March 25, 2013

Interview with a Literary Agent

Last month I had an interview with a literary agent. She represents a modest size agency in the U.K. and after reading a synopsis and fifteen pages of my manuscript she was 'interested'. She said I was a competent writer, she really liked the story, she loved the title and she wanted to know if it was finished. It was flattering, unexpected and my adrenaline was surging. The problem was,  I paid for the interview.

Backing up a bit. I belong to a writing group that annually, on behalf of it's members, invites agents representing several different genres to come to Switzerland and host a weekend workshop. They discuss the industry, the type of writing and writers they look for and then after a Q&A session, attempt to critique first page drafts submitted anonymously from the group. If you're diligent, as I was, you can get on a short list for a one-on-one twenty minute interview that costs $50. For me the price was worth professional feed back. But I didn't really get that. At least not the way I expected.

The agent started by asking me where I was from, who I read, what type of stories I wrote and whether I liked Switzerland. I'll be honest and say I was annoyed. I wanted to talk about specifics of my manuscript, first person verse third, whether the pace was too slow and how literary agents are 'adapting' to the changes that are occurring in the publishing industry. She really didn't like the last question. It put a scowl on her face and about ten minutes into the interview everything started to sour.

Under a looming silence, I began to realize her purpose for being there was in conflict with mine. I was there to interview her. It seemed wise that while I was paying for her time, and it was only twenty minutes, I should get a critique, some tips, direction, insider advice. Specifically I wanted to know about foreign translation rights.

But she was there to interview me. It hadn't dawned on me that my draft was good enough to be taken seriously. I didn't realize that in exchange for compliments, I was expected to impress. Instead somewhere in a scene where I was arrogant, she was useless, and I had only five minutes left to turn that around.

In the end I received some direction and a few things to think about. I still left slightly disappointed. I'm not sure if my expectations were too high or not high enough. I never did get a full critique of the fifteen pages but I did get her card for when I'm ready to try it again.

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