Nothing is better than actually meeting an agent or editor in person. (Although long term following of someone on twitter is close.) By listening to an editor or agent talk at a conference, not only do I learn about their house, their agency, their tastes, and perhaps how they work with authors, I discover something of their personality. I've gone away with "Wow, I'd love to work with __________." I've also experienced, "We just wouldn't mesh." They've also taught me about craft, given me insights into my own weaknesses in writing, made me think, inspired me, encouraged me, and challenged me. Whew!
This past year I was privileged to meet quite a number of editors and agents--all at SCBWI conferences. (If you've never gone to one, I really encourage you to do so.) Two agents that pop to mind with no reference to notes from the LA conference last August are: Marietta B. Zacker, Nancy Gault Literary Agency, and Sarah Davies (pronounced Davis), The Greenhouse Literary Agency.
I loved Marietta's straight forward, no nonsense approach--this was especially noticeable in the Q&A time. She's passionate about what she does. She advised when writers are looking for an agent that they consider these questions: "Who will share your vision? Who will share your passion?" Marietta recommends writers find the passion that each has - whatever that may be.
At the beginning of her speech Sarah answered the questions on everyone's minds. She also told her audience that writing is like being a violin player. "Would you expect to be on a world stage when you just learned to play scales?" she asked. Sarah finds it thrilling as an agent to have the opportunity to change someone's life and help them reach their dreams.
At the Iowa and Illinois SCBWI Conferences I met Candlewick Editor, Yolanda Scott, who besides being a good editor is also a singer! Which reminds me, Ted Malawer at Upstart Crow Agency, used to sing opera (Kansas SCBWI conference.) Back to Yolanda who reminded us, she and other editors do what they do because they love it. She wants to know we've checked out her publishing house when we submit.
I've heard lots of agent talks, but in Kansas Ted gave some very practical advice about what we should be asking agents. He also advised, "Think about the query letter as the bait." He believes comparisons--i.e. your manuscript to other books--are his job, not yours, which is different than what I've heard others say. (Again, why we should be out listening to these professionals speak!)
In Illinois I met Alisha Niehaus from Dial Books for Young Readers. She did a fantastic and fascinating workshop using Savvy by Ingrid Law. With permission of Ingrid she gave us insights into how the book changed--wow! When talking about middle grade readers in another session, Alisha said, "Though they wish they could make out with a vampire, they are still trying to figure out how to fasten their training bra."
I met other editors and agents in 2009, but this post is growing too long to mention them all. Over the years my knowledge of the publishing world has grown by listening to agent and editor talks, panels, critiques. I've learned how dedicated these professionals are. Best yet, I've improved my odds of finding the right home for my manuscripts.