How to Make a Positive Impression at a Writers Conference

“Agents are human too.” If you’ve been around agents for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase. Writers say it about agents, agents say it about themselves … but rather than considering it a brush-off joke or cliché, “Agents are human too” actually provides a healthy perspective when networking with them at writing conferences.
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“Agents are human too.” If you’ve been around agents for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase. Writers say it about agents, agents say it about themselves … but rather than considering it a brush-off joke or cliché, “Agents are human too” actually provides a healthy perspective when networking with them at writing conferences.

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Guest column by Josh Vogt, a man who has seen
many sides of the publishing industry, including a
stint with Simon & Schuster out in NYC. He’s currently working with
Scott Hoffman of Folio Literary to get
his urban fantasy novel, Enter the Janitor, on the
shelves. He also covers SF&F news, book reviews
and author interviews at the
Speculative Fiction Examiner.

See his website here. Or his Twitter here.

WHO FEARS THE AGENT?

I love writing conferences. Not only did I meet my agent at one, but I’ve also taken part in numerous pitch sessions, workshops, and learned from other writers who’ve discovered how to navigate the murky waters of publishing. Attending a conference, especially when signed up for a pitch session, filled me with excitement.

But I’ve noticed many times when other writers replace the excitement with fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of being told “No” while across the table from a dream agent. I’ve seen writers go into a pitch session trembling as if they were being led into a lion’s den. Some even end up refusing to pitch or talk to agents altogether because they’re so worried their dreams will be dashed.

DOWN WITH THE GATEKEEPERS

The other misconception is that agents are the enemy. There’s often a great deal of aggression aimed their way. They’re treated as if it’s their fault you aren’t getting the bestseller deals you deserve. They’re seen as gated castles to besiege, or Black Knights requiring numerous flesh wounds so they stop barring the way to the Holy Grail.

MAKING THE CONNECTION

Casting aside the two mentalities of fear and battle, how do you approach agents at conferences from a positive angle? I’m not going to speak so much to the technical side of it, eschewing query formulas, elevator pitch length, or the magical phrases that will snag an agent’s attention without fail (hint: there aren’t any). Instead, I believe one’s attitude makes an incredible difference in connecting with agents.

  • Be Professional—Consider that publishing is a business, while writing is a craft. Your story may be amazing, your prose scintillating, but have you practiced what you’re going to say when an agent asks you about it? Can you summarize your novel in a compelling sentence or two that demonstrates its marketability? Agents appreciate writers who understand that publishing is a business and who approach it with a professional mindset.
    Also consider your image. How are you dressed? Clean-shaven? Showered recently? The image you present is the person they’ll remember when they’re reading your story, and you don’t want there to be a negative association.
  • Be Courteous—How would you want to be treated as a published author? Would you want to be hounded through the halls of the conference center (or even into the bathroom)? Would you want to be at a dinner table with a writer who never lets anyone else speak or demands that they be recognized for their genius? Of course not. So make sure you’re not the guilty party here.
  • Be Bold—Remember the fear we talked about earlier? The dread of approaching an agent in the first place? At a conference, that’s something you need to push past, otherwise you’re going to miss out on numerous networking opportunities.
    I know it’s easier for some than others, but being able to walk up to an agent, offer your hand, and introduce yourself is a vital skill. Until you’ve made that basic connection, there’s slim-to-no chance that they’ll even know you’re a writer with material they might find interesting. Practicing with friends or fellow writers is a great way to prepare and subdue the jitters.

  • Be Passionate—You want an agent to be excited about your novel and enthusiastic about its potential, right? Well, help them get excited! This doesn’t mean whooping with joy or starting a conga line during a workshop. But you should be able to communicate the belief that your story is worth the agent’s notice. What inspired you to write it? What unique elements set it apart from any other story out there? If you don’t seem to care, why should they?


So take a few calming breaths. Unclench your fists. Have another good look at literary agents and see them for who they really are: people who are passionate about books and writers, and who have dedicated their careers to finding the best of both. Agents attend conferences because they want to discover new authors. They want to get excited about a new novel. They’re potential allies, not enemies, and should be treated as such.

Don’t fear them. Don’t attack them.

And, most of all, don’t hesitate to buy one a drink if you cross paths at the bar. Remember that point about leaving a good impression?

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