Agent one-to-ones

I was super pleased recently when my friend Sasha Greene (2016 winner of Kosta’s Olive Tree short story competition ) got a well-deserved 10 minute pitch with an agent. I’ve invited her on to my blog to talk about what she learned from the pitch. 

Meeting with, and pitching to an agent is the holy grail for most authors but also terrifying. You were recently lucky enough to attend a pitching event run by a well known agent so tell us, how did you feel when you secured the appointment?

I was both excited and and also a little bit scared! I’m never very good at selling things as I generally think people should be allowed to make decisions for themselves without things being pushed in their faces, but what really helped me is that I genuinely believe that the manuscript I was pitching is a really good story that deserves to be published.

Did you do any research/preparation prior to the appointment?

I didn’t do muchIMG_20160614_174037 (2) research prior to the appointment, but I did do a lot before sending in my submission. I took a good look at the agency website and made sure that the agent I was pitching to would be interested in the genre that I was submitting. Once I had decided on the agent I thought would be the best then I had a look at the authors that person represented and even bought a couple of those authors’ books to see what their writin
g was like. I was also very fortunate to get some really valuable input from another lovely RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) member on things that had worked for her in cover letters to agents. Then I carefully crafted my cover letter, making sure that I also adhered to the agency guidelines about what they wanted me to mention. When preparing for the pitch session I had a good think about what messages I wanted to put across and how I could best convey them in a simple way.

What sort of things did the agent expect from you during the pitch?

I think every agent will be very different in this, but I have the feeling they always ask some variant of the question “What is your book about?” It’s always good if you can describe it succinctly. I was helped by the fact that I had answered a lot of the basic questions in my cover letter so we could really make the most of the time I had. The agent was also really nice so that was a real bonus that I was very happy about!

What did you learn from the experience?

It wasn’t my first pitching session; I was lucky enough to have three sessions last year at the RNA conference so that helped a lot in knowing what to expect. Evenscripture-960538_1920 (2) if it’s not ultimately successful, any practice at these sort of things is great. However I realised specifically this time around that it’s essential to prepare, but in the end I just had to play it by ear as I couldn’t really tell in advance exactly what they might say or what
questions they might ask. We did also discuss my current work in progress and I also feel that helped as it showed that I am serious about writing.

What would you do differently?

I think I would be less nervous next time. it’s a bit like job interviews; they get easier the more practice you get!

Any hints for anyone facing a pitch?

I think probably the following:
– Do your research. Most agents have a list of what they are looking for and provide lots of useful information on their websites and twitter feeds.
– Know your work. Be prepared to answer in-depth questions about it.
– Be confident in the quality of what you are offering. If you don’t think your work is good then it’s going to be much harder to sell it to anyone else.
– Be concise. Ten minutes just flies by.
– Ask for feedback if they don’t offer it willingly. It’s free advice from someone in the industry so why wouldn’t you?

I think most importantly though be yourself. OK, so you probably want to put your best side forward, but if you don’t get on at the start it’s going to be more of a challenge to end up with a solid working relationship!

And also remember that if you get to the pitch stage they have already seen your writing and you wouldn’t be there if they didn’t like it, or at least think it has potential, so take courage and go in with your head held high.

Wonderful advice Sasha, thank you for sharing! Best of luck with your WIP.

You can find out more about Sasha at http://sashagreene.wordpress.com/

and follow her at @SashaGreeneAuth

Behind the Fence

‘You’ve been crying,’ Johann said.

I struggled to get words past the iron fist in my chest. ‘My brother is missing in action.’

‘I am sorry.’

For once I found no pleasure in the German colour of his words. ‘Perhaps it was a brother of yours that killed him.’ I said.

‘I do not have a brother.’Outfit a German soldier during the Second World War

I wanted a reason to hate him. To hurt him. ‘My father has forbidden me to talk to you anymore.’

It took him some time to respond. Finally he said, ‘Ja, I understand.’

I glanced at him and found him looking at me, a strange mix of compassion and resignation in his gaze. I knew I couldn’t follow my father’s edict. I didn’t want to. I would work alongside Johann until evening. There would be time enough another day to avoid him.

We paused to eat and he carefully unwrapped a thick slice of bread spread with margarine. I bit into my lunch and watched with curiosity to see what else he had. Nothing.

‘Is that all you have to eat?  Again?’

‘Ja.’

‘Did you have a good breakfast, at least?’

He licked the margarine off his fingers and carefully gathered up the crumbs that had scattered across his chest.

‘This is breakfast –lunch, both.’

I shared my food with him then and found it easy to forget that he was the enemy.

We went back to work in a comfortable silence and I found the courage to ask him about his family.

He paused.

By the time I glanced his way, he was concentrating on the swing of his pitchfork again.

‘They are all gone. My wife, my son and my parents.’

I fumbled with inadequacy. ‘I’m so sorry.’

He tossed another forkful of hay and, for the first time, I saw repressed violence in him. ‘My whole street gone. My family, my house, my neighbours, my neighbours’ homes. Perhaps it was your brother who dropped the bomb, ja?’

The magnitude of his pain silenced me. I pitched hay.

He pitched hay.

My cheeks grew wet and hot. I was shocked to find I was crying.

That night as I turned for home, he touched my arm. ‘I am sorry, you are sorry. We stay friends.’ He pointed down the valley to where the church steeple showed. ‘Do you go to church? I think it is good. You speak to God for me. I have no church for ten months.’

***

‘Why don’t the POWs go to church?’

My father put his spoon down to give my question consideration. ‘Might escape.’

‘They don’t try and escape when they work on the farms.’

Dad took a slurp of stew and chewed thoughtfully. Finally he said, ‘Church probably wouldn’t have them – if they even wanted to come.’

‘I’m going to ask the vicar if they can attend our services.’

‘I absolutely forbid it.’ My father’s moustache bristled like a living thing. ‘Do you know what the village will do to you? They’ll say you’re soft in the head over that German. They’ll call you a traitor.’ I’d never heard my father so eloquent.

‘Why?’ I demanded. ‘Widow Hardy is stepping out with an Italian POW. All I’m doing is asking if they can come to church.’

‘For pity’s sake, Irene. Use the brain God gave you. It’s one thing for a widow to choose an Eyetie who’s been released, another altogether for an unmarried lass to choose a bloody Nazi Hun.’

I asked the vicar anyway.

***

St Werburgh's Church, HanburyAt Sunday service a few weeks later there was a disturbance at the back. It rippled through the congregation like a chilly breeze. The vicar didn’t pause in his sermon but I saw my neighbour’s son Tom get the back of his head slapped because he turned once too often to stare down the church. I wished I had his courage. I could feel them behind us, but I didn’t dare look.

Mrs Jones muttered, ‘Fancy bringing Nazis to church among God-fearing citizens. What is the world coming to? They’re sure to kill us.’

I couldn’t see how anyone could think that the men – thin, weaponless, patched and shabby could be a threat – yet her views were representative of most of the congregation. As soon as the service ended and the guard had marched the three POWs away, the villagers gathered by unspoken accord in the hall.

‘What was the vicar thinking?’

‘This is what comes of letting them out to work on the farms. Keep them locked up, I say, otherwise they’ll be getting all sorts of ideas.’

It turned personal. ‘You put the vicar up to this. What have you got to say for yourself, missie?

I had plenty to say. ‘Perhaps my brother’s imprisoned somewhere. I’d want him fairly treated.’

‘He’s dead girl, like my Matthew. Forget this folly. They don’t deserve it.’

A lone voice rose to my defence. ‘I know that if it was my Andy who was a POW I’d want someone to be kind to him.’

The voices rose, a clamour that outrang the bell.

‘Enough. This is God’s house, not yours!’ It was the first time I had ever seen the vicar angry. The silence was absolute. Even the bell stilled. ‘There will be no further discussion. The men will be allowed to come to church, to find succour and repent of their sins if they so wish.’

No-one liked being forced to accept it but accept it they did. The POWs became a fixture.

***

Life slipped into a pattern, one season into another. I no longer worked with Johann but we often saw each other. One day he approached me.

‘Bring me something, please.’

‘Yes, of course. What is it you want?’

‘I don’t have the words,’ he said. ‘I want this.’ He used a stick to draw a shape in the soil.

‘A shell? You want a shell?’

‘Not one. I want many. Many, many.’ He opened his arms to show how many.

I brought him shells. Handfuls and pockets of them, until he ordered me, laughing, to stop. He wouldn’t tell me what he wanted them for. I pushed and nagged but he refused to answer my questions.

***

 Winter set in. Johann spent less time on the farm and more time behind the fence. I saw him only when it was his turn at church. Then one day they didn’t come.

When the service finished someone said spitefully. ‘There was an escape attempt last night. They’re not allowed to come any more. We’re not having them back in church no matter what.’

Nothing I said changed their minds.

The vicar visited the POW camp when he had time. That had to be enough for me. I hoped it was enough for Johann.

On Christmas morning the vicar came to the pulpit with a wrapped package. He stood in front of us all and slowly undid it. Nothing disturbed the silence but the crackle of paper.  He unveiled a mosaic of the nativity, held it high so everyone could see it. Beautifully made of delicate pieces of shell, every detail lovingly rendered, it glowed in the soft light that fell through the windows.

‘This…’ the vicar’s voice cracked and he cleared it and began again. ‘This is a gift from one of the POWs. To say thank you for allowing him to attend our services.’

The hymns that followed were subdued, shamed.

I couldn’t bear it. I left.

By the time my mother came home I had prepared a hamper and filled it with most of our Christmas dinner.  christmas turkey

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m taking them Christmas. Don’t.’ I raised a hand. ‘Don’t. Do you know what they get to eat? One slice of bread and margarine to last until supper. And now it’s Christmas and they have nothing. You’ll have to lock me up to stop me.’

Instead she said, ‘There won’t be enough there.’

‘I don’t care. I’ll take what I can.’ I struggled towards the door with the heavy basket.

‘Here, wait a moment.’ My father this time. ‘I’ll get the cart. It’s too far to walk with that.’

‘Where are you going?’ Tom called as I rumbled past his house.

‘I’m taking a bit of Christmas dinner to the POWs’.

***

The guards wouldn’t let us in.

Through the chain link fence I could see the men exercising in the yard. They stopped to watch. Snow on the frosty steel fence in winter after blizzard. Background.

‘We can’t possibly accept that.’ The guard indicated my hamper with a scornful flick of his wrist. ‘It would cause a riot.’

Tears of frustration stung my eyes.  ‘Please, it’s just a little bit of Christmas dinner.’

He softened a little. ‘There’s not enough to go round. How can I choose who is to receive something and who isn’t? I can’t allow it, I’m sorry.’

I gripped the links, pressed my face up against them, wished I could step through. ‘But it’s Christmas.’

His attention moved to a place over my right shoulder and I turned to see what he was looking at.

Coming up the road was the whole village. A parade of people, led by my parents and Tom and the vicar, and no-one was empty handed. They came with arms full of rations.

Warm fingers slid over mine where they gripped cold metal and I looked up into Johann’s blue eyes and laughed with the sheer joy of it.

 

 

Have a magical Christmas everyone!

Blue Christmas Bckg 4 - christmas illustration

November’s Monthly Monday Medley

November’s Monthly Monday Medley

So for the next couple of months on the first Monday of every month  I shall be posting a medley of four books that are either:

a) off my keeper shelf

b) interesting or useful

c) current reads

I’m not writing reviews- these are quite simply recommendations. This is about me wanting to share a read that I enjoyed or found noteworthy for some reason.

The books will be predominantly romance but not entirely. They will be predominantly fiction but not always. I haven’t linked these but they should be easy enough to find on Amazon. Have you read any of them? What did you think of them?

So, in no particular order:

The_House_of_Memories

The House of Memories:  Although I don’t really read much that isn’t clearly genre romance I occasionally pick up something different. This is one of those books. I wept all the way through. It’s a beautiful book, with a HEA (happy ever after) and I can thoroughly recommend it.

Ultimate_Weapon

Ultimate Weapon: Gritty romance with a kick ass heroine who makes jewellery for women that contains secret weapons. A hero who can match her as an equal and scorching sex- need I say more?

What I did for a Duke:This book has quick, bright dialogue, funny parts to it but also a poignancy. It’s a relationship between an older man and a woman quite a few years his junior and although when it starts out you think it’s going to be a typical revenge seduction, that is quickly scotched because the heroine is too clever. Lovely lovely book.What_I_did_for_a_Duke

Exotic_AffairsExotic Affairs: A collection of Michelle Reid’s stories. They are all originally published by Mills and Boon. Anyway you’ll see more of her books in my monthly Monday medleys.  She is my favourite Mills and Boon writer. Ever.

Enjoy!