My fantastic local RWA chapter, LIRWA, hosted an amazing event last month at Fox Hollow, where we got to have lunch with about thirty literary agents, editors and other publishing professionals. I wrote an article about it, which was published in the June issue of “Shorelines,” the LIRWA newsletter. Here it is – enjoy 🙂
A First Timer’s View of the “Shining the Light on Romance” Luncheon By: Ruth Vincent
I arrived for my first Luncheon with nervous jitters and no idea what to expect. My only previous experience meeting agents and editors was at huge national conferences like RWA. I was pleasantly surprised by how intimate, and laid-back, the atmosphere at Fox Hollow felt. Instead of ten minute pitch sessions – like “speed dating” literary agents – we got to have relaxed, real conversations. For me, as a newbie writer, literary agents and editors can often seem like celebrities – rarefied, idolized, and unapproachable – so being able to have a casual chat over lunch was a much needed reminder that industry professionals really are just regular folks. By the time we got to the inevitable “so, what’s your book about?” I didn’t feel like I was pitching – I was just sharing a story across the lunch table with a new friend who was already excited to hear it.
Here are a few things I learned at this year’s Luncheon, which I hope you’ll find helpful – either for next year’s event, or at Nationals this July, or wherever you might encounter agents and editors in the future:
1. Researching your intended agent / editor as much as possible before the event really pays off.
It was great to hear the agents / editors introduce themselves at the mic, and say a few words about what they’re looking for in submissions. However, as my table was in the back, I lost a lot of what they said in the clatter of forks and knives. Luckily, I had researched everyone beforehand, so I already knew who represented my genre. (I made a Power Point presentation that I saved to my phone, with slides for each agent and editor, including a photo (easy to find on Google) plus notes about that particular agent / editor’s interests, genres, client list, etc.…) Doing my own research also yielded some fun facts that made for perfect conversation starters – such as that a particular agent and I shared a favorite author, or that an editor went to my alma mater.
2. Flubbing a pitch is not the end of the world.
Most of my pitches were surprisingly easy, but for some inexplicable reason, there was one that just fell flat. I literally started stuttering, forgot one of my key plot points in midsentence, and drew a complete blank in response to the editor’s one question. Needless to say, I didn’t get a request. But I kept reminding myself – there were thirty other industry professionals in the room. I tried to approach as many people in my genre as I could. The more I gave my story spiel, the easier it got, and some people, for whatever reason, are just easier to pitch.
3. Talk to EVERYONE – not just your intended targets
It’s easy to zero in on one dream agent or editor and forget to just be friendly to all the human beings around you. I happened to sit next to an editor at lunch that represented none of the subgenres I write in – and the agents / editors who did were too far across the table to hear. Since the pressure to pitch was off, we were able to just enjoy each other’s company. I asked her whether, as an editor, she is still able to read for pleasure? She responded with an enthusiastic “yes!” and this launched us into a lively conversation about our personal beloved authors. Although this editor doesn’t handle my subgenre, at the end of our lunchtime chat she gave me the name and a personal introduction to an editor who DOES. Every conversation counts!
Although I’d come to the luncheon mainly to meet literary agents, I made it a point to approach the editorial assistant at one of my favorite publishing houses, which publishes many of my favorite authors. This is a traditional “New York” publisher, and I knew from experience that they don’t generally accept un-agented submissions. But I wasn’t approaching this person to pitch – I just wanted to tell her how much I love the books her line puts out, and how much I appreciate the innovation they are bringing to this particular subgenre. Because the pressure was off, I was able to just be myself – so when she asked, “What do you write?” I gave probably my best pitch of the whole afternoon. “We don’t normally take un-agented submissions,” this editor told me. “But your story sounds like so much fun – send it to me!”
I entered Fox Hollow feeling shy and apprehensive, and I left with a profound feeling of community. Ultimately, what I learned is this: agents and editors aren’t that scary – they’re just people, who are really passionate about books, particularly in their subgenre – so talking to them is easy, because you already have something in common. We’re all on the same team – writers, agents, and editors – we all want a world filled with great reads. My deepest gratitude to everyone from LIRW who worked so hard to make the “Shining the Light on Romance” Luncheon possible! You gave us such a gift– not only an unparalleled networking opportunity, but also the deep joy of being amongst our “tribe.” Thank you!
For the writers out there – what’s your favorite writers conference, and why? Please share in the Comments!