By Kasie Whitener
We are all selling almost all the time. We sell our kids on bedtime and vegetables and our families on holiday gatherings. As writers, we sell our readers on a character’s motivations, a plot’s plausibility, and a story’s value.
When it comes to querying, we try to sell an agent that this story is one with which they will make money. We craft the perfect query letter to an agent’s design and attempt to convince them that this product we’ve created is worth their investment.
Agents are sales people, too. At the South Carolina Writers Association Big Dream Conference, an agent said she spends the better part of her day getting rejected by editors and publishers.
I am an entrepreneur. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of sales people look past me for someone better to talk to, check their phone for messages during my monologue, and scroll through their mental rolodex trying to remember my name. It is not hard to figure out when a sales person is truly interested in what you are saying and when they have already assessed you as zero value. I’m guilty of it, I know. I have been trapped in conversations with people who want something from me knowing full well I cannot or will not give it to them.
Conferences make it easy for literary agents; they take the hustle out of finding clients. An agent meets dozens of hungry would-be authors from which to choose. Any one of these could be the next breakout novel, memoir, or business book. So why does she look like she’d rather be anywhere else but here?
I know when the prospects are weak it can feel like the event is a waste of time. Literary conferences are full of wannabes. And wannabes can be exhausting. So many agents approach writers as if we are all the same: interchangeable dreamers with unrealistic expectations and limited knowledge of how the publishing industry works.
As a business owner, I recognize the signs of good networking and relationship building. When I interact with literary agents, I no longer think about whether they will like me or my book. (Last weekend I didn’t even tell anyone I wrote a book.) I watch how they listen to the stories people tell them, how they encourage and relate to the writers around them.
All industries’ bad habits are perpetuated by those who accept stereotypes, generalizations, and “the way things are.” Truly gifted entrepreneurs, agents, and sales people forge relationships that create meaningful connections with other human beings. Person-to-person, not Wish Granting Agent to Wannabe Writer, or Persistent Writer to Stubborn New York Agent. Just people telling stories, listening and connecting, and maybe doing business together.
It would be refreshing to meet an agent who didn’t have that fear in her eye that I might pitch her my book. Someone who just said, “Oh, you’re a writer? That’s great.” And then, “So where are you from?”