2 Keys to Successful Agent and Editor Meetings

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Two initial impressions you’ll leave with agents and editors you meet at a writers conference are your level of professionalism and the degree of your publishing knowledge. Whether or not you plan to attend a conference yet this summer or in the fall, a refresher and a few tips are always helpful for a successful experience.

Here on our blog we stress the importance of presenting yourself as a professional in your queries, proposals, and in-person interactions with agents and editors. As much as a writer would like to think his or her masterpiece should stand on its own, the reality is that publishing is a business. Presentation of your work—and of yourself—is key because publishers need the assurance that you will be poised and articulate in print, radio, and TV interviews their publicists work hard to arrange. They want to be confident you will be a gracious speaker in front of potential book buyers at book signings and on tours. Readers will expect this of you. If you don’t deliver, publishers know it will reflect negatively in sales of your book.

Agents and editors also look for writers who are committed to your career and have done your research to learn about the industry and what is expected of you, the author. This is the second key ingredient. One of the ways they may do this is by testing your understanding of key publishing terms.

In their conversation with you editors have been known to throw out a word or phrase that is specific to the publishing process. They do this to assess your degree of industry savvy. To lessen the chances of a deer-in-the-headlights reaction, here are descriptions of the two main stages of approval within a publishing house including specific terms to become familiar with:

EDITORIAL BOARD. Every publisher has its own structure, but generally when an acquiring editor talks about his editorial board, he committee1._1means the team of editors and directors with whom he works. Depending on the size of the publisher, the teams usually are divided between fiction and nonfiction. There will be more than one stage of approval by this board. The first is gathering consensus for approval or rejection of your manuscript. If your manuscript gets a thumbs-up at this stage, the team brings in the marketing and sales teams to calculate sales projections based on their educated prediction of current reader interest, the uniqueness and demand for your book, and your platform. The editorial team passes this information to the print buyers and e-book team to get an estimated cost of goods (COG) for a first print run. The acquiring editor processes this information according to the established publishing house formula to determine approximate print and e-book price points necessary to earn a profit. If your book is approved by the editorial board at this stage, the acquiring editor prepares a presentation for the publication committee.

PUBLICATION COMMITTEE. Also called the Pub Board, this committee usually meets monthly or twice a month and is composed of the top-level decision makers of the publishing house. Acquiring editors are armed with their enthusiasm for your book and the data they accumulated to support their case for publication. If your book is approved for publication, the acquiring editor will prepare deal points for an official contract offer to present to your agent or to you directly if you aren’t agented. There is a lot to consider at the contract stage and many reasons to have an agent to negotiate for you. But that’s for another blog post.

Editors need to find great books to publish. Their jobs depend on it. Likewise, agents are always looking for promising new clients with exceptional manuscripts. That’s why they attend writers conferences regularly. Keep this in mind as you decide if you are ready to request meetings with them at a conference. When you are confident your manuscript is in publication-ready shape and you have a significant following, you’ll be ready to pitch your book. Add to that a familiarity of the publishing process and a few specific terms and you’ll be ready for a successful meeting experience.    

Where are you in your journey to pitch your book to an agent or editor? What tips can you share from you own experiences in agent or editor meetings at conferences?

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45 Comments

  • Jeanne T says:

    Mary, I appreciate your post. I have focused more on preparing for the relational aspect of meeting an agent and maybe the “smaller” things to have prepared, like the one-sheet, completed book, etc. I know some publishing terms, but am probably not as familiar with them as I should be. Thanks for the heads up on this aspect of meeting with agents and editors.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      I hear you, Jeanne. There are many things to think about when preparing for these meetings. I think that contributes to nervousness. Your materials and your pitch are the primary focus of your preparation for your work. Presenting yourself as a professional who is knowledgeable about some publishing terms is good prep work for you, the author. Dividing it into these two categories may make it feel not so overwhelming. Is that your experience?

      • Jeanne T says:

        I think it will help. Last year was my first year at ACFW, and my first time pitching anything. I focused solely on a good pitch. I’d been reading blogs that made me somewhat knowledgeable about the publishing side of things. Having another year of experience and reading under my belt will help. Hopefully, some of the information I’ve learned about the publisher’s side of things will be a little more intrinsic for me, if that makes sense.

        I can definitely see the value of preparing in two separate areas. Okay, that’s very long answer to a simple question. :)

  • Norma Horton says:

    Great post, Mary. Thanks for explaining the nuances of these boards. Now I won’t have to ask you as many questions!

    Norma

  • I think I had heard almost all of these terms just from reading agent blogs, but I appreciate your consolidation of them here, Mary. Like Jeanne, I’m concentrating on the presentation, including practicing my pitch, preparing my one-sheet, and praying for God’s will. There are so many details, but I have about a month and a handy list to keep it all straight.

    • Norma Horton says:

      Meghan, you have graciously commented on my posts here, and I’d like to encourage you as you prepare. Because of business and age and other things, the meetings with agents and acquisitions editors have been the easiest part of this process for me. (I am now locked in mortal combat with an 82,000-word edit before Mary lauches a major assault responding to requests for the document. Selling something abnormal, and produced from a journalistic and not literary background, has been the bear.)

      If I can give you one piece of advice, shared from my blog, it’s that if you’re not oozing professional excitement (note the three equally important parts) about your work, others won’t be excited either. Take a deep breath. Practice your pitches in front of your bathroom mirror. (Yea, I’ll admit I did it.) Then get REALLY excited that you’re empowered by His mighty hand. At the end, rest in His providence.

      I have faith in you. NLBH

  • 2 artsy college friends working on business card and one sheet (with exact instructions and previously supplied wording) in exchange for a cheesecake: check.

    Hollywood actor agreeing to let me use his photo on one sheet in exchange for my cute friend’s Facebook name: check.

    Guilt for bragging about that: check.

    Purchase of actual posh briefcase…from thrift store for 10$: check.

    More bragging guilt: check.

    Swanky dress for gala dinner bought on Ebay for 34$: check.

    Bragging guilt: check. Again.

    Discussions with friends and fastidious study and of all things ACFW conference such as expectations, nerves, talking to grown-ups on how to appear professional for exactly 4 days before imploding: CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!

    Large personal collection of airline airsick bags hidden in posh briefcase: ohhhh check checkity check checkerino!!!

    Brain and personality: well, check on the brain part…and that could be interpreted two ways.

    Faith? Amen.

  • Alex Chediak says:

    Mary,

    Love your blog. Thanks.

    You note that “Editors need to find great books to publish. Their jobs depend on it.” I’ve always wondered if Acquisitions Editors earn royalties on successful books, the way authors do. Do they?

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Alex, most acquisitions editors are employees of the publishing house. Acquiring books is their job for which they earn their salary. Occasionally, a publisher will hire a freelance acquisitions editor, who may be paid on a per-project structure. But it’s unlikely the publisher would pay him or her royalties.

  • Mary, thank you for the run-down of details here. Last year, I pitched to two editors for the first time. They weren’t as scary as I had made them out to be in my head. :) And they gave me some great advice and insight into my book and my writing. This year, I’m coming armed with a new manuscript and some experience (which equals a bit more confidence). I’m doing a lot of praying. The thing is, I can prepare and prepare, but ultimately, I can’t mess up God’s plan for me, especially if I’m diligent. I love that thought. I do my part, God does His.

  • Always helpful to know the jargon. Thanks for the great post, Mary. I’ve been more focused on the passion for my project and marketing than considering what level of industry knowledge I bring to the table. I’ll have to be more careful in the future.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Your passion and preparation of your project and the marketing plan are of primary importance, Cheryl. Preparation for a professional, knowledgeable presentation will leave a positive impression of you, the author. Be sure to include your author photo in your one-sheet or proposal for the agents and editors to associate you with your work when they get back to their offices.

  • Rick Barry says:

    Although “deal points” was new to me, the rest of the terms are familiar. Some years back, I made a passing reference to color keys and blue lines to a publisher. He blinked in surprise, said he wasn’t used to laymen knowing printing terminology. What he didn’t realize is that I edited textbooks for years. I’ve learned from rubbing shoulders with production team members, including the outmoded paste-up department, which is a thing of the past!

  • Great tips, Mary. Another thing I do before attending any conference or event where editors will be present is study up on the releases that have come out from their house in the last year (Sometimes I know this simply from having read the books myself). :) Not only can it be a great ice-breaker, especially if I know one of their authors personally, but I hope it shows that I’m familiar with the industry as a whole and am invested as both a writer and a reader.

  • This year at Mount Hermon, the first workshop I attended was about pitching. At lunch, I sat by the editor who’d taught the class, and she asked for my pitch. I tried frantically to remember everything she’d just told us, and combine it with what I’d learned pre-conference. Then I dove in. She was gracious and very interested.
    Remember that agents and editors have a life outside of publishing, and I think it means a lot when we take that into consideration as we interact with them. They’re also watching the way we interact with other conference attendees.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Sounds like you had a successful unscheduled meeting, Jenni.

      Yes, we’re people too, with busy lives inside and outside of publishing, same as you. When I see attendees who are encouraging others, my initial impression is they would be pleasant to work with.

  • Mary,

    Thank you for the wonderful advice! I’m just now wrapping my head around the idea of marketing myself, and not just my manuscript.

    Marilyn

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Marilyn, it’s easy to forget that part and thus be unprepared. It’s what prompted me to blog about the subject today, while there still is time for writers to prepare your author impression you’ll leave in your meetings at fall conferences.

  • lisa says:

    I have been learning like crazy. Thank you to this blog for consistently providing such great resources. I getting really close to query and pitch… but I’m not quite ready for this ACFW. That was a really hard decision to be so close yet not quite ready. I hope the decision to wait was a wise one. I pray for God to show me the right time and the corresponding confidence to be myself.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Lisa, ACFW offers wonderful teaching, but you are indeed wise in your decision to wait if you aren’t confident you’re ready to also pitch your book. If God impressed that on you, you can be sure he will equip you at the right time…maybe next year…remembering he wants the best for you.

  • Thank you, Mary, for this excellent primer. I am not ready to attend a conference yet as my manuscript is not ready to shop, but this post helps me feel a little more mentally prepared for meeting with editors and agents. It’s also a great reminder that I need to keep studying and learning about the business side of writing.

    Blessings!

  • Love this post, Mary! It’s a great reminder of why the publishing process can be a slow one (at least from the author’s position). I just made a promotional video for My Book Therapy about my pitching experience. It was so beneficial for me to go to the Pitch & Promotion Seminar with Susan May Warren last year before the ACFW Conference. This is a very important step in the process, so I wanted to learn as much as I could. I had two amazing editor pitching appointments last year and I’m looking forward to more this year.

    My best advice is to walk into the appointment with confidence–even though you’re nervous. You’re the person God has chosen to tell the story you’ve written, so look at yourself as the expert on this story. But remember to be humble. Though you’ve written the story, you can still learn a great deal. Enthusiasm is contagious, so remember to be excited. And make it personal. In the course of a fifteen minute appointment I discovered commonalities with both editors and felt we connected on a personal level, as well as a professional one. I hope it made me memorable.

    • “You’re the person God has chosen to tell the story you’ve written.” Thank you for the reminder, Gabe.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I’m with Meghan. One of the first things I learned about the story I was writing was that God gave it to ME to write, not to someone else. This has been an encouragement and a confidence booster when I’ve needed it. :) Not that I would say it in those words during a pitching session. :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “Look at yourself as the expert on this story.” Now that is a great confidence-building perspective, Gabrielle.

  • Lynn Hare says:

    Mary, excellent blog post. I’m continuing to learn publishing terminology and the process. Your post was a good prompt for me to look up the terms – and learn more about, in particular, price points for ebooks, and choice deal points in the current market.

    I’d like to know more about the publishing house process. Can you recommend a book we can read to bring us up to speed? What’s your favorite on the subject?

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