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:
The 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.