Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Widgets

6 Things Writers Should Not Say to Editors or Agents at Writers Conferences

In light of my going to a couple conferences this month, I figured I would put into writing a few things I hope writers will not say to the editors and agents (or maybe just to me) they schedule one-on-ones with. This may be selfish. It may not be. It may actually help someone more than it saves me from having to smile and say my favorite noncommittal word, "Interesting!" Yes, I am being way more tongue-and-cheek here than I would ever be in person, so don't be scared to come talk to me. :) But this space, this blogspot, is kind of like my home, where you have entered in on me being myself and where you get to be... well, whoever you want to be, I guess.

But here are some things I've heard from writers in the past that I hope to not hear at this year's round of conferences. Although, some of them make for great stories.

1. "This is my first draft, but I just wanted to see what you thought."

Huh? No. Do not bring your first draft to a conference. This could be your one shot. Have you seen the movie 8 Mile, or maybe you've just heard the song by Eminem. If not, go listen to it now and then think again about bringing your rough draft to a conference. Now, if your main reason is to attend a conference for a learning experience, that's a whole other story. But still do not show your first draft to an editor. You can consider counseling with an editor, asking questions about the industry, maybe share your idea, but please do not ask us to read your first draft. We are not attending the conference to review manuscripts or to do any conceptualization or development. We are looking for ideas to publish. Well, at least that's why I want to do one-on-ones.

2. "Before I tell you about my manuscript, I just want you to read the first few pages. No, no, just read..."

Umm... Excuse me? Yes, this has happened to me. The writer practically put their one index finger to my lips as I began to talk and said, "Shhh... Just read this. I know it's going to blow you away." Do I really need to say what's wrong with this? Let's just say this writer is not publishing with me.

3. "I know this isn't the kind of book you are looking for, but I just wanted to talk to you anyway."

Yeah, about that. No. I really need to use the little bit of time I have away from the office (on office time by the way) maximizing on meetings that may have some kind of ROI for me and the company. What happens in these meetings is that, fifteen minutes after the author's spiel, I still end up telling them that this is not the kind of project I am looking for, but perhaps XYZ publisher or agent will be better suited for you.

4. "I have never heard or known of a book like mine. It is so unique."

Really. This seems like a good thing, but it's not. If there are no other books in the market like yours, there may be a reason for that--the market (i.e., readers) does not want a book like yours. So saying this is not a selling point. Perhaps you could show how your book is similar to other books along the same lines (same genre or category) and then you could show how your book is different. Saying that you know of no other book like yours in the market says several things: 1) you don't read much, 2) you don't understand the book market, 3) you don't know the job editors have to do to sell book ideas to their sales and marketing team who sell books to distributors based on comparison, 4) you did not do your research.

5. "I don't have a proposal, but I just wanted to see what you thought about this idea."

Great, but not during the one-on-one. Meet me at a meal. I could be off here, but during one-on-ones I expect to meet with authors who are ready to be published. If you are still just learning and seeing if the author's life is right for you, let's talk over a meal.

6. "You guys publish the weird stuff, right?"

Cute. But no. Try not to say anything about the publisher you are meeting with that could be taken negatively. In this case my thoughts were on my defense, not the author's pitch: We publish verifiable genres and recognized BISAC categories--at least in our minds. So that is a little off-putting to say our stuff is weird, but then again maybe you're also saying your stuff is weird and that we should all get along because we're all weird. I guess that's OK. But come to me showing me that you understand what we are publishing and perhaps what we publish sets us apart from what other publishers are doing in our same market. That would be nicer to hear. I don't want to be working for weirdos (although sometimes I question if I am or not, but only I get to say that).

While I may have been taken aback by many more surprising statements during these wonderful editor-writer encounters, these are the ones that come to mind right now. Maybe more will come later. While I am probably the nicest editor you'll meet at a conference (I will still enjoy our meeting as if you have done nothing wrong even if you come to me with any of the intros listed above), I do think it shows an author's thoughtfulness and seriousness about their career when they take these one-on-one meetings and use them for what they are for--to get a publishing deal. If you are not ready to be published or you've found an editor or agent you'd like to just network with but don't have a manuscript ready, you should plan to share a meal with them--sit at their table. Please sit at my table. I love to have a full table. I am there to be exploited and to have indigestion for those three or four days. I love this business, the readers, the authors, and the whole bit that much. And then if I do request your manuscript, please, please send it to me. If you have problems hitting "send," read this.

That is all. Thank you.

What are some interesting things you've heard people say at writers' conferences?
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