HippoCamp 2016 Session Recap: Agents and Editors Panel
by Melissa Walker | @heydaycoaching
Photo by Marshall Warfield, via Twitter.
The agents and editors panel was one of the highlights of Hippocamp 2016. A panel of accomplished agents and editors offered up advice for all of us aspiring to publication (pretty much everyone in the audience). Donna Talarico moderated the panel, and the panelists included:
Laura Apperson, narrative non-fiction/adult fiction editor at St. Martin’s Press;
Nicole Frail, fiction and non-fiction editor at Skyhorse Publishing;
Jeff Kleinman, literary agent and founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC;
Veronica Park, literary agent with Corvisiero Literary Agency;
Eric Smith, literary agent with P.S. Literary.
Talarico came armed with an arsenal of great questions, some of them submitted by conference participants in the pre-conference survey, and she generated some excellent comments—and occasional disagreement—from our panelists. She opened the floor to audience questions during the last half of the session. I’ll summarize some of the main takeaways:
Don’t freak out and be nervous about approaching agents or editors. “We are hungry to meet new writers. We need you,” said Eric Smith.
Don’t treat an in-person pitch session as a presentation; treat it like a conversation. As Veronica Park put it, don’t try to stuff your entire query letter into a ten-minute pitch session.
Jeff Kleinman warned us not to get too cutesy in our query letters. “A query letter is just a cover letter,” he said. Agents look for two things in that letter: 1) your premise—a brief description of what the book is about, and 2) your distinctive voice.
Make sure your manuscript delivers the things your proposal promised, Nicole Frail advised. And don’t overpromise, Veronica Park added. “Make sure you promise what you can deliver today, not what you hope to be able to deliver some day.” Laura Apperson followed up by advising writers that your sample chapters should match the promises outlined in your proposal. To sum it up: make promises you can keep and then keep them.
Research your agent carefully, and be sure that agent is passionate about your work.
If you have two proposals that you are shopping at the same time, you’ll want to be realistic in your expectations. Kleinman noted that he would probably focus on the most polished of the two projects and give it all of his attention.
Platform is not just social media. Agents and editors look to see if you are publishing widely, doing speaking events, and otherwise engaging in the literary community, not just how many twitter followers you have. The important question is whether you are making an active effort to build your own brand. Frail explained that platform is more important in the prescriptive non-fiction world than for personal non-fiction or fiction because having expertise in particular subject matter can be important in offering you legitimacy. Park advised writers to think of their social media accounts as their neighborhood and to pay attention to which neighbors they are hanging out with. Agents and editors want to see you interacting on social media, promoting the work of other authors and generally engaging in conversations, not just tooting your own horn.
I had great expectations for the agents and editors panel. I expected to learn a lot, and I did. Thanks to Donna and to all the panelists for all you taught us.
Realizing that not only am I a writer, but I know what I want to do with my future. Before the conference I had a vague idea of what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. Now I know where I want to go, how to get there, and I've even met some people who are willing to help me get there. -- In response to the question: "What was the highlight of the conference for you?"
HippoCamp ’15 Attendee
From anonymous post-conference survey
The size and feeling of the conference meant I met a lot of people, didn't spend a lot of time hiding shyly in a corner, and felt like I got to be expert, colleague and learner at the same time. It was so easy to role-shift and benefit from each other's experience rather than all the information flowing in one direction.