I am lucky enough to have bagged a 15-minute session with a literary agent at next month's Edinburgh Book Festival. My question for Dear Crabbit is: how could an aspiring author make best use of this time?
I understand that supplicants will be able to submit work to the agent in advance. I have a WIP but the first chapter won't come right, so there is no point in giving it to him or her. Would another chapter be acceptable? Or should I get advice on my synopsis and cover letter, which haven't been written yet? I also have questions about the subject of my WIP - it has been covered a few times already by high-profile authors and I'm worried it might have gone out of fashion. Would it be better to ask about that?
Any advice would be most gratefully received. Once again, many thanks for the advice which is so generously given on your blog.
I think your best strategy here is to write a paragraph-pitch in advance and bring it with you or send it as part of the sample. This is what would sell a book's idea to an agent and is a crucially important part of the process of attracting one. See my blog posts about pitches.
You mentioned the possibility of discussing the synopsis - to be honest, this is pretty much the same as what I've just said. Discussing how the story proceeds and what elements are important is a good use of this time.
If it's just that the wrong things happen in it, this doesn't matter at this stage because you're not actually pitching the book, just getting advice. The agent won't mind if the wrong things are in it or it starts in the wrong place - especially if you explain. If it's that you haven't found the voice, that's more critical, though I suspect it's not that because you say a later chapter might be better.
So, you could send her the first chapter. Tell her that it's not "right" yet - and tell her briefly why - but explain that you just want her to see the voice and judge whether your writing is appropriate for the genre (or something suitable to your concerns).
Or, if you don't want to do that, send another chapter but explain that your book is very much in progress and your first chapter isn't "ready". Explain that you're sending it so that she can see the voice and the "type" of writing you use.
I think you should focus on the pitch and a mini-synopsis/extended paragraph. Not the covering letter - that's looking too far ahead. Besides, Dear Agent will tell you how to do that!
If the agent feels that the idea and pitch are a no-go area, this is when you need to find out, and she might well have advice on how to keep your book fresh and up-to-date.
And do tell her that you follow my blog etc! I probably know the agent - do tell me (privately, if you wish) who it is.
Your best chance of creating a good impression is to sound realistic and hard-working, tapped into all the good advice out there, determined to work hard to achieve your goals, and with an open mind and heart about the whole thing.
Finally, breathe deeply, smile, don't speak too fast. Write down your questions in advance and prioritise them so that if you're running out of time you can omit the least important.
Enjoy! And wave at me if you see me!