Dear Miss Snark:
What advice would you give to an unpublished novelist about to meet face-to-face with editors for brief interviews at a writers' conference?
Thanks in advance from a snarkling who adores you. (Miss Snark likes that adoration part!!)
(In the comment section, an astute reader points out that the questions asks about editors
and Miss Snark promptly substitutes the word 'agent'. Not for nuttin is Miss Snark self involved. In the answer below, just equate agents with editors. Except the part about tall buildings. Editors have to use elevator...not that there's anything wrong with that.)
When you have little confabs at conferences, try not to panic. Agents, despite all evidence to the contrary, are human beings. Yes, we can leap tall buildings with a single bound, but then, you can invent entire worlds and people them with strange and fantastical creatures. Which is harder? exactly.
Now, when you meet someone for the first time do you say "hello would you like to hear about my book"? noooo. You say "hello, how are you". Same is true here.
You'd be stunned how many people just launch into a pitch.
So, you say your howdies, then you say something like "what information is most helpful to hear about a book"? Then the agent says things like : what kind of book is it? how many words? who's the hero? what challenges does the hero face? Is it first person present tense? Are aliens planning to arrive? etc.
Here's the trick. Don't talk about your book. Answer the questions. Take a synopsis. Take a sample page. Be prepared for the agent to say "I'd like to read it, here's my card, send it to me"....ie don't faint, don't weep, and whatever you do, don't throw up (Miss Snark is 0-3 on those).
Then, after you answer the questions, if you have more time, ask the agent for his/her opinion: a book she loved; a book she loathed; what websites she reads that she thinks are good; any advice she'd like to see every person follow while querying her. We ALL love to give advice and have people ask our opinions.
And remember, this isn't an audience with Her Majesty the Queen of the Universe. It's talking to an agent who watches American Idol just like you do (ok, not Miss Snark, but yanno, generally).