This is the final part of a three part series on hooking an agent, based on the excellent advice given during the Writers & Artists event I attended a few weeks ago. In part one I discussed the role of an agent and why you need one. In part two I wrote about how best to approach an agent.
I have to be honest, it was pitching to an agent face to face that made me want to attend this event. I have never sent work out to an agent before, but I know that if your work is rejected in most cases you won’t get any feedback explaining why that might have been. I guess I was eager to test the waters before I attempt to make any submissions.
I explained straight away to her that I knew it needed another draft but that I would welcome some advice on my pitch.
So what happened?
Well, the very first thing I was asked to do was pitch my novel using the one sentence pitch. In my case, ‘a young girl uncovers a sinister cult in a seaside town.’
The agent liked the idea and then asked me lots of questions about it:
What makes your book YA fiction and not adult fiction? (the age of the protagonist and the themes)
What genre is your book? (erm…historical gothic fiction? I guess, although there are some Lovecraftian style monsters in there.)
Is there a love story? (not exactly. Some sexual tension maybe. I was trying not to be too cliche’)
If you saw your book on a table in a bookshop, what are the other books or authors would you expect it to be shelved next to? (Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children)
To explain some of these questions: Firstly, the one sentence pitch is what is used to sell your book. The agent will use this with publishers. It needs to get the idea across quickly so that the publisher can say whether it sounds like something they would want or not.
The genre, again, as above. The agent explained to me that historical fiction for children is a hard sell, so it is really important that the character is someone that they can relate to, with the same teenage angst as a modern setting.
Which is why the love story is important. As a woman in her thirties, I might find a love story cliche’ but a 14 year old girl will not. It is something that will keep her interested in what happens and will give her something to relate to. She said that at the Frankfurt Book Fair, this is the first question the agents were asked about a YA book and if there wasn’t a love story, publishers were not interested.
Thinking about books that are similar will also help an agent to visualise it and help sell it, which is ultimately what you are trying to do.
I then told her a bit more about it and she took a look at my first three chapters.
This was a little nerve-wracking but ultimately very positive. She said the narrative voice is spot on for a YA narrator but that by chapter three the pace has slowed a little and that you cannot afford to do that with YA. She said it was well written and wished me luck with the next draft.
The ten minutes went very very quickly!
However, it has given me a lot of things to think about. I’m going to be doing a massive rewrite taking her advice on board and hopefully in a few months time I’ll be ready to submit to an agent for real!
One of the things the day made me realise (and I know this sounds very naive) was that whilst authors often write for themselves, if you really want to write as a career then you have to remember that ultimately you are not writing for you at all. You are writing to become part of a business. One that needs to be profitable. In order to hook an agent your writing has to be ‘sellable’ as well as enjoyable to read.