This is Part Two of a three-part series on getting an agent’s attention. There are many ways to do this, but there is no magical path leading to agent representation. No matter how or where a writer piques an agent’s attention, she will always need to write a query letter and follow submission guidelines. This series is about helping a submission rise to the top of the slush pile.
Writing conferences and workshops are amazing events connecting writers with fellow writers, agents, and editors. A great conference energizes its attendees and gets them excited about their craft and eager to tackle the page, and conferences can be fantastic places to have one-on-one conversations with agents and editors.
For a small fee, writers can set up appointments to directly pitch agents and editors and many of these events, and some larger conferences provide opportunities for writers to get direct feedback from industry professionals. There are tremendous benefits to these, as the personal interaction allows the writer to build rapport with an agent (or editor) and get a sense of how he or she would be as a champion for his work. From these conversations, the writer can also gauge an agent’s interest in his work. This is particularly helpful when deciding which agents to query, as submitting to an agent clearly uninterested in a concept is a waste of everyone’s time. Agents know many of their peers’ tastes, though, and when asked are often willing to suggest others within their agency who would be more interested in a specific concept.
But pitch sessions aren’t the only place writers can network with agents, and in fact, some writers find it easier to chat with industry professionals during “down times.” Most of the larger conferences have cocktail parties, luncheons, and dinners where attendees can mingle. Any of these informal settings are perfect places to engage an agent in casual conversation and establish a rapport. Agents are people, too, and many of them are uncomfortable in large crowds, so a friendly chat about mutual (and non-bookish) interests is almost always welcome. Now, it should go without saying that agents should never be approached in restrooms or accosted in hallways, parking lots, or other creepy places, but as agents still share horror stories of having manuscripts shoved under bathroom stalls or being followed by eager authors, it bears repeating. Basically, keep it professional. Yes, the ideal agent-author relationship is also a friendship, but even friends give each other space, particularly in the restroom.
Making personal connections with agents at conferences and workshops won’t result in immediate offers of representation, but it does give a writer a chance to let his personality shine. And when he queries those agents, there’s an increased likelihood his submission will get extra attention–and even personalized feedback. For the pre-published author seeking representation, that is invaluable.