11.50, April 20th.
That was the slot I was allocated. Just ten minutes to tell a complete stranger about my baby and to hopefully not make a complete idiot out of myself.
It was organised by my university, from which I graduated 2 years prior. I’m going to be vague in this instance in regards to names and places, but basically they’re currently run events concerning publishing to best assist and encourage primarily their Masters students, but they’re also open to former students and members of the public. As part of this, they arrange for an agent or a publisher to take part in a pitch day, with approximately 23 slots. As luck would have it, the slots weren’t all filled this year, so I managed to be one of only 10 pitching to the literary agent selected.
I knew about it a month in advance so had plenty of time to prepare. I always find over-preparation is best, so that you’re able to handle any scenario or question flung at you, but straight off the bat, you have to know your text like the back of your hand. It doesn’t matter whether it’s just an idea, 25,000 words of a draft like mine, or the finished product, you should know the characters, what motivates them, what themes are prevalent and so on. In my mind, if you don’t get 100% behind your own text, how can you expect the agent to do so?
In regards to the preparation I did, I naturally went back over my text with a fine tooth comb – we were asked to provide her with a query letter and 1-2 pages of a sample to take away, so getting those 2 pages to be succint and enticing was wholly important. From there, as this was my first ever pitch, I had a good old Google to do my research on what to include, what to avoid, and of course to find out more about the agent in question. You should definitely be able to answer them should they ask why your novel is for them in particular – is it a genre they’re seeking, or a theme they have focused on with authors previously? Read their published authors’ novels, stalk (gently) their social media accounts, see what their agency or publishing company have been doing that might be relevant.
I was really pleased to see that this agent, Agent X let’s call her, had a penchant for psychological thrillers with strong, fresh protagonists, and working from initial stages to shape the project together. This suited my novel and my needs to the ground, and I was sure to make her aware of this, both in the meeting and in the query letter.
Within the query letter, I set up the premise of the novel, the main themes, where it would sit in the market, as well a tiny biographical section at the end. I actually found this Writer’s Digest article enormously helpful as an initial guide.
Now, to be quite honest, the question of marketing and genre and so on weren’t something that I was confident in to begin with. I had referred to my novel in the past ‘as a bit like a psychological thriller, I suppose, but not really’. To best understand where your novel or short or whatever it is fits, simply look through some genre definitions. While my text had elements of a suspense, or a romance, psych thriller did end up profiling it most closely. As far as the market is concerned, I looked to compare it to similar texts. That is not necessarily saying you’re as good as or even writing the same content as those writers, it can show a similar theme, a tone – it’s really just to give them an idea of what they’re dealing with. If you say it’s a novel about vampires, they might be interested, but if you say it’s more Anne Rice in tone than Stephanie Meyer, that might grip them more.
I revised this letter several times and made sure to have some trusted friends go over it – make sure you find someone who will critique and not just praise! Finally, I included my contact details and the invitation to contact me with questions or to request further pages. This meant I had a packet ready to hand over in the meeting for Agent X to take away, and hopefully pour over.
My next step was brief – write an extended version of the query letter to form my pitch and practice practice practice. This basically meant digging a little deeper in to the plot, why I write it and all the subtexts running through it. It was all about the detail. I also wanted to have some sort of device to make the situation less stressful so I picked out some texts to take along to the meeting with me. Two were the comparable texts to give Agent X an indication where my novel might fit in the market, in my case: Enduring Love by Ian McEwan and The Lie of You by Jane Lythell. Finally, I stuffed in a copy of the book that first inspired me to write my novel in the first place, a trashy piece of chick-lit that I’d stolen from my mother’s shelf when I was a mere pre-teen. These were all essentially props for the meeting to help me feel prepared for anything fired at me.
Finally, it was the day of the meeting, and I was nervous. I never get nervous. My love L reassured me over the phone and I went in, suited up, and well coiffed, and was able to be seen earlier than expected. It was relatively informal, and Agent X was effortlessly glamorous and bronzed, and so petite. I instantly felt like a giant wearing too much eyeshadow. But that was irrelevant. She seemed excited at every turn of the conversation. She liked the concept, we kept it light. She was intrigued by the books I pulled from my oversized clutch. The ten minutes flew past, she promised to be in touch, and I left on Cloud 9.
In hindsight, I may have over prepared, however I would never have been able to tell what I was walking into, so I wouldn’t change that. Something I wish I’d taken into account more was not to get my hopes up. I never heard back from Agent X even though she’d seemed really interested in my ideas and my material. Maybe she didn’t like the writing, maybe she’d heard it all before. In the future, I intend to think of all the angles, to look for more opportunities at any one time, especially when it comes to applying for the MFA next year. One college isn’t enough. Five colleges isn’t enough.
In the end, I’m pleased with the work I put in, the query letter and the pitch were all new to me and it was a great learning experience, I hope to get more chances to put my work across to agents and their peers. I’d love to know other people’s experiences of pitching and submitting – comment below!