Lunch, darling

A friend will be in town next week to meet her agent and some editors who are interested in her writing. She is very nervous and asked me what to expect. I directed her to agent Kristin Nelson’s blog where a while back she gave the lowdown on the shennanigans that take place at agent-editor lunches. It’s shocking stuff!

They eat food and gossip! Who’d’ve thunk it?

I then revealed to my friend that the exact same thing happens at editor-author lunches. Food is et and (rarely) wine is drunk, and the publishing industry, family, friends, mutual acquaintances, as well as Ugly Betty, and books just read are discussed and dissected. Much fun is had.

I found this all very puzzling when I had my first lunch with an editor. I was an unpublished wannabe. A writer friend of mine had arranged for me to meet her editor. She’d described me and my writing in very fulsome terms and the editor had asked to meet me even though she hadn’t read my book yet (very unusual).

I was very very very VERY nervous. I spent days practising pitches, figuring out how best to describe my finished novel, and all the other ones I had on the boil. Come the day though, the subject of my writing never even came up. The editor did not ask a single question about my finished manuscript, about what I was working on, where I saw myself in five years, what kind of speech I planned to give when I accepted the Nobel—nothing like that. Instead we talked about the publishing industry, mutual acquaintances (actually our one mutual acquaintance—the writer friend who set us up), as well as Buffy (it was a while ago), and books just read were discussed and dissected. Much fun was had. Hmmm, I thought, What was this lunch about then? Why did we talk about everything under the sun other than my book?

Years later, when I was published and had an actual writing career, a different editor took me out to lunch. I’d been told this editor was a big fan of my work and very interested in publishing me. (I agreed to have lunch because I was curious and because I’m extremely attracted to free lunches especially at really good restaurants.1) However, over lunch the subject of my writing never came up. I was not lavished with praise or wooed, instead we—you guessed it—gossiped about the publishing industry, mutual acquaintances, and books we loved and hated. It was excellently diverting, but not at all what I’d expected.

So what are those lunches about? Kristin Nelson says they’re about creating a connection, getting to know each other, figuring out if there’s any possibility you could work together. The writing stands or falls on its own. If the editor who took you out to lunch reads your ms. and hates it then that’s that. Doesn’t matter how charmed she was by you over lunch. Or that you both share a passion for mushroom hunting, or American Gothic, or the Angelique books, or all three—if she’s not into your book you remain unpublished.

For me it means those lunches are both less and more intimidating. Less because you’re very unlikely to have to pitch your book—something I’m not that good at. But more because what they’re really doing is seeing if they like you. I don’t know about you, dear readers, but that reminds me of my first day at school, hoping that I wouldn’t say or do the wrong thing and that someone would like me. I had many first days of school and it never got less terrifying.

On the other hand, pretty much every lunch I’ve had with an agent or editor has gone really well: editors and agents are my people. We almost always love the same things: not least of which is books and publishing. We have a tonne to say to each other. I cannot remember a dud lunch2. So that nervous-first-day-of-school feeling usually evaporates within a few minutes and is completely gone by the time you find that one book that’s sold millions that you both hate.

So my advice is relax and enjoy. If you can . . .

Oh, and don’t spill water all over the person taking you out. I’ve done that. Not a good look. At least it wasn’t red wine . . .

  1. It was at a really good restaurant. []
  2. well, sometimes the food has sucked. []

Ask Maureen

Over at Maureen Johnson’s blog she’s busy answering punters’ questions in a vastly entertaining way.1 Yay, Maureen!

If you haven’t already go over and ask her a quessie. Make it curly though. The most difficult question you can think of. Then make it more difficult than that even. Frankly, I don’t think she’s being stretched enough. We all need to really put her through her paces.

I wish Maureen would tell me how to write six things at once without my head exploding.

  1. The trick to entertaining answers, apparently, is to make stuff up. Why didin’t I think of that? []