Traditional publishing is a competitive business. And when I say competitive, I don't mean the bake off where there's only one "Best Cookie," but you could go home with "Most Original," or "Best presentation," instead. I mean competitive in the sense that the gladiators meant it in Roman times. It's brutal. Representation to negotiate with (or even get your work in front of) publishers is a hot commodity. It takes work. You have to read articles on the agents, read and watch their interviews, pick the ones that might suit you best (or at least accept queries in your genre), query them and then wait week after agonizing week for them to request to see more of your work, or reject you without reading a sentence of it.
Imagine my delight when the LDS Storymakers conference I was attending offered meetings or pitch sessions with agents as an optional add-on to your registration. So I signed up. I had never heard of any of the agents, so I read a little on each and selected one that seemed a good fit for me. Victoria Marini. Please check out her website and I dare you not to fall in love with her approach. Also she's a sucker for cat GIF's. Trust me, you'll want to query her. The manuscript consults at the conference were a first-come-first-served kind of deal, so there were no guarantees, but due to a happy coincidence involving a fortune cookie, I got in. I cheered and gushed for a while until I realized I was going to discuss my first chapter face-to-face with someone from the meanest, harshest, most cutthroat group of people on the planet.....Literary Agents.
I was terrified.
Then I got my time slot. 5:00 pm on Friday night. FIVE P.M.?!? After her full day of pitches and consults and my full day of gorging on info from industry professionals, but before DINNER?? That's when we have to meet?? Forget terrified. I was screwed.
I walked into the tiny room wherein sat Ms. Marini. We shook hands. And then in a move so professional and respectful I could only sit in awe, she proceeded to give me feedback on my pages. She didn't waste time on small talk, she didn't pretend interest in my personal life, she went to work. I LOVED it. I only had 15 minutes with her, for crying out loud. She praised where she thought praise was due, critiqued where called for, and warned where she felt warning was necessary. Then she requested more pages. This is, I believe, common practice among agents, to request pages from authors with whom you are face to face, and it's brilliant. Tell me what you like to see, and don't like to see, then give me time to revise and submit more to you. Not the move of a cutthroat meanie, by any stretch.
I ran into her later in the hall, and we chatted. She told me about her adorable mother that would follow her to conferences just to have lunch with her on a break. I talked about my kids. She took pictures of the mountains I take for granted everyday. She was real. Ladies and gentleman that is what you should be looking for. When it came to social time, she got personal. When it came time to teach her class, she was animated, energetic and informative. During the consultation she consulted. This woman may never be my agent, but she really helped me understand the benefits of having one.
I took most of the classes taught by the agents and editors at the conference, and at the end of it all it was pretty clear. These people are just people. Lovely, wise, and HONEST people. They want to help us. They want us to improve and excel. Why? Because they have a vested interest in selling good products. So if you ever get the chance to meet one, or consult with one, or take their classes, don't hesitate. You can't lose.