Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 Ways to Maximize Your Time with an Editor or Agent

Supamom’s question left in the comment section of yesterday’s blog made me realize that for an unpublished author, an appointment with an editor or agent is a new experience.

Here’s what she wrote:

Hi! I am a newbie writer and really appreciate this straightforward outline for writing proposals. I am attending the ACFW conference and I planned on bringing a one sheet with me if/when I pitch my manuscript. What are your thoughts on the one sheet versus a proposal at events like this?
Appointments also can be nerve-wracking experiences. Below are five ways to take the mystery out of the process and maximize your time with an editor or agent.
  1. BE ON TIME FOR YOUR APPOINTMENT. This is common courtesy. And if you decide not to keep the appointment, please let someone at the appointment desk know. There is probably another potential author waiting for an opening.
  2. OFFER A ONE-SHEET. A one-page description that includes your short pitch, a longer two-paragraph description, a short bio, your contact information, the category, and word count is an excellent conversation starter with editors and agents at the ACFW conference.
  3. RELAX AND LISTEN TO SUGGESTIONS. Greet editors and agents with a smile and tell them your name and where you’re from. Without my reading glasses, I can’t see what’s printed on your name tag—even across the table. Hand everyone your one-sheet. They will either take time to read it, or they will ask you to pitch your story. We know you’re nervous, especially if you’ve never done this before. Answer questions and listen to suggestions. Think of their advice as a personal letter sent back to you with a rejection. Editors and agents want you succeed.
  4. KEEP YOUR PROPOSAL IN YOUR FOLDER. Editors and agents do not have time to read your proposal at the conference, and their suitcases are as stuffed as yours. Have your proposal handy but realize that most editors and agents will not want to lug it home. Instead, if they show interest, ask if you can send a query letter or proposal to them at their e-mail or mailing address. In the sales world, this is called “the close.” All they can say is no.
  5. LEARN TO ACCEPT REJECTION. This is an excellent time to grow a thick skin. Most pitches are declined, and your 15-minute relationship with an editor or agent will end there. Rejection is not the end of your career; it is only the beginning. One of my authors, Richard Mabry (http://rmabry.blogspot.com/) who writes medical romantic suspense, conducted a survey and found that most editors and agents only ask to see four or five proposals out of the dozens of pitches they hear at ACFW, and of those, they might sign one project. Don’t despair. ACFW is the perfect place to hone your craft and learn about the realities of the Christian publishing industry. The Lord will make an opening when the timing is right.
Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you. This becomes a two-way conversation when you post a comment. Often I jump back on the blog during the day and will answer your questions or respond to your comments. I have both published and unpublished authors who read The Roving Editor, and we’d love to hear from you so that we can learn from your experience. Let’s talk!


  1. Excellent advice. I especially appreciate you saying that you know we're nervous. That alleviates the pressure of acting like our meetings with editors are "no big deal" when, in fact, they are.

  2. Wow - super helpful! This will be my second go-round with face-to-face editor/agent appts. After last year's conference, I found my lovely agent, Rachelle Gardner. Maybe this year, I'll find a lovely editor! They are definitely a nerve-wracking experience, but it helps to know the edtitors/agents wants to find a good writer just as much as writers want to find a good agent/editor. :)

  3. You wrote, "Please let me know how today’s blog has helped you."

    My response, reminding me of your last line.

    "The Lord will make an opening when the timing is right."

    Needed that.
    ~ Wendy

  4. Great info from an authoritative source, Barbara. The editor or agent appointment can be more stressful than a root canal, and it's nice to have a little inside advice before going in.
    Oh, and thanks for the plug of my blog. I thought it was useful to give writers an idea of how unlikely they were to walk away from an appointment with "the standard rich and famous contract." Those appointments are a starting place, and if you look on them as such you're less likely to be disappointed.

  5. You cannot know how much this post encouraged me today. I had no idea that editors and agents only ask to see four or five proposals out of the dozens they see. That takes the sting out for those who come away without an invitation to submit.

    For those who ARE invited to submit--I remember hearing that many authors lose their nerve before actually sending their proposal. This is a heartening push to follow through. The editor wasn't just "being nice," right? They really do want to see the manuscript!

  6. Thanks! I have been feeling like I am going into this blind as a bat! It's good to know what to expect and not feel like I'm in over my head! Can't wait for the experience. :)

  7. Barbara: Thanks so much for helping young writers (of course we aren't talking age). I love how you generously share your wisdom. I heard you might come to Sacramento, CA. next spring to teach a class. I will have a new baby then, but I so hope God will open the door for me to be a part of that day with you.

  8. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I'm encouraged when you're encouraged. While the publishing industry may seem simple to those of us on the inside, I was once on the outside and had no clue about how to market my manuscript even though I'd read Writer's Digest for years.

    When I was about 32, a long, long time ago, I queried an editor about my manuscript. She asked to see it. I sent her the 400-page manuscript that had been typed on...yes, you guessed it...a typewriter. Back in those days, if you made a mistake, your only backup was White Out or an ink eraser. Messy. Often, I typed the page over again.

    This editor sent back a long personal letter, rejecting the manuscript, but giving me lots of suggestions about how to improve it. I was too stupid to know that had I made those changes, I probably would have sold it. Instead, I gave up writing novels and switched to screenplays. Little did I know how close I was to publication.

    Then I sent my first screenplay to the American Film Institute, and they flew me to L.A. from Northern California for an admissions interview. I was rejected, probably because I stuttered a lot when they asked me how I would pay the tuition. Sorry, no government loans. Little did I know that almost no one ever gets an interview at AFI the first year they submit. For some, it takes several tries. Again, though, I felt crushed.

    My point is, never give up. Never let a rejection discourage you. And never let a mean remark from someone stop you from pursuing your dream. I know a writer who received more than 200 rejections before he found a publisher. Now that's perseverance.

    As my high school English teacher wrote on one of my short stories, "Keep writing!"

  9. Thanks so much for this perspective, Barbara! This will be my second conference and therefore, second round of pitches. I'm really looking forward to it, so having these words of wisdom is a great help.

  10. Barbara, appreciate this post. It level-sets the expectation meter, and encourages us to keep plugging away.

    It was very useful to gets statistics on the expected possibility of a RFP from an editor/agent. The odds are much better than landing a job in the workforce right now. ;-)

  11. I have to say that my first experience with 2 editor appointments went so much better than I had anticipated. They are all really nice and people who had to do this just like you and me. I am anxious to do it again! Fear not!

  12. Thanks so much for this! I didn't use the "close" in my appointments last year, but I'm gonna try to remember it for next time! :-)

  13. I'm excited to be a timekeeper this year at ACFW for agent/editor appointments. I love to encourage people, so if any of you have an appointment on Sunday from 10:30-11:45 look for me! :) I had an appointment with Barbara at Mount Hermon a couple of years ago. It was and still is my favorite editor appointment of all time!

  14. Great suggestions, Barbara! Thanks so much for sharing with us! Susan Wales

  15. Thanks for such great information. I always wonder exactly how to use the one sheet. I know of one agent who likes to read a sample of the writing. You don't do that?

  16. Thanks for posting your suggestions. They are - or will be - most helpful.

  17. This was a great help! This will be my first ACFW conference and the first time I will pitch to both an agent and an editor. I appreciate the comments from Richard - it helps me to be realistic and not set myself up for disappointment. So I will look at these appointments as a chance to become a better writer and to develop a tough skin.

    Thanks again!!

  18. Love your blog, Barbara. How should editor/agent appointments be handled when I have two WIP's, but not a finished manuscript? I don't expect to impress anyone without a finished manuscript, but is it still worthwhile to give my pitches to see how they react to my ideas? And is it okay to ask to send them a query when the manuscript is finished if they like an idea?

  19. Thanks, everyone! I'm glad the blog is helpful. Now let's see if I can sort out the questions and answer them.

    Teri, if I read a one-sheet and it engages my interest, yes, I will ask to read the first page or two of a manuscript. The appointment is too short for any more than that, especially if the author and I want to discuss the project. Good question!

    Cora, yes, it's fine to pitch your projects even though they're not finished. However, make sure you let the agent or editor know up front that your projects are still in process.

    In the past I have told a few authors that when they finish the manuscript, it's okay to send me a query by e-mail, reminding me of our conversation. Thanks for asking.

    Well, gang, today was one of those days when other activities took up my entire day so I didn't write a blog. Keep checking back though. I'll make every effort to post two to three times a week.

    Bless all of you and sweet dreams!

  20. Thanks for the answers! I love the way this blog helps us get to know both the process and the editor!

  21. And I love getting to know you as well!

  22. Wonderful step-by-step advice. ACFW Indy 2010 will be my first writers' conference, and I appreciate the insight you've given us here. I've heard wonderful things about you, Barbara, and I look forward to meeting you!

  23. Barbara,

    Thanks for this post. It is a great reminder for me as I prepare for the ACFW Conference this year. I was able to attend two years ago and the thing that most surprised me was how kind and encouraging all the writers, agents, and editors were. Yes, the interviews and impromptu discussions are valuable, potentially career changing, and all around nerve wracking, but ultimately it's best just to relax and realize that the relationships that are built is what's most important.

    Oh, and I so hope I don't have to go through 200 rejections... Though I certainly have had some very encouraging ones.