Monday, June 18, 2007

Guest Post: Seven Tips for Editor/Agent Appointments

Happy Monday. This is the guest post from Ed Horton, one of the caption winners from last week.

During the early morning hours on June 1, I typed in my registration to attend my first ACFW conference. I have benefited from attending other conferences over the years, but this will be my first “fiction-only” conference. The part that makes me more-than-a-bit nervous about these conferences is the editor and agent appointments. You see, these great opportunities have gone poorly for me in the past. At times, my speech has faltered and delivery of my pitch has been less than eloquent. And frankly, I’ve let myself be scared-senseless by some wonderful publishing professionals.

So, as of today I’m practicing to make my appointments this fall more memorable in a positive manner. Let me share a few ideas with you. Most of it’s just common sense, but let’s review it anyway.

Learn how to pronounce the editor’s name—both first and last. It’s embarrassing to bounce up to the editor, all smiles, and have them correct your pronunciation of the name they’ve known forever. In print, Lisa may seem like ‘Leesa,’ but actually be pronounced as ‘Līsa’ or ‘Lizza.’ If it’s a last name like ‘Gouphedenseison,’ well, good luck!

Let the editor or agent begin the conversation. If they’re on their cell phone or checking email, wait until they give you their attention. At one appointment, after I started speaking, the editor looked at his watch and told me I was a minute early so I waited semi-patiently as he continued reading his email.

Know your pitch. Write it out and practice it until you have it memorized and can say it smoothly. Don’t choke and ramble like I’ve done before. An editor’s eyes can glaze over quickly and noticeably (especially when they rollback in their head). Once you’ve lost their attention, it’s difficult to get it back.

Hook them quick! Dazzle them in the first sixty seconds. Editors and agents are accustomed to making judgment calls about proposals and manuscripts very quickly—within minutes or even nanoseconds. Make sure your proposal is right for their publishing house, and then give them the best hook you can. You’ll know when you’ve succeeded. Their eyes widen slightly and they lean forward to hear what you have to say. Then they may shoot rapid-fire questions at you. Be prepared to answer with wit and wisdom, and of course, the truth.

Expect the unexpected. During the space of one fifteen-minute appointment, an elderly man at a nearby table fell off his chair twice (no, it wasn’t from the excitement of landing a big contract). Distractions happen, which is another good reason to hook the editor or agent fast.
Hide your emotions. As tough as it may be, if you receive disappointing feedback, don’t burst into tears or let your face fall like an imploding building. Be gracious and follow up with a brief thank-you note.

Don’t give up! Whatever you do, if an appointment doesn’t go well, don’t cancel the remaining ones. Learn from each meeting and keep trying.

Hoping to see you all at the ACFW conference!

-- Ed Horton


Domino said...

Thanks for sharing, Ed. I signed up for the ACFW conference this year too.

Even though I tried to prepare thoroughly last year, I made an appointment blunder anyway. At the time of the verbal mistake, I felt like the blood had drained from my body. But I pressed on, hoping to correct my direction and actually get something useful out of the brief opportunity.

I agree with you about the goal to "learn from each meeting and keep trying."

I'm wondering if editors and agents who've "seen it all" even notice who the mistake-makers are. My guess is that they notice the ones who present themselves and their story with excellence and the rest of the pitching melts into a blur.

C.J. Darlington said...

Thanks for the post, Ed. Great advice.

relevantgirl said...

I look forward to seeing you at the conference. Last year was my first ACFW. Loved it.

You give great advice here. One more: don't follow editors into the bathroom.

Gina Holmes said...

Good advice, Ed. Hope to see you at ACFW. God willing, I should be there too.

Nick said...

Speaking as an editor, I like this suggestion: Let the editor or agent begin the conversation.

I would add to let the editor or agent continue to manage the conversation. Do NOT simply start giving the editor or agent a verbal synopsis of your book unless they ask for it. NONE of that matters to me. You may have come up with a dandy plot, but may not be able to actually write the novel that goes with it. I usually ask brief questions about the book and ask to look at the first few pages. I really hate it when an author starts in on the synopsis and continues on non-stop for several minutes, not allowing me to get a word in edgewise. I know it's probably just nervousness and speaking about their story is a safe way for the author to communicate, but it's not what I want to hear. So I suggest you take a very deep breath and simply let the editor guide the conversation. And IF they ask for a verbal synopsis, fine. Go for it!

Jenny said...

Before I went to my first ACFW confernece, Randy Ingermanson posted his Ten Commandments of Conferencing. Wish I remembered them all--maybe he has them on his website--but the theme was to make friends and enjoy the time more than use people to network and claw your way to a contract (my interpretation). I followed his advice at my first conference and have never regretted it. I've made great friends and good aquaintences, even among agents and editors. Spending more time listening and encouraging others made for a lot of enjoyment. By putting that all first, the rest took care of itself (plus I was ready with my pitch plan that I practiced with said friends;-). So have fun, get to know people, meet friends in person--you'll have a wonderful and fruitful time.