If writing a novel is like being in a long-term relationship, then seeking publication is like being ready to date again after years of marriage. Literary speed dating? Well that’s jumping in the deep end.
When you’re a serial monogamist like me – that is, you’ve written novel-length works that have taken years because you’ve had to fit them around those little things like earning a living and being a parent – a lot of literary events pass you by. You can’t do the ‘single mingle’ like poets and short story writers can. You can’t enter competitions because you’re not on the market yet.
But you’re happy in your fictional space, crafting and perfecting. Until the day comes when you break up with that process and have to put yourself out there.
Recently, I took part in the virtual literary speed dating event held by the Australian Society of Authors for Red Dirt Writers’ Week, which offered members the chance to book five-minute slots with agents and publishers.
Here’s what I learnt:
1. Be prepared
This should go without saying – have everything ready. Dating before you’re ready is a disaster waiting to happen, whether it’s the romantic or literary kind. So if your manuscript isn’t as polished as it can be and if you haven’t got a decent synopsis, bio and pitch ready, what are you even doing here? Stop reading this and go work on it.
2. Pre-date stalking
When it comes to dating, admitting that you stalked your date online before you met will probably make things awkward (though you can bet they stalked you, too). Fortunately, in publishing, it’s not only expected, it’s called research. There’s no point talking to a publisher looking for YA if you’ve got a gritty adult thriller. Know what your literary dates are looking for but also what you want from an agent/publisher.
3. Does my pitch look big in this?
Date-wise, you’re going to get your mates over to give you advice on presenting yourself at your best. The ones who are honest when you come out in that outfit you’ve been hanging onto since last time you were on the market (eg, ditch it). Likewise, call on your writerly friends, anyone who works with words, book club members (and if all else fails, the cat) and practice your pitch. Ideally, ask someone who doesn’t know anything about your novel, and someone who does. Do they like it? Do they want more? Is it too long? Practice it again. Time it. Shorten it. Do it again. And again. And again.
4. Date night
Like regular dating, if you go into it expecting to find ‘the one’, you’ll probably come away disappointed. But if you approach it as a fun experience, a chance to practice your pitch and chat with some lovely people, you’ll be more relaxed and enjoy the event more. Sell your pitch, chat, be yourself. Obviously, your focus is on showing your beloved project at its best, but you’re there because you believe in your manuscript, so trust in that. This is also a chance to get a glimpse of whether the agent or publisher is right for you, if they’re someone you’d like to work with and have nurture your work.
As for me, I had speed dates with two publishers: one requested my novel and one said they would get back to me after talking to their colleagues. The first date went really smoothly and felt like we had a great rapport. The second, I was more scattered and didn’t present as well as I hoped (pro tip: don’t skip lunch between speed dates) but they gave me a ‘maybe’ and I’m happy with that.
Who knows what will happen from here. At the very least, I got some lovely feedback and a confidence boost. Not bad for my first time speed dating.
Have you taken part in literary speed dating? I’d love to hear your experiences.