The goal is to hear the magic words, “I’d like to see some pages.” This gives you the privilege of writing "Requested Material"on the envelope when you send your work and makes your submission rise to the top portion of the slush pile. It also means that the agent or editor, after seeing you in person, is reassured that you can at least carry on a conversation - a plus if they send you on book tour.
The conference planners did their best to accommodate different personality types. I purchased three one-on-one sessions with two agents and an editor all of which went very well. Face to face at a small table with just the editor or agent alone, I was able to speak clearly and ask intelligent questions. By contrast, I failed miserably in the pitch lounge where editors and agents hung out between appointments. Writers filled the four round tables crammed into a small room and whoever opened her mouth first got to bend the agent’s ear for most of the session. I fared just as poorly at the two cocktail parties where I couldn’t seem to force myself to get up from my table and mingle. I did somewhat better at the final session in which each agent or editor was seated at an individual table. The seven writers at each table had a total of fifteen minutes to pitch before a bell rang and the agent or editor moved to the next table.
I also found the pre-conference workshop extremely helpful. An agent gave us pitch pointers and allowed us to practice in front of a small group. I tightened my pitch from three sentences to one and felt much more confident after having tried it out on the other writers.
Bottom line, if you go, be prepared and be brave. Research the agents and editors to find those who work with your genre and make a list to carry as you work the crowd. And remember, they want you to pitch to them. They’re looking for the next big thing and hoping it’s you.
(c)Nita Sweeney, 2008, all rights reserved