Last Saturday I attended the NJ Romance Writers Put Your Heart in a Book conference. I’m a regular. I’ve learned that if I don’t make it to the conference those Jersey girls will hunt me down and get me into a meeting to speak, and some years they’ll have me do both. They keep telling me that after all these years people still want me to attend. I’m convinced they should be sick of me by now, but what do I know?
If you’re a romance writer and have never attended the NJ conference I would encourage you to do so. And, honestly, the booksigning on Saturday is a guarantee sale for many authors, so if you aren’t a romance writer but think the audience might like your book anyway, it doesn’t hurt to attend and learn from the pros. I really think that any author with romance in their book should consider joining RWA. It’s an amazing group with a lot of readers.
For my part I went in just for the morning and lunch. I skipped the agent panel this year so I could get home to my family. In an aside, I do feel bad about this, but the panel is so far into the afternoon. . . . Anyway, I had 90 minutes of pitch appointments and the one thing I would recommend to everyone making a pitch is to practice and learn some of the “rules.” While doing our pitches Kim and I came up with a short list of dos and don’ts that I want to share with you. And I imagine Kim might comment on a few I missed:
Do: Introduce yourself and shake hands before sitting down.
Don’t: Miss an appointment or come running in late—I am taking time out of my weekend to work when I could be raking the yard, baking cookies, or reading submissions, so please give me the courtesy of treating your appointment with professionalism.
Do: Get comfortable. It’s okay to take a minute to settle yourself in, pull out your notes and relax with a little bit of small talk.
Don’t: Spend too much time on the small talk. You are there for a reason and I’d hate for you to waste it talking about your dog. That being said, I do tend to best remember the appointments with those who bring something different to the table, or those I connected with on a personal level.
Do: Know that it’s okay to be nervous, and to tell me just that. Most of my appointments are and it’s really my job to try and make you feel more comfortable.
Don’t: Badmouth other agents, editors or other attendees.
Do: Dress professionally but comfortably. Look nice, but also make sure you’ll survive the day in whatever you choose to wear. I know you’re there all day, so if tennis shoes are the best for you, I don’t expect you to wear otherwise.
Don’t: Show up in your pajamas. Okay, I think this is obvious.
Do: Come prepared. Bring notes if necessary and take notes if you need to. There’s no harm in a cheat sheet.
Don’t: Prattle on about everything you’ve ever written. While it’s good to let me know what else you have in the works or the direction your writing has taken, you are only pitching one book, so pick one and pitch that.
Do: Know the agent you’re pitching to. The best appointments are those who have done their research. Know a little about BookEnds and about me and don’t be afraid to let me know you’ve been checking me out (it’s always flattering no matter who it is).
Don’t: Submit to me just weeks before the appointment. I hate it when I get a submission that says the author is scheduled to meet with me in two weeks and comes in expecting a critique. That’s not what appointments are for.
Do: Let me know if an editor has also requested the material. An editor requesting a full is a sure guarantee that I’ll request the full too.
Don’t: Tell me about all the other agents who have rejected you or who you’d rather be working with.
Do: Ask me questions. A pitch appointment doesn’t have to be all pitch, or any pitch. Feel free to book an appointment with me just to talk, get to know me, ask me about the industry, BookEnds, or my personal interests. If you have questions about the state of the market and how it relates to your work and your writing I’d be happy to discuss it.
Don’t: Waste your time. You have ten minutes of one-on-one time with an agent, so use all ten of those minutes.
Do: Give me a business card with the title and details of the book on it (even if it’s handwritten). I love this and use them to contact people when work I’m excited about hasn’t come in yet. And feel free to take more than one business card from me if you feel you need it.
Don’t: Give me any material—proposal, manuscript or even synopsis—to take home with me. I don’t want to carry it and I can almost guarantee it will get lost.
And lastly . . .
Do: Have fun. That’s what we’re all there for.
**For those of you who don’t know, I’m off on Friday to San Francisco (I know, my life is so hard) to speak at the San Francisco Romance Writers chapter meeting. I’m looking forward to meeting with a couple of my clients and talking to that very, very talented group. If you’re in the area I hope to see you there.