Monday, 23 July 2012

DEAR CRABBIT: how to use my 15 minutes with an agent

Here's a lovely positive question for Dear Crabbit!
Dear Crabbit
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.
Firstly, all credit to you for thinking so carefully about how best to use this opportunity.

I think there are two things you should try to cover in this time, and mostly the first one:

1. The idea and pitch for your book. You are worried that the subject-matter has been "covered" and may be out of fashion. Now, first I'd say that your task (not just for this session but when it comes to pitching properly) is going to be to show that your book takes a new slant. It doesn't matter if the topic has been covered - most have! - you have to have a new slant on it or characters that shine through so strongly that it doesn't matter that the plot is not new. So, first be sure in your own mind that you have a new slant and then write a paragraph-pitch for the book. This is what you can discuss with the agent.

This will be perhaps the most important part of the session. She can highlight possible disadvantages of your story, things that raise flags in her mind. She can advise you what to be careful of and how to proceed.

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.

2. Your writing. You want to know which bit of writing you should send in advance, as the first chapter "won't come right". Well, if you were at the stage of actually pitching the book, that would matter - a lot! - but you're not. So, whether you show her the first chapter or another one depends on why it is not right.

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.

In summary
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!


catdownunder said...

If this was me asking the question (and I do wish it was) then I know I would feel a great deal better after reading the answer! Good luck!

Alison Morton said...

Very sensible advice. Preparation is everything. It's vital to write every question down because the inevitable nervousness will paralyze some part of your brain.

But this is not a test - it's an extremely valuable opportunity to mini-market-test your book idea.

It's also a business meeting. Your book and its theme may be the fresh idea the agent is looking for.

Bon courage!

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat - thanks!

Alison - indeed :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this advice, Nicola. I do indeed feel much better after reading it. I'll get to work on a mini-synopsis and try again with the first chapter. I think the right things happen in it and the voice is what I want it to be in later chapters but it doesn't work at the beginning. I think this is because the main character isn't presented in the right way, so maybe I need to think him through a bit more. And if I see you there, I won't forget to wave!

Joy said...

Fantastic question! Thanks for sharing the reply, Nicola - hopefully we'll all get this chance and if we do, we'll be prepared :D

Good luck with your meeting, Helen!!

Cameron said...

Excellent advice - were it me, I'd have written several lists, thrown them away, written some more, cried a bit ... good on you for getting it right!