So, with just three days to go until Curtis Brown Creative’s Discovery Day (or #DiscoveryDay as it’s known in the Twittersphere) at Foyles bookshop, those of you lucky enough to secure tickets must be starting to think about pitching your novels to our literary agents. And while we promise no one at Curtis Brown or Conville & Walsh is particularly scary, it’s probably worth bearing a few things in mind when you do sit down in front of them. Want to pitch well and make a good impression? Then here are a few tips on how to make you – and your work – stand out:
(1) ‘Begin with a friendly smile and a greeting,’ says Curtis Brown’s Sheila Crowley. This goes a long way. Relationships with literary agents are built as much on a personal connection and mutual respect as they are on an appreciation of literary talent. So be nice.
(2) When introducing yourself, tell the agent briefly who you are, and a couple of interesting facts about yourself. Do mention if you’ve been previously published (or self-published) or have won any writing competitions. Be careful not to go on too long though. ‘Don’t give a long description of your family and how much they love your book,’ says Curtis Brown’s Lucia Rae. ‘It’s the writing that counts.’
(3) You’ve got 30 seconds to deliver your pitch, so be concise. Try to deliver a lively snapshot of your novel without resorting to waffle. The agent will ask you questions if you’ve piqued their interest.
(4) Make sure you tell the agent what’s at the heart of your novel. We’re always looking for strong, original ideas, so please share them with us. And don’t shy away from telling us the ending. ‘Really know the special nuggets within your story,’ says Sheila Crowley.
(5) If you can liken your novel to a successful published work or you’re influenced by a well-known writer, don’t be afraid to say so. But try to avoid making huge claims about yourself or your work. ‘Be confident but not arrogant,’ says Curtis Brown’s Alice Dill. ‘Any writer saying “I’m the Dickens of my time” (an actual quote from a submission I’ve read) is a huge turn-off.’
(6) Though some writers don’t like to label their work, they should be aware that publishers and book-buyers certainly will. If you are clear about what you’re doing and who you’re writing for, it will help the agent you’re pitching to better understand your work. ‘Have a think about where your book might fit in today’s market,’ says Alice Dill. ‘You should know a bit about other books in the genre you’re writing in as well as current trends. This especially applies if you’re writing for children.’
(7) Avoid the absolute no-nos of pitching. ‘Never say how much you think your book would make a great film,’ says Lucia Rae. ‘And don’t ask what level of advance you would hope to achieve with a book deal.’
(8) Think about the impression you’re creating. ‘Double-check the first page you’re presenting for typos, grammatical errors and repeated words,’ says Lucia Rae.
(9) ‘Please try to relax when the agent is reading your material,’ says Sheila Crowley. ‘Some writers last year looked as though they were on trial!’
(10) And finally? ‘Try and enjoy the experience,’ says Lucia Rae. ‘And remember the agent is on your side.’
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.