Many writers, like me, are looking forward to the agent conference sponsored by the PA West region of SCBWI this weekend. Featured agents are Ginger Clark, Molly O’Neill, and Jennifer Laughran. We’ve been sorting through our manuscripts to find the most sparkling one to pitch, then facing it and wondering what in the world it’s about. Like me, so many of the members in my Tuesday and Wednesday night writing groups, grope feverishly for words or spew out endless details, failing to give the essential premise, theme, or emotional change of our books. So conquering the book’s core is task 1.
Task 2 is remembering that we’re addressing agents this weekend, not editors. Many editors, I’m sure, still view the manuscript they hold as the first of many to come from the author. But with publishing pressures even greater now than they were 25 years ago when I began, editors often look at the single salability, rather than the future books the author will produce. Agents are taking on authors, not single manuscripts. So it’s important to think a bit about selling oneself, not just the ms. In the 8 minutes we have, we should sneak in publishing credentials. If none exist, then we should offer our qualifications for writing the book, its marketing history, the nibbles from agents or editors, or the reactions from conference speakers.
Task 3 is to organize, even outline our approach with the agent. Will we give first the pub history, the ms pitch, or the series of questions? Or will we simply read a first chapter and seek the agent’s reactions?
Task 4 is to prep for various off-manuscript questions from the agent. What books do we see as similar to ours? What authors do we emulate? Who are our favorite authors? In these three cases, think contemporarily, at least for a few examples. What else have we been writing? And again, prepare to summarize these other manuscripts without babbling.
Task 5 is to thank the conference organizers, Marcy, Kate, and Nora. These three are the lovely volunteers, giving more time than I can fathom, plus their remarkable organizing skills. We writers are so fortunate that they bear the time-consuming responsibilities and offer such opportunity to us. On second thought, don’t only thank them. Send compliments about them to National, then Kiss their feet! Have fun.