One of the things that YALC (the Young Adult Literature Conference) offered this year was a chance to pitch your novel to a literary agent. You got five minutes to talk with an agent about your book and get their thoughts on it. I didn’t realise this was happening until it was…happening, so I went in cold. No prepared pitch. No rehearsed speech. Not even a breath mint. Because I love living on the edge.
EXCEPT THAT I DON’T. I sat down in front of the agent and totally froze up. I could barely remember my own name, never mind what my novel was about. For some reason, I remembered what my side projects were about, though, so I just blurted, “Sky pirates!! Looking for bloody revenge!!” WHICH IS NOT EVEN HALF-DRAFTED YET and has no business being pitched when it barely even exists.
The good news is that that piqued the agent’s interest visibly, which calmed me down a lot. The bad news is that when I did manage to tell her about Lady of Daemons, she seemed…a lot less interested. I have no idea whether her smile really was polite and frozen or if it just felt that way, but I can say for absolutely certain that things did not go as well as I’d hoped.
A big part of the problem was that I was unprepared and craaaaaazy nervous. I blanked on easy questions like, “What is your novel about?” and, “What can daemons do?” Stuff that I know like the back of my hand, stuff that I’ve spent YEARS working on, just…escaped me.
So that was a bad time.
Once I’d managed to extract myself from that situation and get my knees to stop shaking, though, the real insecurity started to settle in. Genuine interest in my side project, and a polite smile for my almost-finished manuscript? Have I been wasting my time on Lady of Daemons? Is it really too weird, too out-there, too uncompelling? Should I have put the majority of my efforts into The Final Days?
The whole encounter basically threw me face-to-face with something that’s concerned me for years. I love Lady of Daemons, but I know that it’s a bit…different. Mostly because there’s no romance in it, but still, in the YA world, a total lack of romance feels like a gamble. I’ve always worried that I’ve been putting too much faith and effort in a story that doesn’t have what it takes to be commercially successful. This felt like a confirmation of that.
(and yes I know that I’m overgeneralising and being a wee bit dramatic but isn’t that why you hired me?)
I had a bit of a wallow, and then hauled myself out of it by pointing out the following facts:
- It was, objectively speaking, a terrible pitch on my part. Nobody’s going to be interested in a terrible pitch.
- One person’s opinion isn’t the same as everyone’s opinion.
- I still got some valuable information out of it – namely, that I should look for an American agent, as most of the YA fantasy published in Britain is published in America first (for Reasons™ I guess??).
- I don’t have to publish Lady of Daemons before I can publish The Final Days. It’s not like they’re part of the same series and have to go in any kind of order. There’s nothing stopping me from finishing my edits, querying Lady of Daemons, and simultaneously getting to work on The Final Days – which has been my plan all along. And if The Final Days gets picked up and Lady of Daemons never does? Well, I’ll deal with that later.
In the end, I got something really good out of the experience. But I still highly recommend that, if you ever find yourself face-to-face with a literary agent, you have a prepared speech ready to go.
Have you ever pitched a novel in person? How did it go?