Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ACFW from the Agent's Perspective: a Q & A with Sandra Bishop

If you're ACFW-bound, I strongly suggest taking a brief break from your packing.  On the blog today is my fabulous agent, ACFW 2010 Agent of the Year Sandra Bishop.  I asked Sandra a few ACFW-pertinent questions, which she was gracious enough to answer (and answer on a short time-frame).  This is information  you won't want to miss!

Hillary: As an Agent, describe the ACFW experience.

Sandra: It's fun. I get to wear dark glasses and skulk around looking for aliens.

H: What elements of ACFW surprised/interested you during your first conference experience?

S: That the "poolside rooms" in which they'd set faculty up for meetings were next to a covered pool. Actually, the organization and appointments are very well run. The staff is amazing and incredibly accommodating of faculty. I think they genuinely appreciate us.

H: When you're meeting with writers, what are elements that grab your interest?

S: Incredible writing. For me, it's always the writing. I see a lot of good writing, but that doesn't do it for me anymore.

H: I feel the same way about chocolate...back to the meetings, though - what are some of your pet peeves when you're meeting with writers?

S: When they don't actually bring a writing sample with them but say "they told us not to!" Who are "they" to tell you what you can have in your bag of tricks. If an agent or editor wants to see your writing and you don't have it, you've missed an opportunity to make a meaningful connection - or cross someone off your list.

H: Are there any cues that make you think, "Hey, this is going to be a really good meeting"?

S: Actually, when someone knows what they want from me. Even if it's just an opinion. Of course I love meetings with calm, focused, and confident authors who know what they are writing, and why. But, I also don't mind just encouraging writers who need it or talking through ideas - if they know that's what they want from the beginning so we don't end up with 45 seconds at the end of the meeting to talk about it.

H: Share a humorous, conference-related anecdote (you know how I enjoy humorous anecdotes).

S: I laughed about it now, though I didn't at the time. ... Once a writer refused to accept my advance critique saying I hadn't edited the whole thing and pushed it back across the table saying I owed him more. I pushed it back to him reminding him I really didn't owe him anything but that we could spend the rest of the time talking about his idea if he'd like. He pushed it back across the table again, stood up, and said "you are going to take this and I'm going to go talk with the conference director to make sure I get my money's worth." I took it and dropped the floor and said "any chance you might have had to work with me just landed where this is going. Good luck with the director." I like to think he learned a valuable lesson - and got his money's worth - though I doubt it. As it turns out, the director refunded his fee for the advance critique and invited him never to return to the conference.

H: Oh my goodness! I've said it before - do not be that guy!  It never ends well.  Let's talk food.  Mealtimes are generally conference-Kosher times to pitch to both agents and editors. What are good, non-obnoxious ways to gauge an editor/agent's interest?

S: Honestly, meals are hard because it's often times difficult to hear. If you don't get a chance to pitch your idea, don't despair. If you do, speak up and have a statement ready, which answers the following questions:
Are you published; in what genre are you writing; and what's the hook of your story. If they want to hear more about it, ask when they might have a few minutes to talk, or if you can contact them later. This gives others a chance and demonstrates that you're not desperate!

H: Because desperate is bad. Any additional tips for ACFW-bound writers?

S: Have fun, take notes, be assertive but not aggressive, and remember God may have plans for you you haven't even considered.

H: Excellent advice! Thanks so much for stopping by!

You may now resume your conference packing.  See you soon!


  1. Great post, Hillary! Thanks for hosting Sandra. I took notes and now I'm off to pack some more. :)

  2. Wonderful advice!! I find meals the place to store up conference funnies. Something ALWAYS happens to people around me at meals that I have to laugh at later. (Not that I laugh at people. I don't.) I like Sandra's advice, if you get a chance to pitch, great. If not, don't worry about it.

  3. Helpful advice and an invaluable inside peek into the thoughts of an agent! It's good to know that good writing still stands out above anything else. Have fun at ACFW, both of you!

  4. Hilary, this is a great post. So informative. Thanks

  5. Excellent interview. Brought back memories of meetings with editors and agents -- scary. ; - ]

    Wish I'd been at ACFW to actually spend time with friends like you, Hillary, and you, Sandy.

    May life be good to you.


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