Friday, December 21, 2012

Talking the Talk ... on the Phone

by R.C. Lewis

2012 turned out to be an eventful year for me. I signed with an agent in late May, and she sold my book just a couple of months later. The agent-getting part involved five agents offering representation, so I had The Call five times—three of them in one day. With submissions, I talked to two offering editors on the phone.

The phone is not my favorite thing in the world.

It makes me feel awkward, and like I have to really concentrate to catch every word as well as every nuance of tone since I have no body language and facial expression to cue off of. And my agent (bless her!) let me know I had some bad habits.

See, once upon a time (when I was a teenager—no, I won't say how many years ago that was), I had a friend who would talk on the phone for hours. Usually some kind of teenage drama or another that she wanted to rant about. If I didn't say "uh-huh" on a fairly regular basis, she assumed either I wasn't there or didn't agree with her stance of being outraged at the situation. So I got used to a lot of, "Uh-huh, I'm still with you."

I also have a mother who can't always find the word she's looking for. Somehow, I almost always know what that word is, I provide it for her, and we continue the conversation. It's just how conversation works with her.

But you know what? When you do either of those on the phone with strangers, it can be kind of annoying and off-putting.

Not exactly the impression you want to give prospective agents and editors, right?

Honestly, I was always listening and paying attention to what the other party was saying. (How could I not? Agents and editors!) But I learned that it's important to sound like you're listening by not saying anything at all. In my case, I learned to wait until a direct question was asked or there was a full second of silence—more than just taking a breath—to take my turn at talking.

And I'm definitely glad my agent was direct and honest enough to train me up on that before my editor calls.

So, when preparing for The Call at any level, definitely get a list of questions ready, things you need to know by the end of the conversation. But also take a hard look at any bad phone-talking habits you might have.

You know what they say about first impressions.

Do you have any tips or tricks for successful phone conversations for a phone-phobic person like me? Any strategies for handling the inevitable nerves that come with high-pressure phone calls?

R.C. Lewis teaches math by day and writes YA fiction by every other time. Her YA sci-fi novel Stitching Snow will be published by Disney-Hyperion in Summer 2014. Meanwhile, you can find her at Crossing the Helix and on Twitter (@RC_Lewis).

From the Write Angle will be taking next week off. Happy Holidays to all our readers, and Good Writing in the New Year—break a pencil!


Bonnie Rae said...

This is really good to know! Thanks for posting about it. I never thought about phone habits!! =)

R.C. Lewis said...

Neither had I, Bonnie. Thank goodness I have such a wonderfully blunt agent! :)

JeffO said...

Thanks for the tips. I hope to put them to good use some time soon!

Megan Duff said...

Wow, I can't even remember the last time I had a serious conversation with someone on the phone. That is, one that wasn't "I'm outside...kay, see ya" or with an older relative that can't text.

I'll have to brush up on those phone skills before the far off day of querying.

Thanks R.C.!

Jemi Fraser said...

Yikes! Never thought about those informal habits before. Great tips - thanks!

Tammy Theriault said...

phone well, i guess practice with family on the phone. hope it helps...

Theresa Milstein said...

Wow, what a position to be in. Nerve-wracking! Good tips. I guess I'd mention not using those word fillers (umm).

lbdiamond said...

LOL! Great story! Thanks for sharing your experience and thanks for the tips. :)

lbdiamond said...

PS--I had a call with an editor. The line was so staticky I couldn't hear what she said, so I ended up guessing half the time. It was that, or say, what? a hundred thousand times. LONGEST HOUR OF MY LIFE. LOL!

R.C. Lewis said...

Good grief, lb, that's my worst fear.

And yes, Theresa, must keep a handle on my "umms."

Thanks for the comments, everyone! :)

Christine Rains said...

I'm the same way on the phone. I've never been a phone person. I don't even own a cell because I don't want to bring a phone with me wherever I go! Thanks for sharing this and have a great holiday season.

Matt Sinclair said...

I'm on the phone a lot and deal with a lot of one-to-one conversations, interviews, and meetings, but I suspect I'm guilty of some of the same habits you've shared here. Food for thought about my phone presentation.