By Elizabeth Ludwig
Few things strike fear into the stout of heart more than speaking in public. In fact, according to a recent Gallup Poll, the only thing more petrifying is a fear of snakes. Is it any wonder, therefore, that writers are often reduced to stuttering, terror-stricken imbeciles when faced with the prospect of sitting down with an editor or agent? After all, any hope for a writing career rests in their powerful hands. Blowing a 15 minute appointment/opportunity could be the difference between having a manuscript published or seeing it forever banished to the realm of unused computer folders! Right?
Wrong-and if that’s what you’ve been telling yourself before every editor or agent appointment, you’ve been setting yourself up for failure. Your appointment is intended to create interest in you and your work. It very rarely (if ever) leads to a contract on a manuscript that is sight unseen.
So, what can you expect from a successful appointment with an editor or agent? Well, it can mean the beginning to a long and wonderful professional relationship if your appointment leads to a request for a manuscript. It can also provide valuable insight into what the industry is acquiring, and finally, it can present you with a powerful network of contacts. With those goals in mind, I have created five keys to conducting a successful editor/agent appointment:
1. Conduct your appointment…did you catch my use of that word? Very often, authors approach their appointments as they would a trip to the gallows-with a whole lot of fear and very little confidence. The truth is, you are an inventor with a product you believe in, and what you’re really doing is looking for the best manufacturer of your idea. Don’t sit back and expect the editor or agent to guide the appointment. Know your material well, and let the appointment be about introducing yourself first and your work second.
Key #1 to a successful editor/agent appointment? Take charge. You have a product you believe in, so conduct your appointment with confidence.
2. Think back to grade school. What were the two words that made you break out in a cold sweat faster than a teenager at their first dance? 1. Pop. 2. Quiz. Right? And do you remember why they made you want to cry like a little girl? Because you didn’t study! But if you took the time to actually research the material, hearing the teacher utter the dreaded words was no big deal. In fact, your score was usually so high, you ruined the curve. What a difference studying can make not only to test scores, but to a person’s overall attitude. The same can be said for researching publishing houses. When you know what an editor is looking for, and what kind of books their house is currently publishing, you can approach them with a lot more confidence because you know your manuscript fits within their guidelines.
Key #2 to a successful editor/agent appointment? Do like your momma told you and study!
3. Do you remember that old Brady Bunch episode where Mike Brady gives sage advice to Marcia and Jan regarding their upcoming driver’s test and public speaking event? He told them to picture their audience in their underwear! Now, obviously, Mr. Brady never saw a Victoria’s Secret commercial, or I’m sure his advice would have been much different. The point, however, was simply to realize that the audience was human. The same can be said for sitting down with an editor or agent. Don’t view the appointment as a job interview. View it as an opportunity to get to know the person you’re talking to and open yourself up to chat. You’ll be more relaxed, and so will they!
Key #3 to a successful editor/agent appointment? Talk to the person sitting across from you. They’re human. They like that.
4. Have fun! You heard me. If you’re at a conference to meet with an editor or agent, you paid money to be sitting where you are, right? So why not look at it as a fun, learning opportunity rather than a life and death struggle to get your manuscript into the hands of a professional? After all, what are the odds that the words you speak in a 15 minute interval will actually determine whether or not your book is published? The fact of the matter is, the most that appointment can do is garner a request to see more. So get that part out of the way by telling the editor or agent what you have, and then enjoy the rest of the time. Chat about some funny thing that happened while you were at the conference, or how you’re looking forward to a particular class. You’ll become human in their eyes, and much more memorable than if you stumbled through a rehearsed pitch.
Key #4 to a successful editor/agent appointment? Enjoy your appointment and let yourself have fun.
5. Remember who you are. I wish I could say I was kidding about this one, but the most embarrassing moment I ever experienced was when I had to look at my badge in order to remember who I am! Now, in my own defense, I publish under my legal name, which is different from the name my friends know me by. So when the editor called me by my legal name, I was temporarily thrown for a loop (chalk it up to nerves). LOL! Funny as that is now, the point isn’t about who we are to others. Ultimately, what matters is who we are to God. I’m pretty sure He’s never been confused by my legal name versus my nickname, which means when He called me to write, He knew exactly who He was speaking to. My career, my future, everything I am and ever will do is in His hands. Reminding myself of this truth has been the most beneficial thing I’ve ever done when sitting down to talk with an editor or agent.
Key #5 to a successful editor/agent appointment? Remember who you are…and whose.
Elizabeth Ludwig is an award-winning author and an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit ElizabethLudwig.com.