Pub Rants

Schmooze Me

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STATUS: Busy, busy. Closed a deal. Discussed a contract. Analyzed and sent out royalty statements. Getting ready to go out of town.

What song is playing on the ipod right now? TOWN CALLED MALICE—The Jam

Well this song takes me back to High School. I think that dates me. I always have great intentions of writing my blog first thing in the morning. Yep. Doesn’t happen.

It will tomorrow because I have to catch a plane so I’ll need to blog in a hurry.

Since I’m off to the Dreamin’ in Dallas conference, I thought I’d let you guys in on a little secret of how to win friends and influence agents while at a conference.

Seriously, if you plan to attend a conference and you want to make a good impression, especially on me, here’s how to do it.

First off, don’t be shy and do come up and say hello. Introduce yourself. Tell me you read my blog and deliver lots of compliments (joking on that later part). How will you meet me if you don’t come up and say hello? Tell me which one of my authors’ books you’ve read and why you loved it (and I’m serious about this one because that will impress me).

Remember that I’m a human being. Best place to say hello? In the hotel lounge or conference social cocktail parties where I’m feeling relaxed and probably have a glass of wine in hand. This means I’m in social mode.

Worst place to say hello? In the bathroom. Folks, I’m taking care of business. I don’t want to do anything else in that particular place.

Another good place to say hello? Right after I give my workshop. There I am. At your disposal to answer questions. That’s the trick. Ask a good question. Don’t pitch your novel.

Another bad place to say hello? Outside my hotel room. As I’m walking out the hotel front door to catch my plane.

Elevators are sometimes iffy. Depends on how you carry it off.

Here’s the secret. No agent wants to attend a conference and be pitched to—unless we are taking our pitch appointments and then it’s perfectly fine. Instead, what you need to be is your charming self. Be normal. Be interesting. Make conversation. Ask some good questions.

I promise you that if you are all these things, I will eventually ask you about your novel and whether it would be a good fit for me because you have impressed me as a person; therefore your writing might impress me as well. Or, what will happen is that in the normal unfolding of conversation, there will be an appropriate opportunity to mention your novel. It always happens if you are treating me like a human being that you want to meet and not an agent you want to pitch to.

I once was at an opening cocktail party of a conference. It had been a tough flight and I was a little frazzled. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxed opening session. Well, this one attendee basically stalked me through the cocktail party. When she saw I had a free moment, she pounced and immediately started pitching me—without even introducing herself first.

You know me. I’m unfailingly polite but I could feel my eyes glaze in about 30 seconds. I felt ambushed.

In desperation, I told her to send the first 30 pages by snail mail—just so I could end the conversation (even though I could tell the work wasn’t for me).

She said (and I kid you not), “but I must tell you about this part.”

And I have to say that I did channel Miss Snark for a moment and I said, “No, you really don’t. It sounds fine. Why don’t you just send me the first 30 pages.”

She replies, “No, I must.”

And then proceeded to talk at me for the next 10 minutes, explaining her novel in excruciating detail.

I was saved by an attentive attendee who gracefully interrupted her and whisked me away. We had a charming conversation and at the end, I said, “I don’t care what you write, please just send it to me.”

The power of charm and being yourself. That’s how you schmooze me.

19 Responses

  1. Simon Haynes said:

    You can understand why some people ambush you at these dos – they believe their entire writing career hinges on getting you to accept their partial on the spot.
    Also, don’t forget that many writers are introverts, and will be extremely nervous, and have probably been building themselves up for months so they can approach agents at whatever the event is. Maybe they’ve attended other cons beforehand and not had the courage to approach anyone, so this time they’re determined to get it out.
    I’m sure they’d love to treat it as just another friendly conversation, but to them it isn’t.
    Having said that, collaring you in the restroom is the pits. Have you considered wearing a groucho marx type disguise?

  2. pennyoz said:

    Kristin, I gather that you don’t like Hoover door to door salesmen who stick their foot in the door and throw indelible ink on your new pure white wool berber carpet either?


  3. Evan said:

    Do you carry mace or a stun gun (giggle)?

    I saw an ‘episode’ of BookTV were Rosalynn Carter was talking about how the Sercret Service agents were trained to break too-tight and/or too-long handshakes when the owner of said hand was too star-struck to let loose on their own.

    Of course she didn’t seem nearly as alarmed by this as I would be. Eek!

    To a writer, you would be the First Lady.

  4. Candice Gilmer said:

    That’s some great advice. From a writer’s perspective, there’s a fear, at least I know there is on my end, anyway. Though I’m no introvert, (hairstylist by trade,) I still worry about finding the right opening, and trying not to put on a front for any meeting with an agent. Or an editor.

    And man, oh, man, the last thing I’d want to do is pester anyone…

    The bathroom? You’ve gotten ambushed in the bathroom? EEwww.. tacky.

    Course, I did hear a story that Garth Brooks once got ambushed in the bathroom stall of a resturaunt. When asked why the fan didn’t come to the table, the fan said “Didn’t want to bother you while you’re eating…”

    That takes…… uh, something, but I’m not sure what, exactly…

  5. Gina Black said:

    One of my favorite experiences meeting an agent was when I sat down next to her at a dinner at a conference. I had no idea who she was until the following morning when she was on a panel. But we’d had a lovely conversation.

    Much later I sent her a query and she remembered me, which was nice. So far she hasn’t taken me on (after two manuscripts) but when we see each other at conferences we yak, yak, yak.

  6. Julie said:

    As a former Denverite working on my first novel, I have had your agency bookmarked for months. I found your blog yesterday and am really enjoying it. I like your humorous and down-to-earth advice.

    I wanted to attend the DARA conference this weekend (I am in the DFW area), but alas, the registration was already closed when I found out about it a month or two ago.

    I’m sorry I won’t have an opportunity to hear you speak, but have your blog bookmarked now as a daily must-read and hope to attend a future conference where you’re presenting. I promise I won’t speak when I recognize your shoes under the stall wall. 🙂

  7. Dana Y. T. Lin said:

    I remember my first conference. I was so shy, I didn’t schmooze with any agents. I did go up to a couple agents after their workshops to thank them for their time, but didn’t schmooze. Nope. I stuck in my littler corner with my Bunion buddies and had lots of cocktails, though.

  8. Vivienne King said:

    very good bit of advice. bathroom’s…c’mon that’s just common sense. hope you have a blast and meet some wonderful new *prospective* clients.

    I really need to get to one of these conferences someday. Maybe when I finally sell that book to NY. :p

    have fun.

  9. Toni McGee Causey said:

    I went to a wonderful conference years ago when I was writing non-fiction, and a large number of NY editors for the top magazines were in attendance. I was pretty bashful, and I sort of stood back and observed; one editor (from Parade) kept getting ambushed as she tried to make her way to the refreshments table after she’d given a long talk. I could tell she was thirsty, so I drifted by, asked what she’d like, went and got it for her. She thought I worked for the conference, and when I shook my head (embarrassed, didn’t want her to think I was stalking), she grabbed me by the arm, announced to the other that her “appointment” was here, and steered me off to a private area. We ended up laughing and joking, and then she offered to look over my stuff. She volunteered to skip the next session and teach me how to do queries better, and while I never queried her (didn’t have anything right for her), I did end up selling to some national magazines as a direct result of her help. I will alway think of her absolute grace under pressure, but mostly, I just remember how trapped she looked, yet how utterly kind she turned out to be when there was no pressure on her to “do” something.

  10. Jana DeLeon said:

    My personal advice – find someone who knows the agent or editor you want to meet and ask for an introduction. That way the editor/agent knows you’re “okay.” If you don’t know anyone, well, wing it, but never, ever pitch!

    I’ll be at Dreamin’ in Dallas and I’m sure I will be introducing people to the most wonderful agent in the world…I started to auction introductions on ebay. (hmmmm)

  11. Jana DeLeon said:

    BTW, Julie, the booksigning is tonight and most of the attendees will be lurking in the bar, the signing room, the bar……you could still meet some people if you wanted to come.

  12. Becky Taylor said:

    I love this. People are queer and amazing unto themselves. People in social situations, well, that’s fodder; especially when most of the people in the situation are trying to sell a dream.

    I used to be a flight attendant for United Airlines, so as you may imagine I love people watching. Nothing brings out the best, and worst, in people like cramming them into a tube with three hundred others for eight hours. I’ve seen stuffy looking business people smile while giving up their aisle seat to accommodate a mother traveling with two small children. I’ve also had to beg, bribe and barter an entire plane full of people unwilling to budge.

    Some people just know how to behave, whether on a plane or a cocktail party. I do believe that most of us writers suffer from acute social handicaps. It’s the rare bird that is content to cloister themselves away for large parts of their day but, when required, can flip on their extrovert switch and function appropriately while sipping martinis.

    I’m scheduled to attend the Pikes Peak Writer’s conference at the end of this month; Kristen is scheduled to present. Alas, I have spent the larger part of the last three years holed up in my house, raising babies and crafting my own dream. My old flight attendant uniform gathers dust in the closet, my extrovert self hangs next to it. I will admit to suffering much nervousness over the up and coming conference. Talking to strangers used to come as naturally as breathing, now, I’m not so sure. I’m not pitching to Kristen, but I do plan on saying hello. I think I’ll pin my old wings to by bra strap, just to remind me I know how to do it.

  13. Julie said:

    Oh, Becky, I would love to be at that conference! Barbara Samuel is also going to be there and I absolutely love her women’s fiction (haven’t read her romances). I literally hid out in the bathroom one afternoon and cried while I while I was reading a scene from No Place Like Home so my kids wouldn’t think I had lost my mind! You should try to hear her. She can really nail emotion.

  14. joanr16 said:

    The cocktail party anecdote gave me an insight into us first-time novelists. We’re stage mothers (or dads), and the offspring of our imagination has the curliest hair and most adorable dimples and– just watch!– can tap-dance Savion Glover into submission.

    Surely there have been good stage moms as well as horrible ones, and so we have to ask ourselves which kind we are.

  15. Middle Manager said:

    I can really relate to this post. About a year ago, a new management position opened up in my office that I was involved in hiring for. We had SEVERAL internal applicants…and people came out of the woodwork from everywhere to meet me and talk to me about the position and their accomplishments at the company. While in some cases I was impressed with the attempt to meet on a more personal note, some of the approaches were just plain annoying and inappropriate!

  16. A. J. Luxton said:

    Writing, not being a social profession, unfortunately does not give the would-be protagonist experience levels in social skills. If the writer wants social skills, the writer must divide off some time here and there, go to social venues, and ask people to tell them what they’re doing wrong.

    Some of us are cursed with a special kind of inverse shyness, where the instinctive cover for social nervousness is long streams of talk. This can be positively channeled, but only with practice and a lot of constructive criticism. It does, however, become VERY useful when the talkative-shy person is faced with a silent-shy type: I’ve managed to hold up long conversations singlehandedly until the other person finally felt comfortable and welcomed enough to speak up. I think my record was half an hour, but I was also bringing my guest tea and gadgets to pick up the slack . . .

    Advice to others of this type: When going to conventions, simply fail to know what anyone looks like. Don’t read up on the guests if you don’t already know who they are. That way, when the animated gentleman at the coffee stand strikes up a conversation with you, you and he can both be pleasantly surprised by (his secret identity as a famous whatever/ your lack of knowledge of his secret identity as a famous whatever.)