Conference Report: Professionalism

RWA09conference-logoTwo smart, young literary agents, Jennifer Schober of Spencerhill Associates and Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency, presented part of a workshop titled How to Catch Flies: on Professionalism and Choosing Your Own Business Reputation. I say “part” of a workshop because it got interrupted by a fire alarm which meant everyone attending had to exit the Marriott and wait for the all clear. However, Ms. Schober and Ms. Bradford picked up right where they left off as soon as we were allowed back in the building because they are—you guessed it—professionals.

This workshop interested me for a few reasons. One, I think that, of all the folks in the publishing biz, agents have to be most concerned with projecting a professional persona, so they know a thing or two about how to do it well. Two, I hoped it would give me new insight into how agents think. Three, I had a question I really wanted to have answered. All three of my reasons for attending were addressed.

Here’s a summary of my notes:

 1) Don’t let your business persona just happen. Be thoughtful about how you wish to appear to the public. This is especially important in the on-line world. Remember that anything you put on-line stays there forever for anyone to access. This means your Facebook page, your blog, your website, your Twitters, etc., should all contain material that enhances your reputation as a professional writer. Even your Flickr photos should not show anything that could prove embarrassing, or even just too personal. Be careful what you say in emails on email loops, even closed ones. Things get forwarded.

2) There are four things an agent expects from a good working relationship with an author:

               a) Timeliness;

               b) Respect and common courtesy;

               c) Confidentiality;

               d) A sense of responsibility and a strong work ethic.

 3) Have attainable benchmarks for your career. There is so little that you can control about the publishing business; set goals you CAN have an effect on. It will make you feel better.

4) Communication is very important. Talk to your agent first about your needs and/or concerns. Both agents stressed that they nurture communication with their clients. They don’t want you to stew and be unhappy, nor do they want to be blind-sided by problems you haven’t discussed with them.

5) You can get ahead by being “kind”. Ms. Bradford mentioned that some people seem to feel you must be a “squeaky wheel” to succeed in publishing. She disagrees. Kindness pays dividends.

6) Now for my own burning question. I always hear folks say that they pitched to an agent or editor “in the elevator” at a conference. Okay, I hate pitching, my room was only on the fifth floor so the ride was very short, and I can’t imagine doing more than smiling and saying hello in an elevator. Is this really something I should attempt to do?

Ms. Bradford laughed and said that if she’s at a conference, she expects to be approached by writers looking for representation. Her script was:

Writer (reads agent’s nametag as she enters elevator): Hi, Ms. Agent. I’m Nancy Herkness. I wondered if you’re interested in representing romantic suspense?

Ms. Agent: Yes, I am.

Writer: May I send my romantic suspense proposal to you?

Ms. Agent: Of course. Here’s my card. Please email it to me after the conference.

Elevator doors open.

Writer: Thank you. It was nice to meet you.

Writer goes directly to bar and has three Cosmopolitans to calm frazzled nerves.

All right, the last stage direction was my own addition to the script. However, I was relieved to hear that it’s considered acceptable to approach an agent at a conference without prior contact. Of course, I would never do anything rude, like interrupting a conversation or stalking them into the Ladies’ Room (these things have happened, evidently). That wouldn’t be professional.

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  • anthonymci

    You could probably substitute ‘agent’ with ‘boss/manager’ and ‘writer’ with employee and still find all your excellent points valid.
    You’ve covered so many topics there…obviously it would take an entire weekend to go over them all. I’m going to have to steal some of them for my own blog.

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