My Experience at the Foyles Discovery Day

On Saturday 27th February, I travelled to London to take part in Foyles Discovery Day where I was able to pitch my novel to a literary agent from Curtis Brown or Conville and Walsh, followed by a mini Q&A session with another agent. Exciting, I know.

I decided to be extra prepared, so I put together the synopsis of my novel, printed out the first page and packed my bag the night before so I was all ready to go. Being me, I was secretly looking forward to the train journey, the ability to sit down and crack on with stuff I’d been meaning to do for a while, or continue reading the irresistible A Hundred Pieces of Me by Lucy Dillon – I’ll be posting a review of this one soon!

I decided to get the train that would get me to London for 11am. My slot wasn’t until 13:45 but I wanted plenty of time to gather myself, get there, and perhaps sneak off to find London’s book market?

As you can imagine, the train was packed. And I mean to the brim – why were there so many people going to London on a Saturday morning? Not to mention the disgusting food package wrappers left almost everywhere – it was grotty…

I shimmied into a corner and settled down to edit a few chapters of my book, read a little more of Dillon’s book and enjoy the hour of solitude. When I finally got to Waterloo, my knee was suffering from cramp, I was hungry and blumin’ cold.

I’d already done my research and so decided to visit the book market now as it was fairly close to the station, but after being side-tracked by Tom the street artist, taking pictures of the London Eye on my new camera and admiring the House of parliament across the river, I couldn’t find the market anywhere.

My logic decided it would be a good idea to walk across Waterloo Bridge, after all it could be at the end (despite it being labelled as part of the Southbank Centre, something I only conveniently remembered over half way across the bridge). Upon reaching the other end, realising it wasn’t there and being prepared to give up, I checked a map for the nearest tube station only to discover that I’d walked across the wrong bridge. So the arduous trek to the next bridge along the Thames, followed by walking across said bridge, which I now knew was in fact Waterloo Bridge left me feeling windswept and cold. But low and behold, there it was, nestled away underneath the shady arches of architecture. London’s only book market.

It consisted of about four 6 metre-long trestle tables crammed with books all laid out neatly side by side. I browsed up and down one table, then the next. Snapped a few sneaky pictures and then stood back to admire. It was nothing like I expected, in fact it looked like a poor effort. Slightly disappointed, I decided it was time to move on to Foyles.

I enjoyed the short tube journey to Leicester Square and immediately surrendered to Google Maps upon leaving the underground in order to be directed to actually find the bookshop (things tend to have a habit of looking a lot different in real life than on a map and no amount of preparation can help you combat the disorientation of leaving London’s underground network).

I reached the bookshop without any problems and was literally in a booklover’s heaven. Five floors of literary goodness, filled with fresh-smelling paperbacks and adventures waiting to be had. Oh my, I was having a whirl. My favourite floor must have been the 4th. Here was a floor dedicated to foreign languages, and I don’t mean learning how to speak them but novels in their original language, translations of well-loved English books. It was wonderful. I had no idea that a place like this even existed – I will confess I had never stepped in a Foyles shop before, Harrods’s – yes, Foyles – no. I will admit to browsing the German section briefly before noticing the mass queue of people descending from the 6th floor.

I decided to get a cup of tea from the café and wait my time out, and it wasn’t long until I was joining the queue that now snaked down two flights of stairs, but for me this was the perfect opportunity to continue Dillon’s masterpiece.

After about twenty minutes, my neck started to hurt, and then my feet started to ache. I became a bit fidgety and I couldn’t stand still. Almost an hour later, I was finally edging closed to the front of the queue, and before I knew it, I was being led to a table where the smiling Catharine introduced herself. She was a small, young, Asian woman with a friendly face. She smiled a lot but that didn’t help qualm my nerves.

I stumbled over trying to pitch my novel – yes that’s right, I completely ballsed up, and then proceeded to get my words, thoughts and everything else muddled up. A few deep breaths and I attempted to regain control of this derailed train.

Catherine was great and understood we were under pressure time-wise. She cut to the chase and asked who the murderer was in my novel, subsequently followed by wanting to know their motive. We discussed the motive a little more before she hesitantly pointed out that it may not be strong enough to hold up the rest of the story.

It was like a light bulb coming on in my head, yet now – over a week later – I can’t switch it off and the nagging sensation that I can’t come up with an idea is beginning to take hold. But at the time I was grateful. I really needed someone with a third-party perspective to point it out to me but now it was blindingly obvious.

She read the first page of my book and had some great comments – all of which were positive.  (I highly suspect she was feeling ashamed for completely unravelling my story in less than thirty seconds.)

Afterwards, I was taken back downstairs with another five aspiring (I hate that word) authors. We met the agent Abby who was lovely and answered our questions. I’m going to do my best to remember them, although everything here is from memory and not word for word:

Q: There’s a lot on the internet about just how big the submissions slush pile is getting. Do you throw away submissions if they have a poor covering letter?

A: No, we always ensure that we read the covering letter, the synopsis and the first 10,000 words before making a decision. Some agents will read the synopsis last as they want to get a feel for the writer before assessing anything else, but generally the most used system is letter à synopsis à chapters

Q: If you’re already published, say as an eBook (Indie or not), is this a deterrence as an agent in terms of marketing a book as their debut?

A: there are a lot of authors in a similar situation and the answer is no. If an agent likes you’re writing and thinks you have a book that can sell, the fact that you’ve already been published is irrelevant. The word debut is entirely a marketing ploy, and technically speaking this would be your debut in paperback so it comes down to how the publishing house would want to market the book and nothing to do with representation.

Q: If I’m writing on a subject of a personal matter and a member of my family is demanding to read the manuscript before submission – and wants to approve the content used – what should I do?

A: Generally speaking this is a legal matter, and because you’re family member wants to read the manuscript has nothing to do with your ability to submit it to an agent. This is entirely a personal preference scenario but likely that if there is an issue later on down the line, this will be dealt with by the legality of your publishing contract.

The day was a success, although exhausting and it was a great experience to get actual face-to-face time with an agent. Are you working on a novel? How would you got about pitching your idea? And what sort of questions would you ask an agent?

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