Around a year ago, I saw a link for the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair on Lancaster University’s website; I was a year from completing my distance learning MA, so I diarised the event.
Prior to the fair, I attended a Guardian Masterclass in Pitching with Juliet Mushens. Additionally, I watched the NCWGF podcasts and investigated five-finger and elevator pitches. I had chosen my workshop but, nonetheless, I had little idea of what to expect. A week before the event, the information pinged into my inbox and enabled me to investigate each agent, their guidelines and expectations. I put the agent’s details in the front of my folder, so I could refer to them between pitches. Additionally, I found out which authors my agents worked with, so I could refer to this in my pitch too. Each agent sees around four prospective authors per hour between 1.30pm and 5.45pm, so it was important to stand out for the right reasons.
I had intended to print out my covering letter, synopsis and first three chapters, but thankfully I couldn’t get any internet connection; submissions tend be sent by email – to save the environment and too, I imagine, the agent’s arms from dropping off!
Based on my knowledge of the agents, I went to two panel sessions, one on publishing and one on film, radio and gaming rights. The discussions included a lot of advice to incorporate and to think about. The chairpersons ensured the conversation was focused and pertinent, and the Q&A answered everyone’s burning questions.
My afternoon workshop, Writing Voice-Driven Fiction, included focused writing and listening to how other candidates approached the same topic. When we finished, 15 minutes before my first pitch, I found that my hands were trembling and I felt sick. Thankfully, I’d been working alongside another MA student who felt the same; it didn’t calm my nerves, but I wasn’t alone!
The pitching sessions were held in the University’s main atrium. My top-tip from having run mock interviews is: remember to take off your coat when you interview, otherwise you give the impression that you’re not stopping!
Before the pitching sessions I identified my agent’s tables. My first agent was Charlie Campbell from Kingsford Campbell and I opened my pitch with a little of my creative writing background. I knew Charlie was interested in historical and commercial fiction and the slot allowed time to ask questions on what he was looking for, and how he might develop and edit my project. I also asked when I could expect a response after submission.
Nika Cobbett from WGM was my second agent, and I was thrilled to find out that she works with novel and film rights; Nika was friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. I feel very fortunate that both agents said I could submit my work and, regardless of the outcome, I have gained invaluable experience and advice which will feed into both my covering letter and my writing.
In addition, I visited the drop-in sessions and I managed to chat to all the industry professionals.
I’m writing this on the train back to West Sussex and I am still buzzing from the fair. It was well and thoughtfully planned, and was a great experience, with helpful panel discussions. Most importantly, I’ve come away having lost my fear of pitching to agents.
By 2018 delegate, Lesley Hart