shall. we. play. a. game. ?

How about Global Thermonuclear War? This month I’m now up to a total of seven books cancelled. Didn’t see that coming. Not the fault of any of the authors. Not my fault. Not even the fault of the books. Zing.

I’m trying not to dwell on it (and a few other things) at the moment while I work through a hefty backlog of correspondence (I was offline most of last week). So, let’s play a game. I’m looking to compile the top 10 things a writer should NOT say to a literary agent at a conference. This can include things based on real life experiences (and if you want to share one in comments I am very interested in hearing about this from the writer’s side – please don’t use any names, though). Or urban legends (the most famous being the manuscript handed under the stall in the bathroom, I think). Make me laugh. Ready. Set. Go.

40 responses to “shall. we. play. a. game. ?

  1. Well, I’d really like to tell you about my manuscript,since I’m quite sure it will be the next Harry Potter. But I’m so afraid that you’re going to steal my ideas!! After my trademark application goes through at the patent office, I’ll mail you a copy of the POD I had printed up.

  2. “You’re not as fat as I thought you would be.”
    [My grandmother said that to me once]
    “Have you ever wanted to represent a writer whose books _didn’t_ suck?”
    “Man, I just want to bury my face in those and go “Blubble.” [pause] “Well, she doesn’t look much like you.”
    “I have a great idea for a book and all we need to publish it is to take LUCASFILM to court.”

  3. I can’t imagine anyone saying these, but perhaps the failure is mine:
    “Boy, your last dozen books have really tanked. I have a manuscript that will turn your luck around.”
    “The story starts slowly but the first hundred pages are necessary backstory. The gem is the reconciliation scene on page 265–let me act it out for you.”
    “Do you want to have sex or read my manuscript or both?”
    “Okay, I was just kidding when I said I’d kill myself if you didn’t read the manuscript, but I will hurt myself. Okay, I’ll bad-mouth you in the bar.”

  4. Long time lurker/first time commentator
    “You can see that I’m so passionate about my novel that I wrote it in my own blood!”

  5. “I really hated Bigname Client’s books; I bet you’d love something better than THOSE.”

  6. “Why do you represent all those Insert Genre Here books? They’re all trash. You should rep what I write. Important work.”

  7. A writer acquaintance went to a conference and interrupted the dinner of an editor whose anthology she had just submitted. According to witnesses, she told the editor that she had submitted the story almost a month ago and that the editor should be more professional about giving timely responses. The editor calmly finished swallowing her bite, wiped her mouth, then apologized for the delay and promised to look at her submission as soon as she got back to her office on Monday.
    I spoke to the writer a couple of weeks later. She said she had never had such a scathing rejection in her life.

  8. Here’s a future classic:
    “Um, even though you aren’t in my top 10 pick of agents, I’ll submit it to you anyway.”

  9. “I have this book…” is an oldie but a goodie, especially coming from a new writer within sixty seconds of being introduced to an agent — easy to overlook for its classic simplicity.

  10. And triple ick on the cancellations.

  11. Can publishers play, too?
    I was at a Con, at a writer’s workshop reception, and a writer approached me…
    Writer: Are you a publisher?
    Me: Yes, I operate a small press.
    Writer: Can I have your card? I write so many books that I need to have a lot of publishers.
    Me:…uh…okay (handing card)…but, I should tell you that I’m not really open to unsolicited novel manuscripts right now…
    Writer: (hands card back) Oh. (walks away)
    Me: …

  12. I don’t actually have a pithy publishing industry comeback, I just wanted to say thanks for the Wargames reference, because yesterday I cracked up the front desk at my gym when I walked by & commented to my friend that it was a negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full.

  13. Or urban legends (the most famous being the manuscript handed under the stall in the bathroom, I think).
    I hate to say it, but this isn’t an urban legend, though it’s reached those proportions. I’ve had this happen, and I’ve heard a couple of other agents say it’s happened to them as well. Sad, but true.
    As for my contribution, how about: “I have my manuscript here if you want to take it now and read it on the plane ride home!” (Ususally accompanied by a manuscript that would count as your second carry-on bag all by itself.)

    • I had someone at a Southwest Writers Conference forcibly restrained from grabbing at me on the way into a bathroom stall, pitch notes in-hand.
      Never stop an editor on a bathroom break!” became a commonly-heard Life Lesson that weekend.

      • “I don’t want to show you my manuscript until you buy it, because you might steal my ideas.”
        “Hey, I just had this book published by Publish America. Would you like to represent it?”

  14. Or urban legends (the most famous being the manuscript handed under the stall in the bathroom, I think).
    What on earth can you say to that besides ‘thanks, but I’ve already got toilet paper?’ *headdesk*

  15. worst things to say
    “My 189,000 word novel is a fusion of Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code involving a quest for a hidden artifact that will actually disrupt the time-space continuum and reveal that vampires and other undead creatures actually live in space disguised as dark matter… Hey, wait! Can I send you the manuscript?”

  16. Well, in a “these are the worst editor/agent appointments we’ve ever had” panel at one RWA conference, an editor said she’d had an author plunk down her entire manuscript on the table, and then confess to having a highly contagious skin disease. She said she had to call over one of the volunteers to have it removed and disposed of after the appointment, because she didn’t want to touch it.
    Stupid things I’ve personally heard authors say:
    I’ve already submitted this to (another agent) but they aren’t answering my calls. Can I send it to you, and just withdraw it if (other agent) wants it after all?
    This is the only (genre-you-represent) I’ve written. It’s to get my foot in the door with publishers. Then I’ll sell them the (genres-you-don’t-represent) I really want to write.
    It’s the first part of a 13-book series. I’ve written all thirteen books.
    Are you anyone?
    (and the corollary: Do you represent anyone?)

  17. “I have an eleven hundred and eighty page pornographic novel about Shakespeare….”
    (Hey, are you coming to Worldcon?)

  18. shall. we. play. a. game. ?
    “Do you get 15% of my salary from my dayjob? I’d really have to run that by my wife before I sign anything.”

  19. Here’s the deal. I’ll detail your car, cook your lunches, and get your drycleaning, and you read my first fifty and tell me if they suck or not. kay?

    • sign me up for that! (but only if you can actualy cook)

      • I haven’t had the chance to show off demonstrate my enthusiastic amateur skills with any writing folks in lj-land, so no references, alas.
        I’ll try bringing tiramisu to a con or something. I’m planning on getting to wiscon if I can get a passport together. but no first fifty, I promise.
        Heck, I bet I could make that in a hotel room, so long as it had a bar fridge!

  20. Oh BOY have I got one.
    Ooh, can editors play?
    I’ve told this story many and many a time, swear it’s true –
    I was at a writers’ conference in the southwest many years ago. While there, I suddenly got really really sick and spent a few days in the lovely local hospital. When they brought me in for surgery, the nurses were kindly chitchatting with me, trying to take my mind off things (i.e. laid out on a gurney, far from home, IVs in most of the veins I have, big machines beeping ominously.)
    Nurse: So, honey, you’re not from around here. What’re you doing in town?
    Me: Oh, I’m at a writer’s conference.
    Nurse: Really! Are you a writer?
    Me: No, I’m an editor.
    Suddenly, the surgeon’s head hoves into my field of vision.
    “So… I’ve written a book.”
    And it was the writer Elizabeth George who had a manuscript handed to her under a bathroom stall, I believe.
    – Liz

  21. If you don’t read my manuscript, I won’t give you this vial. What’s in this vial, you ask? Antidote to the poison I just slipped into your drink. Yeeaaah. I’d read fast if I were you.
    (and no, obviously not based on a real event. I hope)
    Question about the cancellations: where they in the same genre/publishing house/at all connected to each other? Wow. That’s just. Wow.

  22. “Sign me, and I’ll put out.”

  23. We had a new guy show up this year (one of many) and he plopped himself down in front of an agent who’d just taken 40 straight pitches. He didn’t notice the glazed over eyes or shaking hands as he handed her his pages.
    We made an announcement the first night that anyone with an incomplete manuscript or one that had not been polished and read by critique partners had to cancel their pitch appointments. Did I tell you already about the guy who assaulted me?
    PS I’ve actually seen people pitch their unedited NaNo manuscripts. I’m not making this up!!!

  24. “Don’t worry about the stains. I didn’t have time to reprint it before I got the plane, and it bled through quite a few pages, but since it was my cat and not even infectious there’s nothing to worry about.”

  25. Well, I have to say that most agents are unfailingly polite…I was one of the last pitch appointments at a recent conference. the agent I’d chosen was tired (clearly), but managed to smile when I sat down. We chit-chatted briefly, and then she said (with obvious effort at enthusiasm), “so tell me about your book.” I started in, and within seconds I could see she was completely lost. So I stopped. “Do you represent fantasy?” i asked.
    “Only if I know what’s going on by the end of the first page or so,” she said.
    “Ah.” We sat in silence for a couple of minutes.
    Then she gave me a bright smile. “Go ahead and send me the first 50 pages, if you want.”
    I didn’t. But I appreciated her professionalism.

  26. How (Not) To Obtain An Agent
    Hey, babe, you just got lucky – I’ve decided to let you represent my book!
    I know you’re eating, but I just wanted to give you my manuscript to read. Sorry about the damp pages at the back; I tried to hand it to another agent, and the stupid fool dropped it on the bathroom floor!
    I know that you’re supposed to write what you know. Well, I’m a teacher, and my novel is a moving exploration of what happens when a beautiful young student realises she has fallen in love with her teacher and will do anything to win him…
    I’ve already had a couple of agents interested in this, but they’re such crooked jerks I’m suing them, so I thought I’d let you look it over.
    Here! Just read the first 1,200 pages! If you like it, then I can ship the rest to you.
    Cheer up! the Wandering Author

  27. Here’s one that happened at our writer’s conference last year. It was to an editor rather than an agent, but it was jaw-dropping.
    “I’m not interested in submitting to you. I couldn’t get an appointment with anyone I liked, so I decided I would take one with you and use it to practice my pitch.”
    *pause while editor stares in amazement*
    “Can I tell you about my book now?”

  28. Trying again to post without html screwups:
    Things people say to writing instructors at a conference:
    Tod Goldberg’s Letter From A Writer’s Conference
    It’s pretty funny stuff. Hope it’s not too late to jump in with a new addition.

    Person: I’ve been trying to get an agent to represent my book for 10 years and none of them will. Why do you think that is?
    Me: I haven’t read it, obviously, but I’d guess that perhaps your book might not be marketable.
    Person: Would you like to read it? I have it here.
    Me: No.
    Person: See, it’s people like you who won’t give me a chance.

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