So often, writers are told in excruciating detail what they should not do when approaching agents and editors. Although knowing what not to do is helpful, I’ve always heard positive reinforcement is much more effective. So today, Lucienne Diver with the Knight Agency is joining us to talk about well-behaved writers.
Kelsey: Pre-published writers are often nervous about talking with agents. In a conference setting, how do you suggest someone approach you and introduce herself?
Lucienne: “Hi, my name is ___. I’m a huge fan of your authors X & Y.” Or something like that. Then springboard into a conversation. As you mentioned, agents are people too. We have things we geek out about (like Joss Whedon or So You Think You Can Dance). I’m not suggesting you bone up on every agent’s likes and dislikes pre-conference, but if you happen to know them, they can be a great place to start. Pitches, though, should be kept to pitch sessions. If you’ve met an agent you’d like to query, a simple, “Is it possible to get your card; I’d love to query you” will do just fine. You get the same benefit, the ability to say in your letter that you met the agent at a conference, without pitching over pasta or pit stops.
Kelsey: Do you prefer the national or regional conferences for low-key interaction with authors?
Lucienne: At the national conferences I’m usually so busy running around to see my various authors and their editors that I have very little time for the relaxed, coincidental meetings that are often the high point of my trip. I love how much I get done at nationals, but for low-key interactions, the regional conferences are priceless.
Kelsey: Which small talk topics are acceptable for writers to use when first meeting an agent?
Lucienne: The best thing you can do when meeting an agent outside a pitch session is to forget that you have an agenda. Just talk to them as people. You already know you have one thing in common – the love of books. None of us got into publishing because we thought we’d make scads of money – that’s just a bonus <g>. We got into it because we love words, intelligence, creativity, voice, stories. You can start there. Questions are always good ice-breakers, because they express interest in the person you’re talking to. As long as the question isn’t, “Can you tell me some of the reasons you turned down my query?” Unfortunately, unless an author was referred to us or we took the time to write a very personal rejection, we won’t necessarily remember yours out of the hundreds we read every month.
Kelsey: Are there some topics best avoided in a social setting?
Lucienne: Pitching. Pretending not to pitch while grilling the agent about your genre. For example, “What do you think of the possibilities for a funny contemporary romance involving a white witch and a possessed broomstick?”
There’s also a right way and a wrong way to show that you’ve done your homework. Right way: I love your blog. So informative! Wrong way: How old is your kid again? If I’ve met you before and we’ve exchanged stories that only a mother could love, asking about my family is perfectly acceptable. If not, well, it’s sort of creepy.
Kelsey: What impresses you when you first meet someone?
Lucienne: Personality and professionalism. I met Vicky Dreiling, whose debut historical romance series I’ve just sold to Warner Forever for 2011 release, over a dinner at a conference. It was casual. She sat down next to me and we just hit it off. She didn’t have to pitch to me. If I remember correctly, I liked her so much I asked what the book was about and then insisted she send it.
Kelsey: Could you offer some suggestions for acceptable dress for pitch appointments?
Lucienne: Business or business casual are good. Basically, as long as we don’t remember you as the girl in the Daisy Dukes, you’re probably fine. We’re really looking for the material to speak for itself, so there’s no need to get the cold sweats worrying about whether the red power suit in your closet washes you out.
Kelsey: What catches your attention about a writer’s online presence/website?
Lucienne: I don’t go looking for a web presence for a prepublished writer, though if they have one – for instance they host a very well-known blog – that’s great because it can help in marketing. A successful web presence isn’t about the sales pitch. It’s about personality and content. You want to provide information and entertainment. Rachel Caine is a wonderful example. Her blog is funny and full of extras. It’s not about soliciting readers, it’s about giving back to them. For that reason, she runs contests, posts bonus stories and does all kinds of wonderful things.
Kelsey: At what point is it acceptable for a writer to follow up with an agent after sending a requested partial? A requested full?
Lucienne: Most agencies have their guidelines posted on their websites. It’s a great idea to check these before ever querying, because agents or agencies will sometimes close to submissions to catch up on their backlog. Those guidelines will probably list an agent’s general response time. If they’ve gone beyond, a polite e-mail inquiring about the status is just fine. If you’re concerned about your material arriving, use a read receipt (if e-mail) or delivery confirmation rather than bother the agent with a call. If your follow up e-mail doesn’t elicit a response, a second e-mail or polite phone call at that point is just fine.
Kelsey: If you return a manuscript with suggested revisions, do you welcome questions from the author if s/he needs clarification?
Lucienne: It depends how detailed I am in my letter. The more information I provide, the more likely I am to welcome questions, but also to have answered them with examples. In other words, “I just didn’t connect with the material” or “I couldn’t suspend my disbelief” are not specific enough revisions that I’m suggesting the work is close enough (for me) that I can advise the author on exactly how to bring it up to snuff. This is a very subjective business, however, and another agent may feel entirely differently about it. If an agent does give pretty specific suggestions and you decide to revise accordingly, you may want to query him or her again to see if s/he’d be amenable to giving your novel a second look.
Kelsey: What do you see as your particular strengths as an agent? What type of relationship do you like to have with your authors?
Lucienne: With over sixteen years in the business, I bring a lot of experience, as well as enthusiasm and attention to my work. I haven’t learned to relax or give anything less than 110%, so my authors get the benefit of my workaholism. I’m also very communicative on submissions, rejections, negotiations and editorial input, helping my authors hone their work before it ever sees an editor’s desk. I like that I have a very close relationship with my authors and that some have given me nicknames I’d love to put on my business cards, if it wouldn’t mess with my, ahem, gravitas.
Thanks so much, Lucienne. You can be sure I’ll read this post more than once!
RUers, stop by on Wednesday when Wayne Levine joins us for the first installment of Wayne Wednesday, a monthly feature where he will discuss men and relationships. This week Wayne tackles how men talk to other men about their woman troubles.
Lucienne Diver joined The Knight Agency in 2008, after spending fifteen years at New York City’s prestigious Spectrum Literary Agency. Over the course of her dynamic career she has sold over six hundred titles to every major publisher, and has built a client list of more than forty authors spanning the commercial fiction genres, primarily in the areas of fantasy, romance, mystery, suspense and erotica. Her authors have been honored with the RITA, National Readers’ Choice Award, the Golden Heart, and the Romantic Times Reader’s Choice, and have appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists.
She’s also an author in her own right with her debut YA Vamped released in May 2009 by Flux. Further information is available on The Knight Agency website: www.knightagency.net, her author site: www.luciennediver.com and her blog: http://varkat.livejournal.com.
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