HOW TO BEHAVE AROUND AGENTS & PUBLISHERS

Conference Etiquette For Authors

I am so excited I could “squee”, (not something I normally do) In two days time I’m hopping on a plane to LA for the SCBWI Summer Conference.

But underneath that excitement is a certain trepidation.

You see like most authors who can chat quite happily from the safety of their computer keyboard, I’m actually shy at heart, and it’s a scary thought to be about to be thrown into a large group of people I don’t know – especially “very important publishing people”.

As I was walking my dog, Puff (that’s her on the left) the other day, I realised what the problem was. I am not scared of snakes or spiders (although moths alarm me a little) but I suffer from Agpubliphobia.

Agpubliphobia – an unreasonable fear of agents and publishers.”

It’s a name I invented because well something like this just seemed to need a name – and from talking to other authors I realise I’m not the only one who suffers from it. So I thought I’d share possible causes and cures.

Now I know from experience that agents and publishers are just people, and all the ones I’ve met have been very nice people. So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not them I’m scared of, it’s actually me – and how I might behave under stress.

When it comes to knowing how to put words on paper, I’m quietly confident that I can do a good job. Even doing author talks to schools, and workhops in classrooms, I’m very comfortable.

But when it comes to talking to ‘important people’, when there’s a lot at stake – like a possible contract or judgement on something I’ve created that is close to my heart, I seem to take on some quirky traits that aren’t a normal part of my personality.

And I’m worried these tendencies may be amplified with the 2011 SCBWI LA conference because of the fact that this conference is probably five times bigger than any I’ve been to before and I’m one of only eleven delegates from Australia and New Zealand.

A large part of my motivation for going to the conference is centred around ‘actually’ meeting writer friends from all over the world that I’ve ‘virtually’ met online. I’m also enthused about what I’m going to learn from sessions like my verse novel intensive with the amazing Ellen Hopkins and from people like Gary Paulsen who is one of my favourite children’s authors.

But what if? What if someone – a publisher or agent asks me, “What are you working on now?”

If I had to think on the spot, I would probably respond with “Umm, Umm, Umm…” They would walk away thinking I was writing some weird sci fi novel about an octopus like creature with lots of arms and not much else.

Okay, so that was my first fear to overcome. The only way to do that I figured was to prepare my pitch in advance – so I wouldn’t have to get my fear-addled brain to think up something pithy on the spot.

(Thanks to Rachelle Gardner who has recently had some really helpful pitch posts on her blog.)

Memory Lapse

I’ve memorised my pitch, but what if I forget it? Then I’m back to where I started – paralysed by Agpubliphobia

To overcome that, I’ve made special prompt cards (cleverly disguised as a bookmarks) in case I forget.

My 'giveaway' bookmark

Lost For Words

What if everyone around me (including agents and publishers) is making intelligent small talk and I have nothing to contribute to the conversation? What if I can’t think what to say? If I can’t even remember my name or where I live (oh I’ll have a name tag so at least the first part will be covered)

The ‘Lost For Words’ syndrome is the reason I’ve printed another set to hand out to people – and down the bottom is a photo of where I live in Australia – so that’s kind of a visual prompt to help me relax and remind me that I do have something to talk about.

How Not to Scare Away Agents & Publishers

Now I realise that not everyone is like me. (although I know a lot of children’s writers who are). Lots of people are extroverts and things can go badly wrong for them too, so I thought it only fair that I cover this side of things as well.

Last time I posted on this topic I talked about how not to scare away agents and publishers by being overzealous and enthusiastic.

If you don’t suffer from Agpubliphobia, but agents and publishers seem to run a mile whenever they see you, here are some tips thanks to my wonderful writerly colleagues at Kids’ Writers Downunder:

Some of the following tips have been taken from a previous blog post. These are the things you DON’T DO AROUND AGENTS AND PUBLISHERS:

  • Get drunk and whisper sentimentally to a publisher or agent that they remind you of your mother.
  • Follow publishers/agents everywhere and offer to buy them drinks.
  • Follow them to the bathroom and talk to them through the cubicle wall (or under the gap in the door).
  • Follow them full stop.
  • Pitch to them in a social environment – if a publisher has just consumed a large and sumptuous main, there’s nothing that will cause them reflux more than an author pitching their 200,000 word sci fi, thriller, mystery romance over dessert.
  • March up to a well-known author’s agent or publisher and ‘drop their name’; making out you are their ‘bestie’, and that by association, this makes your writing irresistible.
  • Ambush elevators full of agents/publishers to do your ‘elevator pitch’ (This is a late addition thanks to my good friend and crit buddy, Alison Reynolds).

(In case you haven’t read it already, here’s the complete post on How Not to Scare Away Agents and Publishers.)

Deciding what to pack:)

I guess in conclusion I’d say that no matter what sort of personality you have, try to be your nicest and most relaxed self around agents and publishers. And have fun! That’s what I plan to do. I know the SCBWI LA conference is going to be an amazing experience and I’m going to make the most of it.

Do you suffer from Agpubliphobia or are you the suave, calm type that isn’t phased by this sort of occasion? If so, we could really use your help. Please feel free to leave your tips and comments.

Well I’ve got to go and pack. Next time I blog I will probably be in LA. I’ll definitely be back here to let you know how my strategies worked.

Dee:)

P.S. Here’s another great resource I just got from the SCBWI website.

P.P.S – Thanks to our wonderful SCBWI RAs here in Australia, Susanne Gervay and Chris Cheng and to Sara Rutenberg (Chief Operating Officer SCBWI LA) who have done so much to help me prepare for the conference and make me feel at home already.