Dear Agent Manners:
I hear that going to conferences is a great way to meet agents and other authors, but I’m a little confused about how I should approach an agent. Should I tap dance my way to them and declare myself the new Stephen King of J.K. Rowling material, dazzle them with slideshows from my laptop, throw queries and synopses in their faces, babble while pretending to be timid and sweaty?
Befuddled Arkansan (with no shoes or shirt, obviously)
Agent Manners’ first suggestion is to relax. Most agents of my acquaintance seem to be more comfortable with those attendees that act naturally. Instead of treating the agent as a target to be acquired and launching into a pitch, have an opening that will begin a conversation. Perhaps you might read Mary Robinette Kowal’s excellent advice on that very topic: Schmoozing 101.
I suspect if you asked Agent Janet, she’d suggest that you offer to buy the agent a drink. That could work on Agent Manners too. But choose your moment carefully. Agents are often heavily-scheduled at conferences, so respect their commitments and offer to get together at their convenience — if their schedule has an opening. If it doesn’t, keep the moment graceful and wait for a different opportunity.
Keep it casual. Keep it low-key. Let the agent steer. Most of them will appreciate a few moments of low pressure in the hailstorm of workshops, pitches, and meetings.