Monday, July 27, 2009

Back to School and Submission Stress

It’s that time again. Before August even arrives, back to school ads fill the newspapers. We wonder why we haven’t received a supply list from our kids’ new teachers (who probably haven’t even received their rosters). Unable to risk missing out on six glue sticks for a dollar, we go to the school website and print off the generic grade level list. The one that says you need a 64 pack of Crayolas with a sharpener, when the real teacher will insist on 16 Twistables. The list frenzy walks hand in hand with the jitters. The same sort of jitters I get when submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the two have a lot in common. So here they are (in no particular order): The parallel stressful questions we face when sending a kid or submission out into the unknown.

1. What if she’s not ready?
What if it needs more revisions, but I blow my one chance by sending it now?

2. What if she doesn’t have the right materials?
What if I leave out some detail of the guidelines inspiring an evil “Bwa
Ha Ha!” followed by a quick delete from the agent or editor?

3. What if she doesn’t make friends?
What if the agent or editor I love doesn’t love my writing?

4. What if people pick on her?
What if hints of my submission show up on twitter’s #queryfail,slush
realizations or as a #pubtip turn-off?

5. What if she gets a mean teacher?
What if I end up signing a contract to work with someone and we don’t get along?

6. What if she buddies up with a trouble maker?
What if I end up signing with someone who isn’t legit or respected?

7. What if she comes home and decides she never wants to go back?
What if a form rejection snuffs out my dream, and I never get up the nerve to
send out another submission?

The questions swirl through our minds as we pack backpacks and SASEs. Still, we let go. We must, because we’ve done our best, and it’s time. Good luck everybody. Here’s to taking chances. Who wants to go first?

Monday, July 20, 2009

How to Interact with Agents at Conferences or How Not to Get on Writers Gone Wild

Ginger Clark is a literary agent from Curtis Brown LTD. Today she shared on Twitter many tips on how to interact with agents at writers’ conferences. She graciously gave me permission to use her tips on my blog, so in case you missed her tweets today, here they are (sparsely edited).

View your pitch session as a business meeting. You want to get into business with an agent. Behave accordingly.

That means: dress neatly. Make eye contact. Have a firm handshake. Don’t shake with anxiety. Know all major facts about MS. No crying.

There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no crying in business.

Know the word count and page count of book; what other books is it similar to, and different from; what’s the market; if it’s a kids’ book…

Is it YA? MG? Know the differences. If you don’t know an answer to a question, say “I don’t know.”

Do not pitch a book that has not yet been written and revised thoroughly to an agent. (There are non-fiction exceptions to this).

Pay attention to body language when you consider pitching agents in non-pitch session settings. Are they at the bar and seem approachable?

Or are they sitting with an editor, deep in conversation? Are they at a party, standing alone? Or are they mid conversation with someone?

Here are times not to pitch an agent: Swimming or working out; wheeling their suitcase or luggage somewhere; while they are in the bathroom.

I know that last one is obvious to all of you, but it still happens.

Dress appropriately. Guys, I do not need to see that much chest hair.

Oh, I’m not anti-chest hair! I just don’t want to see that much in a meeting with someone I don’t know.

To reiterate: Don’t be so nervous you are shaking. Because it makes me get nervous, too, and then our meeting becomes all tense and stuff.

Please don’t ask me if I remember getting your query—I’m afraid I probably don’t.

Wait until the “Q&A” time to ask a question. Don’t interrupt people when they are on panels, or giving a talk.

Don’t begin a question by doing the following, “I think you’re really young, so maybe you don’t get what older people want.”

Because, I admit, this is something I find frustrating. I know what the market wants, and I don’t have to be your age to know it.

Authors, if I am wearing sweatpants, DO NOT APPROACH.

Authors, don’t stalk me. I will notice you doing so, eventually. Also, don’t call my room or leave anything on my pillow.

Yes. Everything I have listed as a “Don’t” has happened to me, or someone I know. These are all true examples.

Authors: Don’t broadcast arrogance. Don’t declare you intend to make a lot of money publishing, or that you will be a bestseller in a year.

Publicly take the attitude of “I’m here to learn.” I am there to learn, too. I learn things from other agents and editors often.

I go to conferences to meet potential new clients—and meet editors and agents I normally would not. I’m learning too!

So if you hear things you find frustrating, or you are angry—don’t take it out on the messengers.

Get together with your friends and vent privately. It’s really awkward when an author gets mad during a panel, or pitch session.

Authors, if you don’t know exactly what genre/age group your book falls in, start off by saying that and asking for agent’s advice.

Authors: don’t badmouth other writers to an agent. They might represent those authors.

But if you have read a book by one of my clients, and you liked it, feel free to tell me. Don’t pretend if you have not.

*For more of Ginger Clark's tweets, follow her on twitter (@Ginger_Clark).