Most of you know by now that I met my agent long before I signed with her. So you may be wondering just what it was that I did that kept that line of communication between us open for so long. And I would have to say that it wasn't so much what I did as how I approached her. The single best thing that you can do if you have the opportunity to talk with an agent on a personal level is to NOT PITCH HER. Yes, you heard me. I said don't pitch her, at least not right up front. Here's why: while you may know who she is, especially if you have been a diligent little writer and have done your homework, she doesn't know you at all. And she is very used to people coming up to her strictly to hock their book whether or not she's in a place to listen when they approach her. If you are at a conference, sign up for one of the pitch sessions and do your formal pitching there, but if you are at lunch or in the hallway or at a session and are just talking to her, DON'T PITCH HER. This is especially important if you meet outside of a conference in a setting where she is not expecting pitches-like at a party or a book signing.
When I met Lucienne, I didn't hit her with the hard sell. I waited for her to ask me what I was writing about and then I told her. Up front I talked books and the business of publishing. This let her know that I was well versed in what it takes to get published and that I was serious about writing in general. I followed up with her several times after our initial meeting and not once did I try to sell my book. In the beginning I was more concerned with building relationships and learning what I could from someone who is very knowledgeable about the business. When I was finally ready to query her, I did it the old fashioned way even though we knew each other really well by then. I told her I was querying her and then sent it to her formal business email through the Knight Agency, making sure to follow all of their submission directions. I didn't expect special treatment or bug her about reading my submission quickly. I used the proper channels, did my due diligence and wrote the best manuscript that I could. And it paid off. So what can you do to develop relationships with agents?
1. Research them before you meet them. If you are headed to a conference or other venue where agents will be present, check out those agents' blogs, tweets, agency web pages. Know who they are and what they represent before you shake their hand. This shows that you are a serious professional and that you respect what it is that they do. In this day and age, it is irresponsible not to do this.
2. Don't just try to develop relationships with agents that represent your genre. Any relationship that you can develop with an agent is a valuable one. They have loads of experience, knowledge, and advice to share. They know lots of other agents in the business and can point you in the right direction even if they aren't a good fit.
3. Approach them from a place of respect not distrust. I think sometimes some writers have this opinion that the publishing world is intent on shutting everyone out save for a few. They get defensive about their work and short with agents almost from the get go because they're so sure that the agent is more interested in keeping them down than helping them out. They aren't. They love nothing more than mining new talent. If you're getting rejected it isn't because they don't like the way you look or have some sick fascination with torturing you. It means:
A. Your story/writing style just wasn't their cup of tea
B. Your story wasn't ready for prime time just yet
C. Your idea wasn't marketable at that moment...or ever because the idea
or the writing just wasn't strong enough.
D. You queried the wrong agent, didn't query correctly, or queried too soon.
Everybody gets rejected. Just ask George Lucas. The man made Star Wars for heaven's sake and he still got rejected by every major movie production company when it came time to make his latest film, Red Tails (he ended up making it with his own money). He has every connection he could ever need and because the companies felt that his idea wasn't marketable enough, they still said no. Does it mean that the movie companys are out to get him or don't think he's talented? They'd be fools if this were true. They looked at his very good, creative idea from a business perspective and when they projected that they couldn't make money off of it, they passed. It wasn't personal. And neither are your agent rejections. They need to feed their families, the same as you and me and so they have to pick projects to represent that will help them do that. The only time it is ever personal is when you yourself have made it personal by insulting them by not following their query directions, not knowing or caring really what they represent, or acting like they would be lucky to take you on because you are the next big genius and they are but a lowly agent barely capapble of understanding what true talent is (you'd be surprised how many times I've heard from agents that people have come across this way).
Bottom Line: Agents are people who love writing and books and stories just like you. They are committed professionals and should be treated as such. Approach them as a valuable resource to improve your writing skill set, your professional contact list, and as possible canidates for your projects-present and future. Understand that sometimes you have to throw a lot of darts at the board before one sticks and that isn't something you can blame other people for, especially those who in the end would like nothing more than for your book to be the next big thing!