When Your Agent Appointment Flops

In keeping with my conference posts, I want to talk a little today about agent appointments. I’ll use agents as the example for brevity but this post can also apply to editor appointments. That is, what if the agent or editor doesn’t like your work?

Don’t despair. Seriously. Here’s why:

1.) If you feel you stuttered or stammered, or otherwise weren’t at your best, don’t worry. The best agents realize few readers will meet authors in person, so a poor verbal presentation shouldn’t work against you. You will be judged on your writing, because that’s what the reader will see. If the agent asks for your work, send it, no matter how badly you feel you presented yourself.

2.) If the work isn’t to the agent’s taste, it’s best to learn that now rather than later. Many authors interview a number of agents before deciding on which agent is the best fit.

3.) If the agent doesn’t seem enthusiastic but offers advice, consider it. That advice alone could be worth the cost of going to the conference.

4.) You can submit another work, or an improved version of your current work, later. Remind the agent you met at conference, and then most agents will extend the courtesy of a thorough review.

All appointments are learning experiences, even those during which the agent declines.

Your turn:

Have you had a disastrous conference appointment? What did you learn from it?

After the initial disappointment, in hindsight, were you glad your work was declined? Why?

What is the best thing that happened to you during a conference appointment?

8 Responses to When Your Agent Appointment Flops

  1. Avatar
    Jackie Layton July 17, 2014 at 5:49 am #

    Hi Tamela,

    Once I met with an agent who shook my hand, asked about my story, and proceeded to look at anything but me. The floor, the ceiling, the table. Not me. Which is okay, but I felt the agent hated my story. So I sped up not wanting to waste any more of their time and edged my way to the end of the seat.

    I finished and was ready to thank the agent and run.

    And then they requested a proposal.

    I was stunned.

  2. Avatar
    Sandy Mauck July 17, 2014 at 7:12 am #

    I don’t have an agent story, but having been in the art world and been crushed over and over, I want to say that after every critique and painful criticism 90% of the people were right. Once we get over the stumbling block of Ouch—then we can nurse the bruises and go on to heal and win the race.
    Now I can handle the criticism if it is not just preference. I can see the difference better now. It is a maturity to understand that the editor or agent is really after your best interest. I take every criticism to heart, not to my hurt but to my heart and in meekness (hopefully), I can lay them before God to sort out.
    Then I start working harder.

  3. Avatar
    Ellen July 17, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    I had an agent clearly, totally, not get my concept (for a cooking guidebook to help people bring meals to those in need) but I was okay with it knowing it was just one person. I could see early on he wasn’t a good fit. However the other writers at the table with me all seemed devastated for me, in that each came up to me (separately) after to encourage me. And all was not lost, an agent I met serendipitously just after LOVED it and was able to give me pointers for next steps.

  4. Avatar
    Jenny Leo July 17, 2014 at 8:30 am #

    My oddest meeting at a conference was with an editor, not an agent. He seemed shell-shocked: blank facial expression, no feedback, no questions, not even an eyebrow lift or encouraging “hm” or “is that so.” It was like talking to a tree. At the end of my fluttery pitch I said, “Well, thank you. Good-bye” and he said “Good-bye.” I think I sounded to him like the teacher on the Peanuts cartoons (mwah, mwah, mwah). He must have been very tired, or feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of shining hopeful faces parading past him. In retrospect it might have been more useful to hand him a bottle of water and a chocolate bar and call it a day.

    I do sympathize with editors and agents who see dozens of authors, one after the other. It must be absolutely grueling.

  5. Avatar
    Penelope A Childers July 17, 2014 at 9:22 am #

    I was asked for a proposal and sent it in. The reply was that my writing was compelling, but it was not the narrative form they were looking for. This was good advice so now I am trying to change my book to make it more desirable. I really wasn’t ready for an agent to take my work, so I think I was relieved.

    It must really be hard to look at so much work in the hopes they don’t miss the one they don’t want to get away.

  6. Avatar
    Nick Kording July 17, 2014 at 10:48 am #

    I met with an agent at a conference a few years back because the Zondervan editor told me she liked my concept but that I needed an agent to help me build a name (Because I was pitching Bible studies) and a pictorial devotional based on my trip to Israel. I went up and there was one agent with 2 open spots.

    I came in, told her that I was unsure what and how agents worked and why I had signed up to see her. She proceeded to tell me, not even looking at my work or one sheets, that she was pretty filled as most agents are and only take people they’d like or feel they’d like to work with. She then picked up my one sheets and proceeded to tell me what I did wrong (which was right and I learned from that). When she came to two without proposals, she asked where they were and when I told her all my proposals were taken by the editors I had met, she asked who and which ones and wrote it down. Never heard from her…

    It was one of the most discouraging experiences and really kept me from pursuing an agent.

  7. Avatar
    Tamela Hancock Murray July 18, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    This is a really great collection of anecdotes. I think this group has hit on just about every bad thing that can happen. Thank you all so much for sharing. I’ll re-read this before I go to conferences and try not to act shell-shocked, dazed, or too aggressive! Love all my blog readers! 🙂

  8. Avatar
    Mary July 18, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

    Tamela, thanks for bringing a great personal memory back to the front of my brain.

    I’ve only been to 2 writers’ conferences, and the most recent one was over 10 years ago (really? Wow, time flies!). That was the Harriet Austin Writers Conference in Athens, GA. I paid extra to have my mss reviewed by an editor pre-conference, and then met with that editor. Just before the appt, I had been sitting front/center in her workshop, smiling and clapping at her points. She remembered me. 🙂

    This was mid-afternoon, and they had put a table of cookies/crackers/coffee/water in the hallway, but I’d never seen the editor leave her room, so I put a couple cookies on a saucer and grabbed a bottle of water on my way in for my appt.

    You should have seen her face light up when I handed them to her. 🙂 Then she dug through her stack of papers, found my story, and her face lit up again – she REMEMBERED it!

    She looked at me and said: “You remember what I was just talking about in the workshop? About finding a fresh way to present a familiar topic? YOU NAILED IT! I passed your story all over the office, telling everyone: You need to read this!”

    She went on to tell me about the one flaw she found in it, and I agreed with her. Naturally, I asked her if she would publish it once I fixed the flaw, but her company was a small local press, and the book would have had too limited an audience to work for them.

    I’m tellin’ ya… I don’t think anything quite beats the feeling of having a conference editor tell you: “I’m SO glad I got to read your submission!” I’m smiling just remembering that day.

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