On the face of it, the International Literature Festival (ILF) Dublin’s Date With An Agent event, run by Writing.ie and The Inkwell Group, sounds like a good idea. You pay a modest entry fee, send off 1500 words and a synopsis of your novel and the lucky winners then pay another fifty quid to attend a a whole day event on getting published with a ten minute ‘one-to-one’ with one of the agents attending thrown in.
I won a spot, along with 64 other lucky souls, but there were immediate alarm bells. The ‘date’ I had been set up with, specialised in children’s and women’s literary fiction. Mine was an urban fantasy novel for the adult market. I queried this with the organisers, who assured me that my date ‘got’ fantasy and could potentially build a relationship with me or else, with luck (the organiser’s words) refer me on if my novel wasn’t for her.
Mollified, I paid my money and went along. The morning panel of the five attending agents was really excellent and I got a lot of good advice. The submission basics talk after that was boring, as I knew most of it but I can understand that it needed to be delivered for newcomers, so no issues there. There were more alarm bells though in how the actual date was now being described – merely as a chance for the participants to get feedback from a real agent (gosh!). This was definitely a watered down version of what I had understood up to that point based on the blurb for the event and the content of the emails I had received.
Anyhow, the moment of my date arrived. I presented my lovingly crafted 90-second multimedia pitch and then had a chat with her. The sum total of the discussion:-
1. Given my background, she was sure that I understood the demands and publishing requirements of the adult fantasy genre far better than she did;
2. She had no interest in adult fantasy and nobody else at her agency did either;
3. A couple of my sentences were too long.
Based on this outcome, I’m now forced to conclude that a big aim of the format is just to ensure there are plenty of attendees at the event on the day. If you have 60-odd writers and just five agents, it’s unlikely that there can be a fit for everyone. However to be fair to the organisers, at least one person at the event who I talked to, was asked to forward the rest of their manuscript to the agent they met, so that was a great match and a big success for them. So what’s the truth of it? I think basically the event is uneven – not everyone gets to play on a level field. I could have written the best fantasy novel ever and the agent I was fixed up with would neither have asked me to send more of it to her nor have had any ideas for who else I could contact. The organisers basically matched me with a date from Hell.
What I would say to anyone planning to entertain this event in the future is that if you win, do check the biography of your date (as I did) but if you don’t think you would ever make a submission to that person, don’t waste your time querying the match with the organisers (as I did, to be soothed with empty platitudes), just don’t bother signing up to attend on the day and move on to the next opportunity.