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Approaching an Agent at Conferences

A reader asks:

I love going to the LA SCBWI conference every year. It’s become an old friend and I do meet some that I only see at the conference, as well as meeting new people. That said, I have never felt comfortable going up to an agent and trying to start a conversation. One that doesn’t involve pitching, (unless asked) rather socializing with the person as a person, not the gate keeper.  Any tips? I’ve always had the impression that agents are off limits unless you already have one. I am on pins and needles every day when I open my email to see if one of the agents that I’ve queried requests full ms. Or, one that has requested my full ms finally sending me that email that they are interested.

Besides the video I’ve done on just this topic, let me give you some quick tips to making cocktail conversation comfortable for everyone.

  1. Go alone. One of the first things we all do, agents too, when attending a networking or social event is bring our friends. It makes sense, it makes us more comfortable, but it also makes it harder for someone to walk up to us or for us to walk up to others. In a weird way, it isolates us. Going to events alone forces you to walk up to someone, anyone, and start a conversation.
  2. Get in line. I’ve always found that the best places to strike up conversations are in line–usually for food or drinks. Few of us jump into line with others and, typically, we all have a single-minded focus (willing the bartender to hurry). Standing in line is the perfect time to turn to the person behind you and strike up a conversation. Have you tried the wine? Are you having a nice time? Where are you from? Have you ever been to a conference before?
  3. Don’t look for nametags. Nametags are both a blessing and a curse. Sure it makes it easy to identify agents and editors, but that also makes it easy to avoid them. Instead, just walk up to a table and ask if you can set your drink down, or start talking. Things will be a lot more comfortable for everyone if you just think you’re talking with another author.
  4. Agents are people too (and usually as “lost” feeling as you). Remembering this will help immensely. You said that you love SCBWI because you get to see friends. Agents usually don’t. Typically, we are there on our own and know maybe one or two people in a sea of hundreds. Talking to an agent actually helps her feel like part of something and takes the burden off finding someone to talk to off her.
  5. Don’t think of what an agent can do for you, think of what you can do for her. We all fear an agent because of our expectations of what we want from her, but remembering that an agent is there to meet new authors, build a client list, network with others in the industry, and maybe explore a place she’s never been might help give you a starting point for a conversation that isn’t all about you.

Now, next time you see me milling about a conference, please come up and say hi. There’s nothing worse than trying to find someone to talk to and all the groups feel taken.

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2 comments

  1. The best conversation I ever had with an agent was an elevator ride to my room.

    I was at a conference a few years back. It was the end of the first night. Her and I were waiting for the elevator back to our rooms. We were going to the same floor and we started off with small talk. Soon it moved into the literary field where her and I expressed our opinions.

    I’ll bet we stood in the hall by our rooms for ten minutes. It was a nice, relaxing conversation. By far the best talk I had with any agent while I was there.

    I think a writer places the agent on the same platform they may have placed their college professors. When that happens they become an object, not a person.

    Excellent video. Thank you.

  2. Bryan has it right when he says that a lot of aspiring writers place agents on a pedestal (or similar). That makes it really daunting for them. Aspiring writers need to push that thought to one side and treat agents like they do everyone else they don’t know and talk to at conference.

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