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Con-templation

Since it's been more than a year now since my first article for the SFWA Bulletin (SFWA stands for Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), I'm now able to post it for all.  Back when I started doing the Agent Anonymous articles, I was, as the name implies, anonymous.  I wrote as Agent Sue Dee Nym, thinking that if I wanted to get all controversial, it would give me all the freedom I could desire.  Then I discovered that I'm such a direct person, I wasn't saying anything I wouldn't say with my own attribution.  So, without further ado, I present to you Agent Sue's very first article.  Hope you enjoy.

Con-templation

Since this is my first article for The Bulletin, I wonder whether I should introduce myself or simply launch right into my topic.  Hmm, what would Miss Snark do?  To start, she’d probably have some brilliant witticism at the ready about Killer Yap, George Clooney and a bucket of vodka…and no, not in THAT way.  Sheesh, you’d think y’all spent time reading The Priest-Kings of Gor or something.  Anyway, I don’t have a cleverly-named poodle, just Facely, a hyperactive ferret who likes to build nests in my couch and occasionally pounce on my feet.  He refuses to fetch, vodka or anything else, which is probably just as well.  I’d take horrible advantage.

 

I was inspired to write this column by the insanity that takes place every year just before and even during the big cons.  You know them – Comic-Con, Worldcon, World Fantasy – those huge events where you’ll likely be meeting with your agent and editor(s) and expect to hear in glowing and extreme detail about the novel/proposal/concept you turned in the week before.  Okay, maybe you beat the rush and actually got your manuscript in an entire month in advance.  Quick and brutal honesty: so did half the known world.  Every year, several times a year even, agents and editors kill themselves (or at least do brutal damage to their relationships) trying to live up to everyone’s expectations, trying to read and comment pithily (it’s a word if I say it is and my spell-check agrees) on submissions from authors they’re committed to and those they aspire to sign.  I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t submit your manuscript right before a con, only that you understand how crazy it is for agents and editors and that you realize that it’s not a magical turn-in time.  Any time, particularly BEFORE your deadlines, will do.

Now, before the con itself and after turning in your material, there’s the issue of scheduling.  I’m sure y’all have already got this part down, but be sure to let your agent and editor(s) know what cons you’ll be going to when.  First, there may be something special that your publisher has going on or can set up in connection with the con and your appearance (an ad in the program, an interview, a special signing, etc.).  Second, if they’re attending, of course they’ll want some sit-down time with you to discuss your career or maybe just bond over Joss Whedon’s current masterpiece.  Third, it lets them know that you’re putting yourself out there to promote your work, something increasingly important in this market.

Next, DO NOT judge your value in someone else’s eyes by the time they’re able to give you.  (Did your agent offer you breakfast instead of lunch, lunch instead of dinner?)  Slots fill up fast!  Especially when you realize that we mostly lose dinner to those wonderful parties thrown by publishers that we don’t want to miss.  And the choice of breakfast over lunch might simply be based on what meal we saw you for last or our evaluation of pre-coffee coherency.  Personally, I’m no good for anything but grunting and tripping over playful ferrets before copious amounts of caffeine, preferably mainlined directly into my veins.  I’ve been talking for years about having a tap installed in my office, but so far BigBucks has refused my petition.  So I tend to take breakfast with the folks I have a long and comfortable relationship with, who can interpret my grunts and growls into meaningful conversation.  Oh, and here's one of the best parts for you writers out there: generally, your agent or editor pays.  Yup, that's right, the drinks are on us.

Do remember that you can - or at least should be able to - talk to your editor or agent any time and you don’t have to save everything up for the con, but it’s often a good time to do career planning, sort through new ideas for the most marketable, and bring up any questions or concerns.  There are some times where there’s no substitute for face to face contact, especially if you want to gauge reactions or just have a discussion with more non-verbal cues than smiley faces and LOL signs. 

Of course, the cons aren’t just for you to talk with us (your peeps).  You already know us.  We’re already in your corner.  It’s for doing panels that reach out to readers, signings where you get to meet your fans face to face, accidental meetings with your idols in elevators, networking at parties or hotel bars.  Make sure you’ve filled out the programming questionnaire.  Follow up pleasantly if you don’t get a response.  See if you can set up signings at local bookstores or at least stop in to sign stock.  If the latter, introduce yourself to staff, chat for awhile, be prepared with bookmarks or other things you can leave behind.  Be engaging.  That goes for signings, as well, of course.  Just sitting behind a table may not get you the traffic you’re expecting, unless the signing was well-publicized, which is too often not the case.  There should be something of interest at the table, beyond you and your book – a flashy poster, candy, an organized chat or reading to draw interest.  You might even bring along your own kibitzer to draw people in if you’ve got a friend or significant other who’s good at that sort of thing.  I’m talking here about bookstore signings, of course, since con signings are a little different, though some of the same ideas may still apply. 

On panels, keep your comments concise and on-topic.  Bring books or covers if you want to flash them (warning: shameless self-promotion is more acceptable here than overseas, so know your audience), but remember that the attendees are there to see the panelists and hear about the topic, not all about your latest work.  Being an engaging and interested panelist goes a lot farther than offering a hard sell. Also, beware the ramble.  Keep it concise!  Say it once.  Sum it up at the end.  The same rules apply for networking.  Have goals, of course, things you want to accomplish, but not an AGENDA (capital A, bullet points, the whole nine yards).  A conversation that’s all about what someone can do for you will be very brief.  Be yourself.  Make contact, get cards, follow up…later, when the con dust has settled and the con crud (the illness that follows everyone home) is a thing of the past.

Very few deals are actually done at conferences, unless they were well set up in advance (submitted, read, loved).  Conferences can be great, though, for laying the groundwork for future deals – pitching concepts or manuscripts, etc.  I also can't tell you how many anthologies have been created by a bunch of authors sitting around the bar and maybe even bought by the editor with them who said, "That sounds great!"  But remember, the deal probably won't be done right there.  Offers require first, second and often third reads, P&Ls (Profit and Loss statements), acquisitions meetings….

On the subject of what comes after the con: we’re told, “Go forth and blog!  It’s fantastic for promotion” – which it is if you have something to say and a way with saying it.  Just remember that we’re a global community and blogs are meant to be read.  Unless you’re doing locked posts, you can’t control who’s reading, so you never want to say anything “in public” you wouldn’t say to someone’s face.  Careers have suffered from ill-advised blogging.  Just because writing is an art, doesn’t mean it isn’t also a business where professionalism is prized.

So, to sum up, how do you get the most out of a con?  Sign up for programming and go to it prepared to be witty and concise.  Schedule time with your peeps and use it not only to bond but to discuss your career.  Sign whenever possible, at the con and in local bookstores.  Leave time to network with others – at parties, in the SFWA suite or hotel bar.  Always remember that as much fun as we have over beer and M&Ms (or wine and crudités), this is first and foremost the chance to conduct business – how else could you write it off on your taxes?  Professionalism and preparation go a long way.

Okay, I’m finished preaching to the converted.  I know you all know this.  You’re wonderful and erudite, brilliant and concise, and I look forward to seeing you all at the upcoming cons.

 




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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
j_cheney
Jul. 13th, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC)
Professionalism and preparation go a long way.

So very true...
(Deleted comment)
varkat
Jul. 14th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
Glad you like 'em! I'll have to check, but I don't think they did that before I provided the bio giving my name.
martharamirez
Jul. 13th, 2010 05:03 pm (UTC)
Great post, Lucienne. As always good advice.:)
delkytlar
Jul. 13th, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
I knew I should have entered the betting pool about your identity. I could have used the $5 winnings about now. (Actually, for anyone who has talked about the business of publishing with you, your identity was pretty clear all along.)

It's been a great series of articles. Keep it up.
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Jan. 24th, 2011 03:36 am (UTC)
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( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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