My last blog post featured a very long example appointment with an agent. In it, I pretended to be Tom Clancy pitching his first novel, THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, to agent Chip MacGregor.
Since that post, I’ve been on a week-long “work break” in which I focused on actually getting some work done. Gotta pay that pesky mortgage! That was pretty successful, so I’ve got time this week to blog again.
Is it ok to do the whole copout of “this is my first time… sorry if I’m a bit rusty” at the beginning? I think it is leading try to get reassurance and help starting from the agent, but I’m sure if we thought of a better lead in we would look a bit more professional.
Randy sez: It’s OK to do it, but only if it really is the first time you’ve had an appointment. I don’t think I could get away with that now. My opinion is that it’s always best to be honest about who you are and where you are in the process. The agent will figure it out soon enough anyway, but you’ll score a point for having some sort of self-awareness. I strongly suspect that editors and agents don’t much respect delusional authors.
I am a bit of a wander when it comes to my writing. I actually call myself a story teller because I have great confidence in crafting a story, I am working on the writing part. Anyway, when I start talking about my novel series I go on forever, any suggestions to help stay on track when talking with anyone, especially an agent or editor?
Randy sez: Well, if your natural talent is to spin out a story, then that’s going to come out in the interview. (That’s definitely not my natural talent.) However, be aware that the editor or agent is not going to want that right away. Like Chip said in the interview, they’re going to want the big-picture first. So it would be wise for you to prepare a one-sentence summary and a one-paragraph summary in advance.
If you go in with those and get some interest, then is the time to pull out your storytelling skills. (If you get a big yawn instead, then quite honestly, the interview is over already, no matter how good of a storyteller you are, so be prepared to discuss Them Damn Yankees or Those Crazy Politicians or whatever direction the small talk will inevitably take when your editor/agent realizes that your story just isn’t for him.)
Remember that if the editor or agent doesn’t like the story, it’s not necessarily a statement about the story. It’s a statement about them. As an example, I’m told that GONE WITH THE WIND is a great story. I’ve read it and have not been able to confirm this claim. The story just didn’t interest me. If I were an editor I would turn it down, because I wouldn’t have the enthusiasm to edit the beast. I’d leave it for somebody who likes that sort of thing. Whereas I’d ask to see the full manuscript of a DIE HARD-type novel. Exploding helicopters simply work better for me than exploding corsets.
In my public speaking class, we always made notes of the highlights on index cards and used that to stay on track and on time. Would an agent or editor be offended if you had note cards for the interview?
Randy sez: Any editor or agent who would be offended by note cards is the wrong person for you. If I sat down with an editor and I needed note cards, I’d start out by saying, “I’m a writer, not a fast-talker, so I hope you don’t mind if I have a few notes to help keep me on track.”
Most editors would appreciate that:
a) You have enough self-awareness to know your strengths and weaknesses.
b) You have the social skills to turn a liability into an asset.
c) You came prepared to get down to business and have done your best to not waste their time.
That’s all for today! I’m heading out the door shortly to grab a couple of filing cabinets from Craig’s List. I really don’t enjoy doing organizational stuff, but it’s definitely time to get more space to keep all that paper out of sight. My current filing cabinets are half-height (and full) and I’ve decided to switch to full-height ones that will hold more stuff with a smaller footprint.
I expect that I will be exceptionally crabby for the next day or two while I rearrange my office.