Dating an Agent

Pintrest Book in YouI got a bit of a start when I took my seat at the Dublin Writers’ Week Date with an Agent last Saturday and took a sheet up, entitled Coping with Rejection. It wasn’t an auspicious start!

But things went uphill from there. Assembled before a packed room of circa 75 aspiring writers/writers was a panel of five agents: Simon Trewin, WME (; Polly Nolan, Greenhouse (; Sallyanne Sweeney, Mulcahy Associates (; Madeline Milburn (; and Faith O’Grady, Lisa Richards (

It was an interesting chat, hosted by a fireball of energy and chat Vanessa O’Loughlin of Inkwell ( and, with a good Q&A session.

At one stage, regarding submissions, Polly Nolan said Greenhouse only took the first five pages of the novel, no more. They make their judgment on that, plus synopsis. She said it had been said to her this was very little – and it does seem so. But she, and most of the others, pointed out that when a reader is in a shop they look at the cover, the blurbs at the back and the first few pars, maybe the first page or two, and then decide. And they’re right. But it’s a sobering thought and one to digest.

Vanessa agreed and urged people to start just before the action, not three or four chapters and then the action.

Simon mentioned a phrase which I liked: a quartet of books. That must be the new thing, not a trilogy or series, but a quartet. Has a refined, classical ring to it.

While we were all in and out of adjoining rooms with our respective agents in waiting (more of that anon), Vanessa filled the silence (an extraordinary achievement, given it continued well into the afternoon) with endless bits of advice, tips and little tests.

A selection of her tips included:

*Submissions: Read the guidelines on agent’s/publisher’s sites

*Agents: Look up Agent Hunter (online list of all agents in UK

*Cover Letter: Have Pitch Line (Couple of sentences), paragraph on the novel and a par on your good self

*Manuscript: Put contact email on header, along with your name and book title

*Strategy: Have A list and B list of agents, start with B and get their reaction before moving to A list

*Positive: Be positive about yourself (yes, we all squirmed and laughed at the thought) – because they are looking for marketing angles to go with book

*Blogs: Have your contact info in it (an X for me); Keep it updated (huge X for me); Use humour (eh, pass); Ensure the target market for your book should be the target market for your blog (not sure)

*Self-Publishing. Check out and

On the date bit, well is was good, but very quick. Apparently, it was ten minutes. Maybe it was, but it zipped by at a ferocious speed and ended the date abruptly! That caveat aside, I met Faith O’Grady and it went really well. She was very amiable and interested. Looking back, it was a bit of a blur, but I got a lot of positive feedback.

Oh, there was a guest speech by Jax Miller, the New York born Irish resident whose writing career was catapulted after Simon Trewin took her on (following an email and attachment from Vanessa). Her novel Freedom’s Child was signed in crazy time by Harper Collins. A fellow member of the Irish Crime Fiction Facebook group, it is great to see her progress. For more see @JaxMillerAuthor.

For more on Dublin Writers’ Week see


About Cormac O'Keeffe

I've written a novel. And, it's going to be published. This April. Mad, or what? It's entitled 'Black Water' and is a crime novel set in Dublin's gangland, along the evocative Grand Canal. This blog is about that bumpy journey, which is about to get really exciting. You'll also find some photography on this blog, particularly snaps that relate to my novel, much of it centred along the canal. There are also some reviews, both fiction and non-fiction, many of them published in the Irish Examiner, a daily national newspaper in Ireland. I work as security correspondent there and have specialist interests in crime, drugs, policing, the justice system, communities and human rights. Both my personal life and my professional life have fed into my novel, or, rather, have been poured into it. My novel was granted a literature bursary by the Irish Arts Council in September 2014 and my journalistic work has won multiple awards from the Law Society of Ireland over many years, most recently in 2015.
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4 Responses to Dating an Agent

  1. Susan Condon says:

    Great piece Cormac – interesting, informative and yes – humourous! – looks like you’re ticking all the boxes :o)

  2. CJ O'Keeffe says:

    Thanks Susan. Hope all well with your work and hope to see you soon.

  3. Thanks for that Cormac. Couldn’t get to the event, so I appreciate the detailed analysis. Seems it was a very worthwhile experience.

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