THE POWER OF A PERSONAL MEETING
I haven’t traveled much in the last six months, but I’ve just returned from a three-day conference. Though I fully registered for it, I only attended two conference events, but my time there was incredibly valuable and enriching regardless.
Aside from the three-hour-thaw-by-the-pool-mini-sabbatical I scheduled for myself on Friday afternoon before boarding the plane home, I spent every waking hour while there in pre-arranged meetings with editors and authors. In the end, when responding to questions about how my trip went, I heard myself say “I really enjoyed connecting with everyone!” And I today, I added several items to my task list newly motivated by an urge to help each of these people succeed in their roles.
Sure, when I requested time together, I had a project in mind. But as usual, I found that holding “my” agenda a bit loosely, and taking the position of investigator vs. sales person always returned a rewarding and gratifying encounter that will begin, or enrich, a long-term relationship.
There’s so much more to personal meetings than just “putting a face to a name.” When I meet an editor or other prospective associate in person, the encounter requires real listening. I’ve learned that more often than not, my “canned” speech goes out the window in favor of personal dialogue once an editor or prospective author and I start talking about whether what’s working well for them and how/if what they’re hoping to publish next aligns with the project(s) I’m interested in.
A side perk of meeting in person is that, unlike with email, I must also practice the art of keeping the conversation going in both directions. I’ll admit, I’m still working on controlling my tendency to be so terribly interruptive – an inexcusable habit that I still give into when I’m especially enthused about something.
As anonymous, and bottom-line, and impersonal as this business can sometimes feel, in the end it’s still about relationships. Part of our culture as an agency is that we tend to do business with people we like and trust. And we want to always like and trust the people with whom we do business.
Cultivating that culture requires time. And there’s no substitution for personal meetings.
There is no arguing that the chance to build rapport with someone while face to face just can’t be matched to a Facetime or Skype session, email exchange, or even a phone call. In my view, those are tools best used to further a relationship, not establish one.
As conference season approaches, take every opportunity you can to spend some personal time with editors, agents, other authors. You’ll find lots of information about how to craft the perfect pitch, how to nail your hook, or deliver the premise of your book in 30 seconds, but I’d like to encourage you to think beyond what people have to offer you. Challenge yourself to avoid coming to the encounter thrusting your well-rehearsed pitch into first position on the agenda. Instead, as you can, take some time to find out who these people are, what they like, what motivates them, how they cultivate their taste, and if your particular project might help them succeed.
I think you’ll find that approach far more gratifying in the end. I always do.
If you could only ask one question of an editor (not related to your project) what would it be?