  • Tailor your pitch for each agent. This may be as simple as changing a line or two. If the agent’s bio mentions their love of offbeat romance and your book has some, emphasize that in your pitch.

AT THE CONFERENCE

5. Get on the radar. Are any of the agents on your list giving programs or participating on panels? Attend those sessions! If you get an opportunity to ask a good question, seize it! Don’t raise your hand just to get noticed—be appropriate and engage authentically.

6. Treat agents like fellow humans. Amidst the stress of pitching and the fervor of your ambition, it’s easy to objectify an agent as some kind of lofty gatekeeper standing between you and your dreams. It’s important to remember that agents are people with their own dreams and complications. They’re here because they want to find great stories and share them with the world. Treating them with simple kindness can go a long way. Conferences are strange and stressful environments for agents, too. Just like you, they can be tired, jet-lagged, and dehydrated; give them some grace.

7. Respect boundaries. You’re likely to bump into agents in the lunch line, at the cocktail reception, or even in the restroom. Respect social boundaries! If they’re locked in conversation, don’t interrupt. If an agent says hello, don’t launch right into your pitch. Wait until your session, or until an appropriate moment.

(Tips on how to find more agents who seek your genre/category.)

AFTER THE CONFERENCE

8. Follow up. Wait three business days to give the agent time to recover and catch up. Personalize the opening paragraph of your query letter: “Dear Ms. Agent, it was a pleasure meeting you at the Writers’ Conference last weekend. I enjoyed our conversation about vintage surf wax cartons…” etc., etc. If you’re submitting pages at the agent’s request, say so. If the agent suggested you send a query after making some revisions, mention that: “…Your note about clarifying the novel’s main conflict was very helpful.”

9. Follow directions. Go to the agency website, read their query guidelines, and follow them. Even though you’ve met the agent in person, you need to respect their process. It shows you’re a professional who values their time.

10. Get busy. As Tom Petty said, the waiting is the hardest part—so don’t. Start revising or begin working on your next project. The agent(s) you’re querying may have a jammed inbox. They may be out sick. They may have received forty-nine other queries that day. Don’t take it personally when you don’t hear back quickly (or at all.) Set a reminder to reach out again in a few weeks. Then, get busy working on your next project.

Pitching to agents in person can be a thrilling and valuable experience. If you follow these tips, you’ll be well on your way to a successful pitch. Drop me a line on Twitter and let me know how your pitch goes. Good luck!

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