How to Hook an Agent Part Two – My Speed-Date with Destiny

I posted yesterday on my Top Five Takeaways from Bloomsbury Publishing’s How to Hook an Agent seminar. Today, I’m sharing what I learned from my agent one-to-one:

How to Hook an AgentThe last part of the day was my speed-date with destiny – the rarest of opportunities to discuss the pitch for my novel with someone who could, potentially, be in a position to bring it to market. In a perfect world.

In those few minutes I learned one particularly critical thing. I’ve thought hard about the genre of my novel – you can see how I rationalised it into the psychological suspense space in my post titled What’s My Genre here. What I didn’t realise was that as soon as I mention psychological suspense in my submission, agents are wont to make a connection with a few very high-profile and successful contemporary psychological thrillers, such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn or Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.

The feedback I received was that if I were pitching a book likely to be compared to these, then I could be on to a loser, as it would have to be truly, spectacularly excellent to attract attention alongside these brilliantly crafted stories. And the likelihood of a debut novel even getting close to Gone Girl or Apple Tree Yard was remote.

I get that. I understand.

But… but… but… I’d never envisaged Singled Out to be an also-ran to these stories, not for a minute, M’Lud!  Apart from anything else I began writing my story long before either of these books was published. With a full-time freelance career to maintain, it took over three years to squeeze Singled Out from my keyboard. It’s a different kind of story too. There is a build-up of suspense, but no ‘thriller’ component and essentially, no twist-in-the-tail either – it’s just not that kind of a tale.

Would readers of these stupendous stories (both of which I thoroughly enjoyed) be interested in Singled Out? Possibly they would – if they enjoy stories about twisted, damaged and dangerous characters. But if they were led to expect another Gone Girl I fear they might be disappointed.

I’ve listened to presentations on a few occasions where agents have stressed that there’s no point in trying to hop on to a bandwagon – for example, the oft cited vampire bandwagon or more recently the 50 shades bandwagon.  Because apart from being an also-ran, you’re already too late – the parade is over. I hadn’t realised I might be viewed as having done this.  But now I can see the quagmire I’ve inadvertently stumbled into. So I’m rethinking how I pitch my grizzly psychological story to avoid any sudden-death comparisons which might prematurely consign Singled Out to the reject pile.  It’s enough of a challenge being an everyday would-be debut novelist; I don’t need to be hobbling my own chances.

As for the agent who enlightened me, I’m properly grateful for the insight, and I don’t think I would ever have got it without that one-to-one moment. This particular agent requested and now has my submission, and along with it the benefit of knowing I’m not trying to be the next Gillian Flynn, or the next anyone else for that matter.  Whether this makes a difference to their perception of my story, I’ll find out soon enough.

Talking of suspense then, I’m holding my breath.

16 thoughts on “How to Hook an Agent Part Two – My Speed-Date with Destiny

  1. It is difficult then to know how to categorise a novel – if you use a well-trodden category, are you shooting yourself in the foot as you describe? But if you invent or resist categories, I suspect that won’t go down well either. Did you re-categorise yours following the advice?

    1. It’s a problem. I’m considering whether to avoid mention of a genre beyond ‘quality women’s fiction’… then again, I think Singled Out is a good read for a man too… so where does that leave me? ‘Quality general fiction?’ Or am I being presumptious with the word ‘quality’… ah me. Might go back to the ‘book club’ categorisation! Or ‘psychological’ without the word ‘suspense’. Maybe we can chew this one over at our next lunch?

  2. I have a similar dilemma with the category ‘magic realism’. Whilst I would expect an agent to distinguish this from fantasy etc, am I too dooming myself to being compared unfavourably to the likes of Garcia Marquez, having already missed the boat? There’s always ‘general commercial fiction’ if you want to be non-gender specific and keep it broad, but is that too wide? Agreed – a topic for lunch discussion.

    1. Yours seems to be most appropriate to the ‘magic realism’ space, and you have the added weight of the South American context. Oh, I don’t know….. Lunch! 🙂

  3. categories. shmategories. I hate pigeon-holing books. But agents, bless ’em, they have their lists, and they like to stick to them. Tah! Good luck.

    1. Elaine, as always, the voice of reason, warm words of encouragement – I love hearing from you!

  4. I sense you are getting closer. It seems you have done all you can to help it along, so perhaps a bit more time and it will just happen. You will have it then.

  5. The problem with the position of these agents is that there are so many books it’s almost impossible not to have similarities with a recent success. At the same time, despite agents supposedly pleading not to be sent another YA paranormal romance, YA paranormal romances are selling like hot cakes and they would bite your hand off to have a slice of that action. Keep going. There is an agent out there for you and you will find them.

    1. I’m definitely keeping on keeping on. At least for now. One or two non-standard rejections have, bizarrely, given me some hope. Thank you, as ever, for the moral support. 🙂

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