By Jon Sternfeld – The Irene Goodman Agency
2011 SCWW Conference Faculty Member
There is always an awkward power dynamic at work when a writer first sits down to meet an agent. Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s the chaotic environment of conferences, or maybe it’s the magical feeling writers have, the misconception really, that an agent is the gateway to a writing career of fame and fortune. It’s true that agents have the knowledge and contacts to help start a writing career, but we are not the issue. The book in your hand (or head) is the issue. That and how you come across when you pitch it to us.
When I go to conferences, I immediately try to disarm the writers who sit down with me for one on ones. I give them a smile, tell them to relax, make a light joke or just anything to ease the tension – the reason is that I want them to lower their expectations that I am anything but a listener for the moment. It’s like a helpful boost to start things off - I want myself to be lowered so there’s room for them to feel a bit raised. A committed, disciplined writer is confident and agents know this and respond to this. Agents don’t travel weekends and miss time with their family to chat with uncommitted amateurs. We do it because we truly believe that out there are professional (though as of yet unpublished) writers that are just golden and waiting to be discovered.
If you’re shy, just fake the confidence, because often it’s the deciding factor as to whether or not an agent takes you seriously when you first sit down. Your passion, conviction, and sometimes, even your ego, will help get the agent to really see you as a writer, which I think is as important as the ‘pitch’ sometimes. I can’t do any reading in front of you, so whether or not I ask for you to send me your pages will often be based on how well you seem to know your story, how much time and work you’ve put into it, and how articulate you can be when discussing it. All of these are easier with confidence.
It’s an irony that at conferences the agents don’t read the writer’s work, but it’s the nature of the environment. Since they won’t be reading in front of you, the best you can do is get them to want to read more. Then, they’ll be rushing home to check their email to see what you sent in and the power dynamic is back as it should be – with the writers in control.