Last week, just before I came down with the plague (otherwise known as the flu with a respiratory infection), my editor and I went to lunch to discuss Soul Stripper’s sequel and its progress, etc. We also got to chatting about conferences and panels that he inevitably helps and partakes in at which point he mentioned the hot button questions that almost always get asked. Such as–‘Should I self-publish or go with a traditional publisher?” and “How necessary is it to have an agent?” There were a few more he mentioned that always come up and no matter how hard he tries to come up with new or exciting answers for these, he can’t. They are perfunctory.
Now, don’t get me wrong–the questions are good ones. And relevant. Hence the reason they always get asked. But he did mention, he’d love to get a new question–one that made him have to pause and actually ::gasp:: think before answering (as opposed to just knowing the answer already)!
I then asked him for an example of what kind of question that would be–and it stumped even him. For a few minutes. Then he thought of one (which I’ve already forgotten…stupid antibiotics make my head fuzzy), but the bottom line of the conversation seemed to come down to this: BE UNPREDICTABLE!
If you’re going to a conference, really put some thought into what your questions will be. What will you say if you end up brushing elbows with the editor of your dreams at the happy hour? Are you going to be the girl/guy who made small talk about the relevance of self-publishing in today’s market? (a conversation that I guarantee the editor/agent has had a billion times that day already) Or, if you’ve properly researched your potential editor, you’ll know from her blog she just recently adopted a tortie cat. Without being totally creepy, you could wish her well as a new cat momma. In my case, because I’m obsessed with all things animals, that’s how I would approach a conversation. I would congratulate her on her kitty–then I would talk about my dogs and how much they LOVE cats…even my 110lbs mastiff is actually AFRAID of cats.
This is a conversation that will be low pressure and she’ll/he’ll enjoy. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be pushing your book of course…just ease your way into it. As for an interesting question…make sure it’s a genuine question. Not just something you think will stand out. Maybe something like: “As an editor, do you prefer when an agent edits a book before it comes to you? Or do you find that you prefer to read it as the author meant for it so that you can mold it yourself?” (This was a question I asked my editor over lunch which sparked a great conversation).
So, basically, before a conference, take a day or two to brainstorm some questions. Research the editors and agents who will be there. Be prepared, but don’t be awkward or seek out the conversation starters you’ve prepared. Just have them there…for when opportunity knocks and presents you with your dream editor ordering a glass of red right beside you!