Over the course of eight weeks, Simon Trewin invited us into the world of the literary agent. Each Friday between 12pm & 1pm, Simon and Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (Sam Blake) demystified some the aspects of pitching to an agent on the www.writing.ie FB ‘Live’ event page.
I took notes. Even though I have been an indie author for the past six years with all of my works up on Amazon and Kobo, there is always room to improve your chances of wider readership. If you Google ‘How to pitch to a literary agent’, a bewildering array of links appear. Some results are vague, some are just downright useless.
So, why have an agent in the first place?
- An agent is the gatekeeper for the author, the one who does the heavy lifting while you build and hone your craft. You employ an agent to act on your behalf and as it is a symbiotic relationship, aims to be financially beneficial to both of you.
What catches an agent’s eye? Well there is in truth, no silver bullet on this, but I did look at pitching my current WIP following these guidelines, or as I call them, The Trewin Method:
- Research – do a little hunting around, find authors who have similar types of books to what you are working on, crime fiction? Sci-fi? Horror? Spend some time building a ‘hit list’ for pitching. Check too, the submission guidelines on the agent’s site.
A good rule of thumb was Trewin’s comment – Commercial Fiction is PLOT BASED; literary fiction is CHARACTER BASED. (You now have your refinement tools.)
- First impressions count – I have created a 25 word ‘hook’ for my submission that acts almost as a visual guide to the cover letter; this is the first layer of the pitch ‘Toolbox’ as he calls it – you have 3 chapters to sell the book. Trewin stresses that the agent has to ‘forget’ they are reading a book. Is the story compelling, are the characters well defined is the hook established?
- Now that you have the agent’s attention, you have to understand the mindset of the agent: is the story intriguing? Does it have mass appeal? Does it have a character’s journey?, does the character face a dilemma and if so, how is it resolved? Is there a ticking clock? – a simple tag-line from the 1980 movie Flash Gordon – “Flash I love you, but we only have 14hrs to save the Earth”.
You can watch here:
Trewin highlighted five debut novels that he took on – ‘Tunnel Vision’ by Keith Lowe; ‘Ingenious Pain’ by Andrew Miller; ‘MAD’ by Chloe Espositio, and ‘The Thief of Time’ by John Boyne and Sam Blake’s debut ‘Little Bones’. Each fulfilled the requirements of intriguing well-written prose, taking your mind off the day-to-day but also looks closer at human nature in all of its glory and failings. Crucially they all had a ‘hook’ and a concept that was easy to communicate.
My journey at this point was to look at these three points – my WIP has a working title of The Drowning Kind; a contemporary crime thriller and for pig iron, I followed these steps and pitched them to Simon (first) and a number of other agents who represent the genre this would fit into.
- In the email subject line, your book title, your name, and the attention of the agent.
- Before the letter in the body of the email, I put the 25 word pitch…
Crowe’s career as a detective is in tatters – he’s facing dismissal, vilified by the press and his wife’s about to leave. Lying low in a small seaside town he spots a ‘Help Wanted’ ad in the kitchen of a local café. It offers him an escape from the public and his spiralling mental health – and it’s where Thea Farrell worked – until she was found dead in the town’s harbour.
And herein lies the problem: Thea was an Olympic medallist, silver for swimming and Crowe’s burned-out synapses are starting to join the dots – it wasn’t his case, but his cop’s senses tell him that Thea wasn’t the drowning kind.
Then the cover letter; the second tier of your Toolbox.
- Simon as any other agent needs to see passion for your piece; you have after all, locked yourself away for months and lived and breathed your book, so yes, you have to convey your belief in your work. But he too has to be as excited and passionate too – it’s all subjective of course and might not be for him in the end.
I gave him a brief overview of my writing to date and why I want him to represent me. If I believe in it, he will and if he runs with it, will sell it on your behalf.
And now I press send.
Simon responded almost immediately with a confirmation, and in the early days of pitching my first novel ten years ago, I almost never received any kind of response. So, for me, these steps work. The toe is jammed in the door of the agent. They know who you are; now they just have to read the submission.
And then, refining, rewording, and polishing up the three chapters further, I went to my ‘hitlist’ and pitched it to a number of UK agents.
Most if not all have responded with a confirmation of receipt (not automated) and I cannot stress how useful, how necessary these steps are.
This series will be continuing on the Writing.ie Facebook page under the title The Writing Game: From Big Idea to Bestseller, with Trewin and Fox O’Loughlin chatting to key individuals in publishing from authors to editors. Stay tuned every Friday at 12 noon BST to get the inside track on publishing. Their first episode was a fascinating chat with multi bestseller Carmel Harrington discussing her journey from big idea to bestseller – discover why she decided to self publish and how that opened doors for her, how Cold Feet The Lost Years came about and who Greta Gale would put on the bus. Watch here!
Like and follow the Writing.ie Facebook page to get a notification when it goes live and sign up for the Writing.ie newsletter for resources relating to the series. All the videos are recorded and can be watched back – just click VIDEOS on the Writing.ie Facebook page to find them. You can’t afford to miss it!
(c) Robert Craven
About Eagles Hunt Wolves:
For fans of John le Carre, Mick Herron, Ian Fleming, Phillip K Dick and Alastair Maclean – meet Eva Molenaar.1946: The guns have fallen silent over Europe.For now.Searching for her lover Nicklaus Brandt after a mission three years earlier with the French Resistance in Lyon, Eva finds herself in lawless war-torn Berlin.Reunited with her old MI6 handler, Henry Chainbridge, she finds Brandt in a secret holding cell for Allied Intelligence in the British Sector of Berlin.He has information vital to the Allies.Hitler’s last offering; a vengeance weapon of frightening capabilities is now in the hands of the reclusive American billionaire Edgar Halidane and his cadre of fanatics.Under the aegis of Allied command, Eva is dispatched to investigate and finds herself battling with old enemies who have taken the embers of Hitler’s vision and plan to re-ignite a divided Europe.And pays a heavy price on her last mission.It began with Get Lenin and now ends with Eagles Hunt Wolves.
Order your copy online here.