I've been to many large writing conferences and have worked freelance for agents and editors, but I still remember my first meal time at an editor's table.You wonder if you forgot everything your mama taught you about eating with "important" people. Is this napkin for me or the person beside me? What if I splat ketchup all over Chip MacGregor's kilt!
Many times a first time conference attendee is baffled when it comes to the lunch and dinner times at editors' and agents' tables, or at least a little intimidated, especially if you are an introvert. If you are Colleen-Coble-type, then you can go back to writing and miss this post. (Of course, she's now eating onions, so who knows? Maybe you need this, anyway.)
At the ACFW conference during lunch and dinner, you will be given the option of sitting at a table with an agent or editor OF YOUR CHOICE. (First come, first serve. Their names will be on cards in the center of the table.) Yes, you will be able to give a short blurb about what you write (wait for it--they'll ask.) Yes, it will be noisy,and there will be others at your table who also are interested in the host of the table. The agent or editor may be distracted by any number of things. There will be announcements and wonderful things going on with Brandilyn Collins, the MC, too.She may be giving away books or causing you to snort out your tea (try to avoid the direction of the agent/editor.)
Here are a few tips when you get to the table. Don't be nervous, eat the really good food. Just be prepared. If you pray before, God can grant you peace and assurance. Really!
1.Often breakfast is reserved for faculty to have a break from conferees. Please respect the parameters given at the conference.It's ok to say hi if your eyes meet, just don't stop at the table or sit down or for that matter,or even slow down. (Break the eye contact as soon as you can--wave to that new person you have yet to meet.)
2. Don't wear fragrances, but do smell pleasant. I don't know how you accomplish this, nor do I want to know.
3.Have your business cards available without fumbling for them for others at your table. You'll also want to chat with those at your table because these people can become your good friends.(And really, you just never know how they will be bridges for you.) Ask the person beside you about her writing. Chances are, you'll relax while listening to her. And this is hard when you are nervous or an auditory learner, but try to practice true communication/listening, and not just rehearsing what you'll say to the editor/agent in your mind while the other person talks. Who knows? You may get a chance to practice with the person beside you. But you also may miss an opportunity to get to know the really cool person next to you.
4. Have your business card(no papers) with you to give to the editor/agent at your table, if the opportunity arises. Jot briefly your book title and a line on the back of the card (and genre.) Make sure you have address/phone/email on that card. If you are uncomfortable having that info for just anyone, have the full contact info ones for only the editor/agents or good friends.
5. Have your 30 second pitch(they will probably ask you) and do not hog the table talk time with the agent/editor. Answer questions, but do speak with others at your table, too. Sometimes it is difficult to hear if you are across the table, too, so be aware and be willing to help others at your table to communicate. Think of always being gracious.
6. It may just be sooo important to contact that editor/agent because you've spent so much money for this conference, but I've seen rudeness occur when people will "save" chairs at a table, and even rushing to take the chair ahead of someone else. This isn’t junior high. Be polite and trust that there will be God-incidences happening. Some editors and agents have noticed if you're chair-grabbing and they have good memories (at times.)
7. You never know who “works”for/influences the agent/editor. Be nice to everyone! (You'll be happier if you are, too. It's fun. Try it. It will confuse some people.) I've introduced myself to someone at a conference, and the person said, "Are you anyone? Oh. You're nobody. Ok. Bye." Yes, I'm Nobody, but I do remember names as they cross my desk....
8. No matter how friendly you have become with an agent or editor, be courteous and respect her/him. I saw a whole table "tease" an editor about something this editor "seemed" to be comfortable about, but behind the scenes this person went back to the room to fume/be hurt--and let organizers know about it. Be sensitive. Don't tease or talk about volatile/sensitive issues. Try to put yourself in that person's shoes.
9. There will also be author tables. Don't be disappointed if you get at an author's table. They are "scouts" for publishers and have agents, too. They're also wonderful mentors, and have much to share.
10. Do be aware that the conference is jam-packed and an overload for everyone. Presenters, editors, agents, authors may need a minute to collect thoughts or just need nourishment. Give the host a chance to sit down (do save a chair for the host!) eat a little and maybe even sample the dessert. Each one has an individual personality and will try to lead the table in his own way. He may want to know what you've been reading, what book impacted you this year, or even ask you what you think about green tea! (Yes, I was asked by an editor about that.) I even found an editor once who had attended Taylor University in Upland, Indiana and I ended up not sending her a manuscript, but a tee shirt from Ivanhoe's. (That was fun.)
10-B. Oh, one more thing--lose 5 pounds before you go as food at these things are usually great and you will WANT to eat! (Not to mention the chocolate parties.)
I have found that the ACFW conference has the nicest, most helpful people. One special time was when someone stopped me from being a deer in the headlights as she quickly prayed for me on the way to her own appointment. Don't sit in your room and order room service--get out and be with others who are just as passionate as you are at the meals. When you go into the "cafeteria," even if you are the new kid in school, you'll find a place and it will be the right place, the right time.
Hope to see the Indiana group at breakfast one morning!