Episode 13 is all about getting ready for a writing conference — an opportunity for writers to talk to an editor or an agent. At writer’s conferences, there are meetings with prospective agents and editors, people who could potentially help you move your project or book idea forward.
So how do you talk to agents and editors at writer’s conferences? I have four tips based on what I have learned over the last twenty years of trying to get a book published and working with new authors trying to get theirs published as well.
I remember my first time at a writing conference. It was the San Diego Christian writing conference. There was a lottery at this conference where you won the chance to meet with different people. I went there three years in a row, and I had an opportunity to meet with a few different agents, editors, and small publishing houses. Those opportunities were the number one reason I went to those conferences. It wasn’t for the things that people were teaching from the stage. It was really about trying to get my book deal.
If I had a time machine, I would say a few things to myself, like: “There’s no hurry.”
The more in a hurry you are, the more you know that it’s not the right time. Pros aren’t in a hurry. Now pros have an urgency because they know that there’s a small window of opportunity, but they’re not in a hurry. When I used to go to conferences, I was in a hurry. I was trying to pitch to everyone because that was the “why” behind my attendance.
So what do you do instead?
1. Talk about your reader.
You start by knowing the answer to this question: “Who is it you want to help with your book?” This is the whole concept behind start with your people. The more specific, the better; the clearer the better. So instead of saying: “This is for business leaders.” You say: “This is for Ben, and Ben is a 42-year-old business leader. He works from home. He runs a company of four people. Two of them are assistants, one’s a social media manager, and one’s a bookkeeper. And let me tell you about his business. Let me tell you about where Ben is stuck. And this is why Ben needs this book. This book is a tool to help Ben overcome the problem that he’s experiencing right now. This is a tool to help him move forward in his life.”
So when you’re meeting with an agent or an editor, wherever you happen to meet them, talk about your reader. “This is who the reader is and here’s why this book is a tool to help them with their problem.”
2. Just be a person.
People are pitching all over agents and editors at writing conferences, so keep in mind…what does a person do? A person looks you in the eyes. A person shakes your hand. A person listens when you’re talking. There’s something about the nervousness of meeting an editor or an agent that can make us feel a little crazy, and we forget to be a person. I’ve been there. I thought that my goal in past meetings at writing conferences was to try to tell this person everything I possibly could in 10-15 minutes because they wouldn’t understand unless I took the entire time to explain myself. But what I’ve learned is that they are people, they’re good, and they’ve been doing it for a while.
So when you show up as a person and you say, “This is who my reader is. Here’s how I want to help her. Here’s my idea for my book. I’d love to hear your feedback.” And then you’re quiet, wait, and listen…it goes a long way.
There’s a little test that I do when somebody asks me for feedback. I recommend a tool, a resource, an online course, or a book, and what I notice is whether or not the person wrote it down. If I said they should buy Essentialism by Greg McKeown and they nod before jumping to the next question and never write it down, it shows me they’re not really paying attention nor are they coachable. I see that I’m probably wasting my time, so I politely excuse myself and complete the conversation. Because if they’re not going to write it down, they’re not going to pick it up. They’re not going to read it, implement, or get the results. And everything else I say is just adding onto the pile that will eventually end up on the garbage heap at the end of their driveway.
This might sound a little cruel, but it’s true. If you don’t write it down, how are you going to know?
This is what being a person would look like. You’re meeting with that editor/agent, and they say, “This is a really good start. Thanks so much for sharing your vision. Here’s one tip for you. I would recommend that you…” and you thank them and write down what they say.
You then say something like: “Okay, that’s great. I’m gonna make sure that I order it. What else would you recommend that I need to do next?” Then they might have something else. Then, like a person, you follow up a week or two later and you say, “Thank you so much for meeting with me. I ordered the book, I read the book. It’s really good. My favorite part was chapter six where he said (blank). That was worth the cost of the book. Thank you again, really awesome to connect with you.”
That’s what a person would do. A person would follow up and just say thank you.
3. Listen to listen.
I’ve been on the receiving end of these conversations, and you can tell if somebody is listening or somebody’s not listening. Some are there to pitch and be heard while others are there to listen. It makes a difference. The biggest way I can tell is their body language. Not writing things down, interrupting me, or not making eye contact are signs that you aren’t listening. Also, remember what I said about being in a hurry? That is apparent too. So commit to being a good listener.
4. Ask for the next steps.
After you have a meeting, whether or not it goes well, you can always conclude by saying: “What would you recommend is my next step?” Do not ask them how you can contact them, where to send your proposal, or if they want to keep a copy. You should simply say, “What would you recommend is my next step?” At that point, if they want a copy they will ask, or they may give you one of their cards to connect. Let them take the lead about what happens next, and hopefully, you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you followed all the steps above!
Use these tips to prepare for that inevitable meeting that you’ll have with an editor or an agent at your next writer’s conference, and you’ll be sure to stand out among the crowd!
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