Thursday, June 02, 2011

Sir Isaac Newton's Guide to Agent/Editor Stalking

RWA Nationals is just around the corner. Many of us will be attending angsting over our pitches, studiously attending workshops and meeting many other writers. In the spirit of this, I have asked fellow writer Walt Mussell to share his article here. I found this an amusing and very appropriate look at how to conduct yourself in the presence of the beleaguered Agents and Editors that you will meet. Enjoy! M.V. Freeman

Sir Isaac Newton’s guide to agent/editor stalking

When it comes to writing conferences, I’m still a newbie—I attended one conference in each of the last three years. All were great, as I networked, attended workshops, and learned about writing.

However, I also went for the potential of meeting agents/editors. At my second conference, I obtained two appointments, which, combined, accounted for 15 minutes of my weekend. I prepped, polished, paced, and then performed. Admittedly, I was nervous. Not about my pitch. Not about my clothes. Not about having my work critiqued (destroyed).

I feared breaching agent/editor conference etiquette.

I’ve heard the recommendations. You meet the agents/editors at scheduled appointments, and then you leave them alone unless they approach you. Yet, there are overzealous writers who wait outside elevators, approach agents and editors while they’re eating, and, the scariest one, chase them into a bathroom. I’m smart enough, hopefully, not to do any of these things. However, there were agents/editors I wanted to meet at the conference, if only for a minute. And the potential for my emotions to override my common sense shook my nerves.

So, I looked for ways to take a measured attitude. Being a numbers geek, I sought advice from one of history’s greatest writers, Sir Isaac Newton.

Yes, I know. Newton is known as the discoverer of gravity and for his laws of motion, but he also was a prolific writer. Extremely shy, he once published under a pen name. He soon received letters from colleagues telling him his distinctive voice still resonated in his work. (Actually, the letters said, “Ike, we know it’s you. No one else on the planet can do the math.”)

So what did I, a newbie writer, learn from Newton? One of Newton’s laws of motion is often paraphrased as “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” Using this law, I created Newton’s guidelines for meeting (stalking) agents and editors.

(1) Agents/editors in motion should be allowed to stay in motion.
(2) Agents/editors at rest should be allowed to rest.
(3) Even though agents/editors may be the irresistible force, do not become the immovable object.

That’s it. I’ve followed these tenets at my last two conferences—but this doesn’t mean I wasn’t proactive. While getting coffee at one conference, I noticed that the woman next to me was the person I was meeting in 30 minutes. I mentioned how much I’d enjoyed her comments in a panel discussion she’d participated in the previous day. She thanked me, but left frustrated as there was no cream at the table. I tracked down a member of the hotel staff, procured a small pitcher of half-and-half, and asked one of the volunteers at the agent/editor appointment area to take it in to her. While I’d like to think my brilliant pitch and potential were the reasons she requested a partial, I’m still giving some credit to the cream.

I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a publisher. And some might say I don’t have a clue about what I’m doing. Until I do, though, I will send out my query letters, follow my guidelines, and be proactive. And, as I return to my writing desk, I will focus on Newton’s second law of thermodynamics, the one that says chaos is always increasing.

Walt Mussell is an aspiring writer, specializing in inspirational historicals with Asian settings and humorous nonfiction. He hopes the above qualifies in one of those two categories. Visit him on the Web at "Daddy Needs Decaf" (Parenting: Tues)

Walt Mussell
"Daddy Needs Decaf" (Parenting: Tues)


M.V.Freeman said...

As an aside, this article was also published in GRW's newletter, "The Galley" last fall.

I was going to put this on the blog itself, but alas, blogger is being particularly snarky today.

I thought this was excellent--and I liked the relations to Sir Isaac Newton's laws of Gravity--very appropriate!

Louisa Cornell said...

Great article! And definitely rules to live by. Who new Sir Isaac knew some much about romance writing!

M.V.Freeman said...

I agree, it opens a whole new world for me! :)

Walt Mussell said...

Sir Isaac probably never realized his potential contribution to romance writing, given that he never married and was supposedly very shy. :-)

Callie James said...

As always, Mary, great blog!

M.V.Freeman said...

Thanks Callie! But I must give all the credit to Walt. :-)

Carla Swafford said...

I've heard a lot of people say they hang out in bars to meet the editors/agents of their choice. It never worked for me, partly because I'm not much of a drinker and I feel funny sitting there hoping to pick up an editor or agent. LOL!

What I found that help was networking. Talk to strangers, ask them to go to dinner with your group/friends. It's amazing how those people end up having editors or agent and they introduce you more times than not.

Another way to network is participate in your local RWA's chapter programs. Especially in the ones where an editor or agent is invited. Even if they're not the editor or agent you want to have at this moment, you never know what the future will hold.

Walt, being kind and thoughtful are certainly ways to get attention plus it makes you feel good too.

Great post!

Thanks, Mary, for bringing it to our attention. Hugs.

M.V.Freeman said...

Thanks Carla- I agree. Many of the groups I have had he honor of participating in- like Southern Magic have been invaluable- the people are amazing!

Katherine Bone said...

Mary, this was fantastic. Thanks for sharing. I love the reference to Newton's theory. This makes me ponder the relativity of math to writing. Hmmmm... Could or could not be a good thing since I'm not good at math. But I can write. Or at least I'm the little tug boat that says, 'I think I can'.

What a great article! ;)

M.V.Freeman said...

Kathy, thanks for stopping by. As soon as I read Walt's article it made perfect sense to me. Hmmmm. Newton was a pretty interesting guy.

Walt- I didn't know he was shy and a bachelor. He must've been a romantic at heart.

Robin Kaye said...

Great post, Walt! I love it. I've met so many editors and agents just hanging around. I was talking to one for 15 minutes before I found out who she was. She asked me what I wrote, I handed her an ARC and when she asked if I liked my publisher. I proceeded to tell her about their upcoming spotlight. She said "You don't know who I am, do you?" I said, no, who are you? When she told me, I pitched her a series and she asked for a proposal. LOL You just have to be open to meeting people--anybody because you never know who you'll be talking to...or at least I don't!

Walt Mussell said...

I feel like I've been out of it. Today is my anniversary. I hope people will forgive me.

To Mary, Louisa, Callie, Carla, Katherine, and Robin, thank you for the wonderful comments you've made. I'm flattered that you enjoyed it.

Tina Radcliffe said...

Excellent post, though, Walt you are not chaotic. You are very smart.

Walt Mussell said...

Thanks, Tina. Appreciate the vote of confidence.

Debra E. Marvin said...

I was a very ineffective stalker at a conference, Walt. Just as well because I would have been a wreck if I ever got even a moment of her time...
nice post!

Pam Hillman said...

Great blog post and wonderful rules to live by. Enjoyed this very much!

Thanks Walt!