I’ve been on both sides of the speed-dating table at Push to Publish. As many of you begin to prepare for your own special ten-minute talk with an agent or editor, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned to do and what to avoid in order to get the most out of your ten minutes.
1. Do come prepared. As an editor, I had ten minutes to read an author’s writing sample and offer suggestions. I couldn’t read a fifteen-page story and give feedback. Come with three pages of your short story. If you have a novel, have an elevator pitch (a one-minute description of the novel) and a few pages of the work. You want your work read, but you really want the discussion. Make sure the bulk of your ten minutes is devoted to talking to the editor or agent.
2. Research the editors/agents coming to the event. As a literary fiction editor for a magazine that does not accept genre, I had someone hand me a sci-fi fantasy piece. Again, you have ten minutes with this person. You want to make sure you are sitting across from someone who really can advise you. Keep in mind, you are signing up for these editors/agents at registration. Do your homework to choose the best editor or agent for your work, and make sure to have a couple of back-up people just in case that person’s time slots get filled. All of the bios are posted on the website well in advance of the conference.
3. Do not request a speed date with an agent if you are not ready. I know this is hard to hear. Most attendees want to meet with agents. However, during the speed dates, agents want to meet with authors who have polished, edited, revised material ready to pitch to a publishing house. Agents do not want to spend this time listening to ideas for novels or reading unfinished material.
This does not mean agents don’t want to meet you or hear your ideas—just not during the speed date session. Agents will be there most of the day, and they DO want to make connections with talented writers. Introduce yourself at lunch or say hello after the afternoon “Meet the Editors and Agents” panel. Get business cards. Follow up as appropriate. Review all agent bios and make a connection with someone you think might be a good connection when you are ready. Make a good impression by making the most of both of your time.
Also, consider attending Friday’s “Spend the Day with an Agent” workshop. Agent Sheree Bykofsky offers insider tips for how to find an agent, and provides the opportunity to review individual query letters.
4. Come with specific questions you want the editor/agent to answer for you. As an editor, I tried to make sure I left time for the person to ask me any additional questions. During this additional time, all of my speed date authors looked at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my nose. I was surprised no one thought to ask me anything else. While, yes, it is your time to discuss your work, you have an agent/editor sitting right there giving you her attention. Pick her brain. The goal is to help you feel ready to get your work published. Be your own advocate.
5. Put your best foot forward. Have your work printed, held in a folder, typed, Times New Roam 12 point font, and double spaced. Anything else will be very hard for your editor/agent to read. One of the authors I met with handed me a handwritten story. I wasted most of our ten minutes just trying to read the author’s handwriting, and the writer lost valuable time.
6. Smile, and relax. Remember, the editor or agent in front of you is a person. As an editor, I was initially nervous when I had my first few “dates.” As a writer, I was also freaking out at first. Then, I smiled and cracked a joke. The tension dissipated, and we had a great conversation about my poem and my ability to be a poet. Basically, be yourself.
The bottom line is this: you are coming to this event to push yourself and your work into the publishing world. I have yet to meet a kinder and more welcoming community than at the Push to Publish conference each year. Relax and be prepared.
About The Author
MM Wittle is a professor of writing with an MFA from Rosemont College in Creative Writing. MM's work has appeared in Nailpolish Stories, Transient, The Bond Street Review, and is forthcoming in The Fox Chase Review, and Free Flash Fiction. For the past seven years, MM has been a fiction board member of Philadelphia Stories and is now a PS Books Poetry and Creative Nonfiction editor.