When I decided I wanted to go to some conferences and meet some editors and agents, the Rutgers One-on-One jumped out at me on Google.

To go, you have to submit three sample pages from a picture book, middle grade or young adult book.  The conference genies then pick the top 80 or so and match every single conference attendee with a mentor who’s an editor, an agent, or a successful author.  You spend 45 minutes with the mentor (one-on-one time) and then another hour with five mentees at a table with five mentors (five-on-five time).

That’s what I wanted:  to meet people and show them my work.  The conference is in New Jersey, which is far but not screamingly so from Montreal, and because of its proximity to New York, you get a good turnout of mentors.  All the mentors volunteer their time, so the attendees pay $195 just to cover room rental and food costs.

Because I didn’t know if I’d get into the conference, I also attended NJ SCWBI, which I started blogging about here.  And that was cool too.

For Rutgers, most mentors accept a submission from conference attendees for at least a few months after the conference.  A few didn’t (one even blocked out her address), but that’s life.  So at least you don’t have to pursue each mentor, sliding your manuscript underneath his or her bathroom stall door.  (That’s a joke, but I’ve heard someone actually did this at a conference.  Avoid.)

If you did want to stalk the editor/agent, you could.  They carried orange folders and had yellow badges, so they were easy to spot.  But there were so many of them, you could just sit down and say “Hi” and that was good enough.  At lunch, you could sit anywhere and just chat away.

This year, there was an accident on the highway, so a bunch of mentors were late or couldn’t come.  They moved the One-on-One to the afternoon to ensure that mentors could make that session and started off with the five-on-five.

Our 5-on-5 was moderated by David Lubar, an author, who said “I’m just warm flesh.  This is your time.”  He got us to pitch to the table.  So I got to see a variety of pitching styles while I surveyed the editor/agent reactions.  Good sign:  nods.  Bad signs:  lowering of eyes, blank face.  One writer said, “When should I stop talking?  How do you know when to end a pitch?” and Eric said, “Watch their eyes.  When they start to drift…”  Totally true.

Here are some pearls from our table:

Molly Jaffa, Agent at Folio

  • Can tell she loves a manuscript by page 15, or really doesn’t by first paragraph.
  • “Don’t be married to the manuscript.”  If this one doesn’t work, maybe the next one will.
  • “Ground me in your work” (provide detail instead of trying to be universal but really being vague)
  • “We need you [writers] as much as you need us [agents].”

Kathleen Oritz, Agent at Lowenstein & Assoc

  • “Find a critique partner who’s not a friend or family member.”
  • 80% of her list is paranormal, so you’ve got to make your query different and succinct.  Like Janet Reid of Query Shark says, “Just get to the…point.”
  • Wants to know your credentials, not including self-published works.  SCWBI counts.

Brianne Mulligan, Associate Editor at Razorbill

  • Prefers agented submissions
  • Since Razorbill is a commercial house, your books should have a great concept, which means you can explain your book in one sentence/hook…but it still always comes down to the writing.
  • Getting tired of paranormal, but it’s not dead yet

Allison MacDonald, editorial assistant at Dutton

  • The first chapter should contain the DNA of story.
  • “Don’t be afraid to revise.”
  • Don’t think that editors are just reading in order to reject.  She wants to pull a manuscript out and enjoy it.  “I want it to be successful.”

There’s much more to be learned at Rutgers and everyone’s experience is unique.  Facebook and Twitter are cool, but in his keynote speech, author Eric Luper pointed out that they can be a crutch.  It’s useful to get out and shake hands once in a while.

I met many highly awesome and generous people. Karen Strong gave us a ride from the hotel to the conference and then to the NJ Transit station and wouldn’t accept a cent in return. Author Deborah Heiligman entertained us all with her speech called “You’re so smart and you want to be a writer?” and then gave every single person a waterproof notebook (mentors too!) so we could write down our ideas in the shower.

Keep an eye on Colleen Rowan Kosinski’s blog.  She lists every mentor’s bio, an invaluable goldmine.

And keep writing!