Tara Lazar asked how a writer summons the nerve to pitch a story idea to an editor in an informal or social setting during or after a writers’ conference. She hoped the readers of this blog and I could suggest approaches that didn’t seem too pushy. She was clearly referring only to situations in which an editor could reasonably expect to be approached.
Lazar said she gets noticed at networking events by sitting in the front row and being among the first to introduce herself and offer comments following an editor’s presentation.
When Lazar meets an editor for the first time, she looks directly into the person’s eyes. She listens to the editor’s name and then repeats the name when she offers her own and they shake hands. The techniques help her to remember names. “For some people,” she said, “giving that initial handshake is so automatic that they forget to pay attention.”
What are some other strategies for making a good impression?
Editors are people. Whether you hit it off and the editor reacts favorably are matters of chance. It’s self-defeating to try to become the writer that will please everyone. It’s better to be yourself and be liked by the person who appreciates what you can do. I happen to believe talent outshines personality. Sometimes, excellent writing conveys personality to me more effectively than the person does. Lazar’s concern might be wasted on someone like me.
I believe networking is beneficial. Make no mistake about it. The right connections might even get a mediocre writer published, but eventually the gravy train will get a new engineer. (Or would conductor be the better metaphor?)
Certain skills are useful in a variety of social situations such as writers’ conferences, online networking, and interaction with readers. Foremost is clear and succinct communication. If people tune you out, it could be because you take too long to make your point, speak too softly, seem oblivious to listeners’ reactions, fail to make eye contact, or don’t correctly employ the jargon that can facilitate communication with the professionals you want to influence.
Do your homework. Talk to friends and acquaintances about your ideas before you pitch any of your concepts to an editor. The day you speak to an editor shouldn’t be the first time you’ve ever voiced your proposal.
The most effective technique is often innate and is also the most difficult characteristic to describe: empathy. In advance of meeting an editor, if you can learn enough to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, then you’ll make a better impression. The conversation will seem effortless. If you think only of what the outcome of the interaction will mean to your success, then you’ve overlooked half of the equation. You need to be able to persuade the editor that your goals are complementary and mutually achievable. Beyond mere respect or deference, empathy enables collaboration.
Honesty and candor are prized, and preparation is critical. A great pitch followed by a manuscript that isn’t as promised can inadvertently make a writer seem like a fraud.
Lazar knows the first impression is important. If a writer isn’t confident of getting it right, maybe it would be better to make the first impression in writing.
What do you think?