In the fast-moving world of Curtis Brown Creative, Discovery Day – held at Foyles bookshop back in mid-November – seems but a distant memory. A happy memory though. Maybe even a rose-tinted one. We met some wonderful writers and heard some brilliant ideas for novels, and everyone from both Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh had a lot of fun. And so, it seems, did those on the other side of the desk – the nervous authors-to-be clutching their notes and perfecting their pitches in whispers as they queued to meet the agents.
‘When it came to crunch-day, my boyfriend and I travelled down from Nottingham on the train. That morning, my nerves somehow transformed into a twisted sense of excitement, despite this being ABNORMAL for me,’ says Sara Jane Potter, author of the Abnormal blog. ‘Normally, facing interviews and similarly terrifying situations, I’m sick with panic. I’ve clammed up before panels when job-hunting, I’ve cancelled interviews through fear. But I practised my pitch over lunch in London, asking my boyfriend to scarily act as agent. Then we headed off to Foyles too early, masterfully avoiding the pub.’
‘I walked across Highbury Fields talking to myself like a mentalist as I tried to memorize my thirty-second pitch,’ says blogger Ulrika Campbell, who came all the way from Sweden to attend Discovery Day. ‘I wonder how actors remember lines and I’m glad I never attempted to go down that route. At the bottom of my bag was the first chapter of my black comedy satire, should the agent do cartwheels and ask for it. Expect the worst, hope for the best, right?’
‘Authors couldn’t pick which agent they wanted to pitch to – you went to the first available table,’ says self-published author TME Walsh. ‘I pitched to Carrie Kania from Conville & Walsh. She was welcoming and I felt my confidence come back and after I’d told her a bit about myself and my crime series, I pitched my third novel. After reading the first page, Carrie said it was a really strong opening, there were no negatives, and her advice to me was to keep submitting to agents. Carrie summed it up nicely – it’s like dating. You keep searching until you find ‘the one’.
‘It felt like I’d been waiting for ages when it was finally my turn, but well worth the wait as I got some great feedback from Emma Herdman from the Curtis Brown agency,’ says Emma Finlayson-Palmer, who came to pitch a children’s novel. ‘Emma immediately made me feel at ease and my nerves evaporated as I relaxed into the pitch, and realised agents really are humans too!’
‘Discovery Day was a great opportunity,’ says Ulrika Campbell. ‘Not so much to try and hook an agent but for absorbing wisdom, asking questions and understanding more about the industry. To be able to get out of your bubble and listen to these pillars of publishing is a great privilege. Don’t miss out on the next Discovery Day, you have everything to win.’
As a postscript, we’d also like to flag up Matthew Harffy’s video blog on his experience of Discovery Day. View it here.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.