Earlier this month I was happy to attend an event organised by the Writers Guild of Great Britain where a panel of agents gave a talk about common themes that writers starting on the great literary journey may want to be aware of as they set out to carve a career in writing, followed by a Q-and-A session from the floor.
Themes of the discussion were around the roles of an agent in terms of what roles they perform for a writer, their role as part of the developing career for a writer and when and how to approach an agent when a writer feels ready to.
My goals with the evening were to soak in some insight and knowledge from the panel; this I feel I accomplished. While the panel was mostly focused around screenwriting and scripts, there was plenty of insight, I felt, that applied universally to writing of all doctrines and disciplines including prose:
- Creating a body of work is key in attracting the attention of agents – it’s a nice, romantic notion that one’s first script or manuscript will be so good as to seal the deal initially, but a good body of work will show proactivity on the part of the writer and give the potential agent a chance to see that writer’s “voice” develop. I feel my stable of short stories that I have already written shows that I’m not adverse to trying new things conceptually but also that, over time, I have given serious thought and effort into diversifying my portfolio out of the original “space opera” comfort zone.
- Meet other writers and network – build a circle of contacts and exchange notes and ideas. I already do this to a small scale with a few like minded-friends I know personally and via Twitter, but getting out to more events (such as Meet the Agents) and plucking up the courage to say “hi!” to another writer is a big step. Again, it’s a romantic notion that a writer will sit in solitude and – hey presto! – an awesome piece of work will be conjured out of thin air; rather, as a writer myself I feed off of feedback. Bouncing ideas off other writers is a great way to see what works and what doesn’t, and it’s a skill I want to work on. Fellow writers are not an “enemy”; rather, we’re all making the same journey so should be more collective!
- Keep writing fresh and current – don’t rely on old stories that gather dust for submission. Writing new material both keeps one’s hand in with the craft but also allows a writer to keep their material current with modern trends. A “dusted off” work shows a potential agent that a writer is either not keeping up with current trends or is getting complacent and spent. While my own output has slowed I like to think that with each work I am getting a little better and adapting my skill.
- Don’t attempt to second-guess the market when pitching a work; write the best story in the genre or format you’re interested in. Show an interest and passion in your subject – if the best and most compelling story you want to tell is in the form of a science-fiction novel or a comedy short, write a sci-fi novel or comedy short! The interest and passion behind your work is what agents want to see, not necessarily the genre or format you pigeon-hole yourself into. Trying to write all things for all men can be off-putting for agents, and spreading oneself too thin doesn’t allow a distinctive “voice” to culture.
- Seek out agents specialising in your genre – this point especially resonated me as a science-fiction centric writer, as sci-fi as a whole is pretty marmite – some agents love it and some hate it; the writer’s task is to find an agent that appreciates the work and has special genre knowledge they can put behind a writer to make an impact in a relatively niche market. While I am in the early stages of experimenting with more general genre fiction, I definitely took a lot from this point – it’s fine for an agent to have personal tastes, much as a reader would.
Overall, the evening was extremely useful – writing, while a romantic pastime, is about meeting people and doing research into the market one’s work is ultimately intended for. Finding an agent is the first crucial step, and pivotal in starting the ball rolling on a productive writing career, whether that be books, radio, plays, theatre or film. And when I’m ready I hope to be able to take this insight forward as I take my writing on the next step.
Definitely a worthwhile evening!