The first time I went to a writers’ conference, I’m certain I reeked of hope and delusion–a mixture that smells, by the way, a lot like a third cup of coffee gone cold.
I had “finished” (or so I thought) revising my first novel about 12 hours earlier. I marched into my three agent pitch sessions with high hopes. Hopes that were, almost immediately, crushed. Why? Because there are unspoken rules about this sort of thing, unbeknownst to me at the time. And I violated many of them.
- Don’t pitch something you’re not ready to send out. You know how it goes. You see Miss Fancy Pants Agent’s name on the conference roster and think, “This is my only chance! I have to pitch [insert name of fledgling WIP in dubious stages of coherence here].” But let me tell you a secret: IT’S NOT YOUR ONLY CHANCE. There will be other conferences and other pitch sessions. Even if Miss Fancy Pants is your dream agent–especially if she’s your dream agent–you need to take a hard look at your work-in-progress and ask yourself, “Is this the best I can do?” Just because you have typed “the end” or have read it over once or twice does not mean your manuscript is ready. A follow-up query letter later with a more polished manuscript is stronger than a face to face meeting with a sloppy manuscript in hand.
- Do not say that “a book tour” is part of your marketing plan. The agent I met with in my first pitch session asked me what my plan was for marketing my book, if it were to get picked up by a publisher. I had not been expecting this question. I was still under the newbie assumption that writers wrote and publishers marketed. So I muttered something like, “Well, besides the usual stuff, like a book tour…” The agent laughed at me. When she got out the last of her guffaws, she sighed and said, “Don’t ever say that again. No one goes on book tours anymore unless they are James Patterson or Jennifer Weiner. Especially not debut authors.” Okay, then. Lesson learned.
- Don’t pitch to an agent who doesn’t represent your genre. I live in Madison, Wisconsin. We don’t get a whole lot of literary agents visiting these parts. So when I saw that three agents were scheduled to attend the conference I’d signed up for, I scheduled pitch sessions with all of them, even though one of them represented only middle grade and YA novels. I write women’s fiction. My logic? Maybe she’d see how amazing my book was and pass it on to someone else within her agency that did represent my genre. Yeah…no. That didn’t happen. I just ended up wasting her time and taking up a slot that could have been filled by someone else who actually did write in the genres she was looking for.
So there you have it. I’m not trying to scare anybody. Agents are, first and foremost, people and book lovers. I’m just hoping that, by sharing my missteps, I can save another aspiring author from learning the hard way, like I did.