A free event for aspiring novelists offering an individual six-minute pitch with a literary agent from Curtis Brown or Conville & Walsh, followed by a question and answer session in a small group – this was something not to be missed.
On Saturday 27th February what looked like thousands of hopeful authors poured into Foyles in Charing Cross Road, London – including two members of ninevoices.
What we learned from our six minute pitch would need another post, but here are some of the sometimes surprising replies from the agent leading one of the group sessions.
Q: What makes you as an agent take on an author?
A: An original idea, well delivered. I am looking for a great hook, a really strong hook, that as an agent I can use to promote a manuscript to an editor .
Q: Does a story need to be ‘perfect’ before I submit it?
A: No. There are some books that that I will work on for the best part of a year before it is ready to be sent to an editor.
Q: What should I write in my cover letter?
A: The first paragraph should be a short blurb, such as on the back of a book. It should include something intriguing. The second paragraph should describe the type of novel. You might include for example the sort of book it would sit next to in a book shop. In the third paragraph tell me why you have picked me to send it to! And then the last paragraph should tell me something about you.
Q: How long should my manuscript be?
A: 80,000 to 120,000 words.
Q: How long should my synopsis be?
A: Ideally, one page, though it could run to two pages.
Q: Should I tell you the ending in the synopsis?
A: If you have got a really good ending, a really big twist, then no, I would rather be surprised like any reader.
Q: Should I use an editing school offering manuscript review before I submit it?
A: Only if you feel you’d like it copy edited before sending it, but it’s not necessary.
Q: Does my age matter – I am an older author?
A: No it doesn’t make any difference to my decision.
Q: Are you more interested in authors who use social media? What do you think about Twitter?
A: If the author already has a platform on the internet, then that’s useful, but it is not a deal breaker. If you don’t use social media, it doesn’t mean we won’t consider you. If you like it and it comes naturally to you, then Twitter – but it is difficult to know if using Twitter translates into sales. Traditional promotion remains important, e.g. promoting his/her book at book-related events, talks in local bookshops, etc, and hopefully getting into some of the big book festivals, though that is usually big name authors.
Q: What about the rights to the book? Can an author keep any back?
A: No.The publisher won’t let you keep any rights.
Oh, my. I’ve just printed this out and plan to stick it on the study wall. Who would have imagined an agent would say they ‘would rather be surprised, like any reader’ by a big twist ending, than have it spelled out in the synopsis?
THANK YOU, Anita and Tanya, for going to Foyles and bringing back so much useful information. Let’s hope it translates into agent interest for both of you.
That hint that there might be a follow-up blog about the six-minute pitch sessions has my mouth watering already…
Thanks for this instructive info. Could you please unpack the answer to the last question? What does the new author get then, financially? (Sorry to lower the tone …)
Crystallised Ginger said:
Thanks for this, A & T. I was a bit surprised about the rights. With short stories, you offer ‘First British (or North American, or whatever) Serial Rights’. I’d assumed – naive me – that with books you could offer publishing rights in the UK but retain film /TV rights, US publishing rights, etc., with a bit of negotiation.
However else will we make our fortunes selling out to Disney?
Well spotted, or the benefits of a group mind. Saying something like this just shows how we need an agent to look after us with regards to detail, etc! – I accidentally left out something in writing up the agent’s answer, which was to give the context of the question, what was being discussed before the question itself was asked. Originally I had written up the Q and A as follows:
Q: What about the rights to the book? Can we keep any back? [This was asked in the context of e-book rights.]
A: The publisher won’t let you keep the rights.
I hope all is clear now …
Tanya van Hasselt said:
The questions at the group session I was at were largely the same as the above. To each of them the charming young agent said, ‘Great question!’ I was not rewarded like this but then my own might have seemed tiresome. I asked how often they failed to find a publisher for their authors. This hardly ever happens, she said, because they are so picky about who they select to represent.
I came away extremely impressed with the professionalism of the Curtis Brown/Conville & Walsh stables – and perhaps outclassed.