interviews / literary agents / traditional publishing / writers' conferences

Tips for A Writer’s Conference Interview

interviewsThis post is some excerpts from an actual email letter of advice to a writer who was signing up to speak with a publisher’s representative at a writer’s conference. Since the writer did not indicate to me exactly who she was going to meet, I provided the following general advice.

Know who you are meeting with and the purpose: At your conference interviews, since I’m not sure who you’re planning to meet with, and the purpose of each meeting, I’m not sure what exact tips to give you because it depends on the purpose of each interview. So if you could be a bit more specific, I could give better advice.

Some overall advice:

  • Be sure to have your piece as “polished” as possible. Have an editor, or at least 3 or 4 really good writers and/or readers you trust, read and critique the piece for you. Since you are writing a children’s story, you might want to include people like school teachers or librarians who work with the appropriate age group.
  • Once you have your piece written the best you can, type it out exactly as you intend to submit it to publishers. If you have ideas for illustrations, have an example or two available, but remember, many publishing houses have their own in-house illustrators, so you have to work with their process.
  • Have your “elevator pitch” ready. Actually have a couple of pitches: one that is no longer than 30 to 60 seconds maximum, and another more detailed one that is about 3 minutes.
  • Also have a one sentence statement (7 to 10 words) that sums up your book, and a single word or phrase that also sums it up.
  • Go to the library (school and/or public libraries) and bookstores (and/or check out Amazon) and find 3 or 4 reasonably successful books that are similar to yours. Jot down the title/author/publisher of each. If you can find a book(s) that is by the publisher you’ll be meeting, all the better. (If you’re meeting an agent instead of a publisher, check out books he/she has successfully represented to publishers and find one that is somewhat similar to yours).
  • Be ready to explain to the person you’ll be meeting with how your book is similar to the books you’ve researched, but also what makes your manuscript unique.
  • Check the back cover (or inside jacket flap) book description/blurb of each book you’re researching, and jot down ideas from them for how to design your own “pitch” that you will use in your meeting, and also in your query letter.
  • Have a query letter ready. There are up-to-date “standards” for query letters, and you really need to follow them. It would be helpful to you if the person you’re meeting with could take a quick look at your query letter and give you advice–if that’s what they’re offering, of course. Don’t expect them to do other than what they advertise.
  • You need to know how much time you have with each person (usually just 10 to 15 minutes–so you really need to be well prepared so you can get right to the point). Also, know what the purpose of the meeting is from their viewpoint and therefore what kind of advice they will be expecting to offer.
  • Based on that knowledge, decide what are the most important questions you have for that person, and come prepared with those questions and whatever materials you need.

Comments and Questions: Has this advice been helpful to you? Have you taken part in these kinds of interviews in the past? If so, what other advice can you offer? Please share your thoughts in the comments! Thank you!

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2 thoughts on “Tips for A Writer’s Conference Interview

  1. Definitely be prepared with your pitch at all times. I once pitched to a top New York agent in a washroom! She asked for my ms. Be tidy & well-groomed; oddly, this scored points for me with another agent and I got another nod. Remember, ‘they’ do want to discover you.

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