I met with agents from four literary agencies while at ACFW. Lots more were represented, but those are the agents I was able to talk with. Honestly, I really liked them all. Everyone was nice. No one yelled at me, and no one made me feel stupid. In fact, I was rather impressed with all of them.
The first agent I met read my first few pages and put notes in the text. I was really pleased to see the heart of an editor in her. She was my first pitch ever and she went out of her way to put me at ease and help me with my story. My book will be better for it.
The second agent I met with didn't even ask me about my plot or characters or for my prepared pitch. He waited until I was sitting and had said hello and asked, "What was the hardest part of writing this book?" I was shocked. I thought, "Hey! I actually know the answer to that!" For some reason that gave me the confidence to talk about my book without sounding like an idiot.
The third agent I actually met over lunch when she asked if she could sit in the seat next to me. Of course, I'm not stupid, so I said yes. We chatted and she gave me a business card and asked me to send a manuscript when it was ready. She didn't have to do that and I would never ask, but I liked her for going out of her way to ask.
The fourth one was probably my favorite, simply because I know for sure he liked me. Agents are not looking to represent an author for one title, they want to help shape a career. Let's face it, this is their livelihood. Not only do they want their authors to get published, they want them to stay published for a really long time. And he came across like that to me.
The last agent I met has the sweetest reputation and she lived up to it, for me. She smiled and said kind things and made me at ease. Plus, her authors love her and that is a true indication of a good agent.
Now, none of these agents may want me to be their client in the long run, and I understand that. They make no promises. They cannot afford to. But I am better for having met with them.
So here is my advice to anyone thinking about pitching at a writing conference. . .
1) Check out the agency first and choose who seems to be a good fit for your novel. Not all agents represent all types of fiction, so don't waste your time or their's on a novel they will not represent.
2) They are actually human, so treat them like real people. Be respectful, but do not treat them like they are as dumb as a stump or God. They are neither.
3) Do not, under any circumstances, pitch them in the bathroom. It's just terrible taste, people. Don't do it.
4) Smile. This seems like a dumb one, I know, but a lot of people forget. Just because you are an introvert does not mean that you should avoid eye contact. Smile. Fake it if you have to but don't forget.
5) Be excited about your book. Even if you are writing the darkest memoir in the history of literature, you have to be excited about it. They have to know that you love what you've written for it to be worth their time to read it.
6) Listen. Again, this is common sense, but most people forget. These appointment times are 15 minutes, tops. You cannot ramble on and on during that time and expect them to want to talk to you again. When you get to a good stopping point in your pitch, just shut up. You want to hear what these people have to say. But you have to shut up to do that.