Thirty seconds to pitch; six minutes of feedback from an agent on the first page of your novel. This was speed-dating with a vengeance. This was Discovery Day 2016, held at the historic Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London, with agents from Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh. Was I discovered? Sadly, no. The small print read: “please do not expect to be offered representation by an agent in the one-to-one sessions. Representation is a big commitment for both agent and writer, and this is not a decision that should be taken in six minutes.”
The queue to be seen stretched all the way up the stairs from the fourth floor to the sixth floor, all of us clutching our sheaves of precious paper. In fact, we formed two lines, one for adult fiction and one for children’s. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of the children’s authors were women. After twenty minutes, we shuffled our way into the auditorium and were directed to our dates already sitting at tables. I don’t know that I learned anything new. The pitch, according to the agent, was good:
The Golden Illusion is a mystery story with a twist. The sleuth is a conjurer, RUARI, charming, manipulative and possibly a sociopath. Using deduction and mentalism to unravel the mystery, he believes he is hunting an ancient Egyptian illusion. Instead, he reveals a conspiracy concealing a crime that spans the centuries.
The first page passed muster, and the agent liked the twist of a conjurer as a sleuth. He liked my idea that I would like this to be the book the Magic Circle tries to ban since it gives away the secrets of several illusions. But he said his agency, Conville and Walsh, didn’t do much mystery. This seemed odd since two Conville and Walsh agents are on the list I compiled for this book, having said they were interested in the genre. He told me writing in more than one genre was dangerous, which I already knew, but hey, I can only write what I feel like writing. He asked me who I wrote like, and I didn’t have an answer for that. I’m not sure any of us would care to admit we write like anyone else. I don’t think I do, but you, as an impartial observer, might judge differently.
After the pitch, we had a fifteen minute group discussion with agents about the agent and publication process. There I did learn two things. One, agents do use literary festivals as a way of spotting new clients – Bath and Winchester were mentioned. Two, Conville and Walsh receive about 5,000-6,000 submissions a year. Of these, they take 20-30 new clients.
This makes the odds of getting an agent around half a per cent
That’s round about the same odds as the lifetime risk of dying in car crash, but much better than the one in 14 million odds of winning the UK lottery. So I press on in my bid to be discovered