4 Tips for Recovering from a Poor First Impression

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

We’ve all done it. We say or do something that comes across all wrong, confirmed by the comments or expressions we get in response. Don’t be too hard on yourself because it won’t be the end of the world, and only in extreme cases would a single faux pas mean the end of a writing career. I have 4 tips for recovering from a poor first impression, focused on your interactions with agents and editors.



Decide if it’s worth worrying about.

Maybe you’re imagining your gaffe was more serious than it really was. Talk to your agent or a writer friend you trust to be honest with you if you’re in doubt. And when they, in true supportive fashion, bring an issue to your attention, take it to heart and talk about possible ways to remedy the situation. The next tips will help.

Apologize right away.

A simple apology shows honesty and willingness to own your blunder, rather than trying to cover it up. Feel free to stop and apologize in the middle of your pitch if you started off on the wrong foot. Take a deep breath, explain your nervousness and excitement, and then pick up where you left off. When I see a writer do this well, it impresses me and I remember it.

Project confidence next time, and be yourself.

With every misstep there’s opportunity for a lesson learned. Take this positive approach in order to be more confident in the future, secure in who you were created to be. Be assertive without being aggressive. Recognize when you are nervous and avoid the tendency to talk a mile a minute because you’re uncomfortable with lulls in the conversation. You end up breathless and rattled. I appreciate a momentary lull in a 15-minute pitch conversation because it allows me time to process your information.

A primary consideration going through an agent’s or editor’s mind during a pitch meeting—other than hearing about the writer’s WIP—is weighing the first impression that is forming: This writer looks nervous and is trying to be something he or she is not. I wish I could see the real person. Or, this writer is comfortable and prepared. Most agents and editors will try to put you at ease by asking you an icebreaker question to help diffuse your stress. Inwardly we’re rooting for you and want to help you do your best. After all, we’ve been there too. Agents are the ones pitching clients’ proposals to publishers, and editors are the ones pitching authors’ projects to their pub board, which means we understand what it’s like on your side of the table. This brings me to my number one tip for today:


Many lapses can be avoided when you’re at ease. Your thinking is clearer, and you can process better what the agent or editor is saying to you. Doing these things will help you to be relaxed in your meetings:

  • Craft your 30-second elevator pitch and practice it in a mirror until you can say it naturally with direct eye contact and an easy smile.
  • Practice your pitch out loud until you can say it in your normal conversational tone. Pitch meetings are business meetings so don’t try to be too casual, but don’t be too formal either. You’ll be amazed how hearing yourself speak this way in your meeting will help you to relax.
  • Be prepared with the strong hook for your book (and make sure your book delivers it!). It’s what will get an agent’s or editor’s attention for both fiction and nonfiction projects.
  • Go to the conference prepared with separate files containing the specific materials required by each agent and editor with whom you hope to have an appointment or run into at the conference. It will alleviate cause to get rattled while searching for the right documents in your bag during the meeting.

When did you make a blunder, and what did you do to recover? What do you do to relax before an important meeting? Do you have a tip to add to the list?


Ever have a misstep in a pitch meeting? Here are 4 tips for recovering from a poor first impression. Click to Tweet.

First impressions stick. Here are 4 tips that help when you mess up in a pitch meeting. Click to Tweet.