Chip MacGregor

April 22, 2013

Sandra on The Power of Personal Meetings



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.

Sandra Bishop

If you could only ask one question of an editor (not related to your project) what would it be?

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  • Leigh DeLozier says:

    I went to my most recent conference with the mindset of learning and serving. Every morning when I left my room, I asked God to show me someone I could help that day — and of course, He did! I learned a lot in classes and had some encouraging meetings with editors and an agent. But the most special moments were those little ones when God nudged me to notice someone else. Loved it! 🙂 To answer your last question — if I was having a non-pitch conversation with an editor (or agent), I would ask how he/she got to this point professionally. It’s fascinating to hear how twists and turns bring people to the spot where they are today.

  • Sandra: I’d ask and editor or agent how often writers get an agent or a publishing contact WITHOUT a personal meeting. Seems to be fairly infrequent in this day and age.

    And as far as controlling that tendency to be “interruptive.” I had that problem so bad years ago that my friends got me a poster that said, “Excuse me while I’m interrupting.” Nice to have friends who will be honest with you.

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    Relationships are key, thank you for the reminder. Partly out of nerves, and focus on the goal; and partly out of consideration for the time of the person I am meeting with, I stick to the narrow topic or goal. I must remember that asking questions about, and a concern for the other person is never a waste of their time.

    • SandraBishop says:

      When you’re in a 15 minute pitch session, it’s actually good to come on confidently, stay focused and get to the point. In those settings you want to get to the point as you’re both forced to respect the time limit. In a short pitch session (speed dating scenario) I appreciate it when an author sits down and jumps right in. And I also appreciate it when, if I tell them right up front it’s not for me, they are willing to use the rest of the time to calm down and take the approach of investigator — not just about me, personally, but about the market, what’s working, etc.

  • Cherry Odelberg says:

    I fear I focus on the agenda item or the reason for the meeting far too often. This is due in part to nerves, drive to meet a goal, and partly to a misapplied consideration of the other’s time. Relationships are key, that you for the reminder. I will remember that I am not wasting the time of another when I ask about him or her.

  • Love this. It fits with my word for the year–Connection! I made this my focus at the ACFW Conference last year and came away more energized for the journey.

    • SandraBishop says:

      To some, it may at firs feel unnatural or manipulative to change the focus to one of connecting vs. selling, but keeping the ultimate goal — finding an editor who really gets and LOVES you and your work requires connection anyway. So, why not start with the end in mind.

  • Ane Mulligan says:

    Great post, Sandra. I’ve seen you in action, and your body language always tells how personal and focused your conversations are. 🙂

    • SandraBishop says:

      I do get into it, Ane. Fortunately you weren’t around when my body language probably communicated “Um, could someone please call security??

  • Meghan Carver says:

    Sandra, I would think that interruption by the agent, especially if it’s due to enthusiasm, would be welcomed by a newbie! I second Susan’s questions – what frustrates you and what encourages you when talking to newbies? Thanks for a great post!

    • SandraBishop says:

      Hi Meghan. Thanks for the grace. What frustrate me? I think when an author isn’t willing to listen or take advice. What encourages me? Patience. Authors who are in this for the long haul and understand time is a commodity, and timing is everything.

  • Rick Barry says:

    And for authors, don’t feel you have wasted your time meeting with an editor who doesn’t request your story. I’ve become friends with editors who may never buy my manuscripts simply because of what their publishing houses are searching for. Yet, my life is enriched by knowing them. What a nice surprise, for example, to receive a positive email from an editor who turned down a novel, yet noticed and responded to one of my magazine articles. People are worth knowing, even if they don’t become business partners.

  • Great post, Sandra. My question for an editor would be,
    When you’re talking to a newbie, what do they do that frustrates you?
    And the flip side of that,
    What could they do that would endear them to you?

    • SandraBishop says:

      Let’s hold out, Susan, and see if an editor is willing to respond to your question …

  • Julie Coleman says:

    I love your end question! I’ve often wondered how trying it must be to be an acquisitions editor, hearing pitch after pitch all conference long. It’s a great reminder to all authors: editors are people, too. They can use appreciation and encouragement just like those pitching their stuff. We authors do need to take the time and energy to really listen. Thanks for pointing out the other side of the table.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    How many books come across your desk that you love, but are turned down through acquisitions or just aren’t what fits your publishing house’s needs?

    I’m curious how often that happens! I know it happened with one editor with one of my books!

    • SandraBishop says:

      I happen to know several editors who have to put their personal tastes aside when acquiring. And sometimes the hardest thing for me is not sending them projects I know they’d LOVE on a personal level, but couldn’t acquire.

  • Rachel Hauck says:

    Great post, Sandra. Loved every word of it. It’s wise and true!

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