Author-agent speed dates, Diet Coke, Purell, and self-deprecation that doesn't work

I saw many, many writers this weekend--one every three minutes for two hours. It's not so much overwhelming as a blur--and, when the end was announced, I was genuinely surprised. I knew from experience to bring my own caffeine (for whatever reason, conferences rarely serve it after breakfast); in this case, I was drinking Diet Coke--for portability purposes alone. Were I to plug in a little teapot and make tea as I took pitches, I think everyone would be somewhat unimpressed. Also, I barely had time to look down long enough to pour.

"Wow, is that WINE? I totally don't blame you," one pitchee said.

I hope there is not wine in a murky Diet Coke brown. I've consumed some bad wine in my day, but...

"Nope. That would not help," I said. "It's caffeine. Which does. Sort of."

I was also sick and joked around about potential worst case scenarios: "So, say there's this author pitching me, right?" I said. "And they ask, 'GK, what do you think?' and then I just puke everywhere. That would be AWESOME."

Of course I didn't do that. And of course I wouldn't have attended if I thought that were a distinct possibility. But healthy, I was not. I left right after, no energy for the standard post-pitch agent drinks.

Also, I know from experience that there are many writers who speak badly, many great talkers who write badly, some who do both, some who do neither. I have a system for knowing immediately, when I open work from a conference, how interested I was at the time--and, sorry, no--I won't tell you. I think most agents have a system of sorts, some more complicated than others.

But I know that only works some of the time. How you are in person often bears no relation to how you are on the page.

A few things that work: humor, warmth, looking right at me as you talk--that is, having an actual conversation, rather than talking at me. Doing your research and having a sweet, "Hi, I'm pitching you because..." line (kind of like the first line of a query). Admitting you're nervous is fine, in my mind, as long as it's done with a genuine smile.

A few things that don't: reading from a script. Memorize some of your lines, at least. Coming without a query--I may ask to see it because, frankly, I've no idea if your writing is better than your talking. Showing up without a pen--I should have had a prescription pad; I gave almost everyone slightly different instructions for sending their work. (Part of the aforementioned system.) Also, I'll look at you a little askance if you come, as one woman did, with so many piles of crumpled papers that she took about a minute of the next person's time just picking them all up and dropping them again as they slid out of her arms. I wished I had a tote bag for her. But, alas.

Oh, and crushing my hand with your handshake? No thanks. I may wear kid-sized gloves, but really, people. Bones. Flesh. Breakable.

And yes, that does mean we're shaking hands with hundreds of people. Some agents went around squeezing Purell on everyone.

Also: be careful with self-deprecation, especially when it comes with an "I'm saying this now so you feel obligated to say something to make me feel better" clause.

This happens more often than you'd think.

I sat down with a writer--a very prim-looking writer, mind you, one who looked like a nice, Midwestern, well-groomed, well-polished, innocent late twenty-something. She was all sweetness, light, charm.

After she described her work, I asked to see fifty pages, a query, a synopsis.

Then (forgive me, but I bring you a direct quote just so you can know the real story): "You don't have to blow smoke up my ass if you're not interested," she said.

I froze. My jaw may have dropped a little--years of expecting the unexpected from writers probably gives me a bit more reaction time, so I can sometimes go from jaw-drop to polite smile in a matter of microseconds.

I should really practice this maneuver in the mirror, for just these occasions. There are a lot of them, in the life of an agent.

"I am interested," I said. "But it depends on your writing, so I will need to see your work before I know if it's a good fit for me."

Now. You are more than welcome to joke about your caffeine habits, your clumsiness (I got a very clever story this week involving a sneeze and an accidental concussion), your hair (mine frizzes; I'll understand), your love of primary-colored converse or your Super Mario addiction. I get it.

But making fun of yourself, or bringing up your own discomfort, only comes off well if you seem genuinely unworried.

In general, I would suggest that you avoid talking about the following topics--even if you think you're okay with them, odds are there will still be some discomfort there--and I think most agents are masters at reading tone, so we'll catch it:
  • Those big, scary statistics that people post about how you're more likely to get struck by lightning while singing in a Broadway play on Mars than get published.
  • How annoyed you think we must be to hear from you again. We're probably not annoyed, but it's better to thank one for patience than to apologize for requiring it. 
  • Your fears about your writing skills. 
  • Your spelling/punctuation/grammar habits. If you make a lot of mistakes, we'll notice. If you make a lot of mistakes and point out this fact to us, we'll really notice.
  • Disclaimers. Anything that certain writing workshops charge for. (Mine's about to institute just such a policy--$1 per seems fair--and it'll all go to a wine and snacks fund.)
  • Rejections from other agents.
  • Anything that you're not truly, honestly, 100 percent secure about. 
Accentuate the positive. Don't bring up the negative, unless it's something we absolutely need to know. Not sure what the difference is? Ask your writer friends.

It's kind of like going out on dates. You wouldn't say, "Hi, nice to meet you, so sorry, my skin is bad today--I REALLY need a face lift--and I hate these shoes, and I kind of fell out of bed--and gee, I ate so much for breakfast, and I think I got food poisoning...I feel ill now...are you SURE you want to see me again?"

For me, it's always a counter-balance: reasons to say yes versus reasons to say no. Don't add a "This client will be high-maintenance" reason into the mix. We may be on the fence.

"I should really keep a database of therapists near my authors," one agent friend said to me this weekend.

Hmm. I'm lucky enough to have never felt that way, though I know a lot of agents do. I think most of us worry about signing up to spend hours on the phone giving pep talks. Some pep? Sure. Of course. I'm happy to. Daily? Er...

Now that I'm back in the office and have plenty of good news to keep me busy, I'm drinking ridiculous amounts of coffee. Why is it so much better when made in a French press?

The world may never know.

Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood

What's this work that captured my attention all week (when I wasn't being good and reading my dreadfully dull book club selections)? Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood.

One of the things I love about Simon Pulse is that they don't shy away from actual teen issues--no "And then he offered me a sip of alcohol, but I remembered my D.A.R.E. instructor's words and refused it, all while lecturing him on just how bad it is for a developing brain" here.

Nope, the teen protagonists have a lot more wild fun than I did in my teenage years, but they're believable, quirky, and--as the very sweet editor who gave me this stack of books mentioned--wouldn't we rather our teenagers explore these issues in books, rather than real life?

Why yes, I think. Very good point.

Also, the covers are fantastic. The author, Eileen Cook, thanks the cover designer in her acknowledgments, writing that she's thankful for a book cover so pretty, she wants to lick it.

Yes, you read that right.

It's in candy-inspired hues, so I guess it kind of makes sense.

Anyway. On to GRoLW.

Should you have any worries about contemporary YA appearing boring when held up against YA paranormal and/or thrillers, this book will put your mind at ease.

You know how, in middle school, girls often turn on even their oldest friends in the pursuit of popularity? Helen goes through that and worse: her best friend not only ditches her, but frames her for getting all of the most popular seniors in trouble. Suddenly she's the least popular girl in her class, hated by everyone in her school.

Thankfully, her parents move her out of town--where she loses thirty pounds, gets in an accident and gets reconstructive facial surgery--and ends up looking like a different person. When her parents tell her she's going to move back to the same town for her senior year of high school, she convinces them to let her register under a different name.

And that's when the fun begins: Helen, now known as Claire, makes it her mission to take down her former best friend--who's since gone on to be head cheerleader, date the quarterback, and position herself as a front-runner for the lead in the school musical (which is, of course, My Fair Lady--clever, Ms. Cook, very clever).

Helen/Claire's great at reading her peers, which helps--and the author does a fabulous job of ensuring all the tiny, necessary pieces fit together. The whole work is very thoughtfully plotted and constructed--she must have been writing backwards and forwards to fit in every clue and coincidence.

Naturally, Helen/Claire has some major soul-searching at the end--which I feared would be cheesy, hence my not mentioning the work by name until I finished it. However, the ending is believable, satisfying, and doesn't ruin the fun of the rest of the book--all while turning the work into something adults can feel good about giving young women to read.

Yes. Highly recommended. And only 45 cents used on Amazon. Go to!
Kristin Chenoweth as Effie in The Hunger Games, the movie? (See piece here, follow The Hunger Games on Facebook here.)

Sounds good to me!

What do you think?
Further proof that I have the best boss in the world:

My boss: "Did you bring snow boots?"
Me: "Um...yes?"
Her: "Let's go for a walk in the park!"
I am, as always, way behind on reading--and not just for manuscripts. My two book groups are about to meet, and I've read a total of five pages. I knew ahead of time that the works this month wouldn't be to my taste--but I still want to read enough to be able to talk about them.

But...I had a coffee date on Friday with an editor who gave me the most amazing stack of YA novels. 

There's one that I've been thinking about since I closed it yesterday. I'm about halfway through and can't wait to find out what happens. 

And it wouldn't be fair to be thinking about it while reading other material, right? That'd be like dancing with someone and looking over their shoulder at someone else. 

So I just have to finish it, don't I? Before I read anything else in book form?

It's the polite thing to do. Yes. I must. 

And then, assuming the second half is as good as the first, I'll tell you all about it. 

Um, awesome: The making of a book cover

This is brilliant on many levels: first, the screen shots must have been really annoying to capture along the way (but they did it anyway--and animated them beautifully); second, it gives a glimpse into a process that so many people are interested in but haven't seen--especially writers, who 3) will now be sharing this and asking themselves, "What is this series? And where can I get it?"

My favorite part: "Oops, the Eiffel Tower wasn't built yet."
Just in case you were wondering: I don't open manuscripts (especially on weekends) and think, "Uggh, please disqualify yourself so I can reject you and clear my inbox."

I've made (some) peace with my inbox and its amazing ability to overflow on a daily basis.

Instead, I just found myself opening a file (a manuscript attached to a great query) and thinking, "Please be good. Pleeeeaaaaaassssse be good." It's such a great concept, well--if it's good, it's going to be amazing. It is going to rock my (wool, since it's winter; bright since, well, what perks up a winter like neon?) socks.

We shall see.
In reference to the last post:

Ah, the fine line between professionalism and piquing an agent or editor's interest.

Excellent point. Not every agent out there would appreciate your bringing up high-caffeine beverages when used in conjunction with stolen shopping carts.

This is part of your research. I know a lot of agents who would read this line, say "Awesome!"--and request the work. I know some who's raise and eyebrow but push it out of their minds. And a few who'd disapprove.

So, yes. Add that your "to research" checklist.

Brussels sprouts, Surge, clever first lines, and Pretty Little Liars

You know how I'm always telling you--probably the way your mother was always telling you to eat your vegetables (and, really, are roasted brussels sprouts so bad? I think not)--to personalize the first line of each query you send out?

Here's an excellent example:

Dear Ms. GK,
I would love to work with someone else who remembers Surge fondly.

Which made me laugh out loud, loudly. We're (still) having renovations done in the office, and I'm sure the workers now think me totally batty.

In other news, is anyone else really enjoying Pretty Little Liars? I haven't read the books, but I confess I spent much of yesterday thinking about what might happen next. All the episodes were free on Hulu the day before yesterday; now it's just a few--and, like with Veronica Mars, you should really start from the beginning. But--wow. Save it to your Netflix queues.

It's very clever and enjoyable--and will, I hope, be on DVD soon.