“When the bell rings, that’s the start of your ten minute time slot. You must go to where your booked agent is sitting. If the last person is still sitting in your seat you must evict them from it. Pull them off the chair, pull the chair from underneath them, or simply sit on their lap, the choice is yours. Whatever you do, do not let them finish their conversation, because they are eating into your ten-minute time slot. Got that?”
What had I let myself in for? I thought this was some civilised event at a writers’ conference where I would get the chance to chat to a top London agent and perhaps get some feedback or guidance on my novel. Instead, I seemed to have stumbled across some sort of writers’ Game of Thrones event. Were we expected to fight one another to the death?
That’s the opening to my article, called Agent Speed Dating, found in the January 2017 issue of Writers’ Forum magazine. If you’ve never done it, and you’re trying to attract a literary agent, it’s certainly an eye-opening exercise. It’s also a rewarding exercise … even if you don’t secure an agent as a result.
And that’s why I wrote the article, because writers often expect too much from these events. That’s not just my opinion, but the opinion too of the the two literary agents who gave me their views on the exercise.
It’s easy to think that if you pay (and yes, these ten-minute one-to-one sessions cost money) to chat with an agent, that you’ll get signed up there and then. You won’t.
Firstly, most of these sessions ask you to submit the first few pages of your novel - and when I say few, I really do mean a few - five, sometimes ten, at the most. You’ll also be asked to submit a short (half a page) synopsis of your novel (good luck with that!) and then a half-page biography. That’s not enough for an agent to make a decision about whether to take someone on. (And remember, some agent-writer relationships have outlasted many marriages.)
However, what you will learn from these sessions includes:
- what the current trends are in the genre in which you are writing,
- any potential pitfalls to avoid with your novel,
- how to strengthen it, or identify potential weaknesses in your novel (plotline, characterisation, dialogue - and, yes - the agent can detect this from the few pages you’ll have submitted)
- ideas on how to develop your story further.
If the session goes well, the agent might ask to see the entire typescript. Or they might say that they don’t like this particular storyline, but they might be willing to read your next. Always follow up with any offer they make, even if it might not be for a couple of years.
Some writers have been taken on by agents as a result of these sessions (read what John Jarrold has to say in my article), so these sessions can be the start of a long-term relationship. But always accept that these ten-minute one-to-one sessions are a like a first date. You might fall in love with each other at first sight, you might find you can’t stand one another, or you might think that this relationship has potential, so you agreed to a couple more get togethers to see how things pan out. But don’t expect a marriage proposal there and then.
So, if you’re in the market for a literary agent, why not check out some of the writers’ conferences taking place next year, where you can meet some literary agents face to face? (See below for links.)
The London Book Fair: [www.londonbookfair.co.uk] (April 2017)
Winchester Writers’ Festival: [writersfestival.co.uk] (June 2017)
York Festival of Writing: [www.writersworkshop.co.uk] (Sept 2017).
Specialist genre organisations, such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association ([www.rna-uk.org/]) the Historical Novelists Association ([https://historicalnovelsociety.org]) offer one-to-one sessions at their annual conferences.