Speed Dating

speed dating for authors, agentsI accept an invitation to go speed dating.

At an old shabby restaurant in ‘the city’ on a rainy Saturday morning.

It’s pouring buckets as fifty other men and women, hoping to be the “chosen one,” enter the front door with shaky hearts and bodies.

We all have one thing in common.

We’re authors.

We’re led past the bar (where, at 10 a.m., patrons are starting on their first round) and on to a many-windowed wood-paneled room that smells musty and looks way past its due date. I count the buckets catching drips from the ceiling: seven.

Then I count the seven agents who sit at separate tables draped with white tablecloths. After each agent is introduced with name, agency title, and the type of book the agency is looking for, we writers split up, standing in line at the table of the agent we think most likely to want our work.

Speed Dating for Authors.

I wonder if I should offer a bucket to some of my compatriots: sweat is pouring from their foreheads as they finger their index cards, practicing what they’ll say to the “one-who-will-love-their-book.”

Each writer is given three minutes with an agent. Three minutes to explain her book, her muse, her research, and why that agency should want her.Charles Dickens, best of times, worst of times

What would Charles Dickens say in three minutes? “I’m writing about the best of the times and the worst of times…”

How about Kate Atkinson, Costa Novel Award winner for A God in Ruins: “My book follows a WWII pilot from his 20s to his 80s, but not successively in chapters, so in one chapter he’s a 40-year-old unsuccessful father, and in the next chapter he’s 21, flying above Dresden and releasing bombs.”

They’d both be shut down by minute 2.

Stephen King, Christine, horror writingStephen King stammers: “Well, Christine, a car, is quite possessive and murderous; she’s just out of control.”

J.K. Rowling, in a sweet voice, explains “My main character, a rather Hogwards, J.K. Rowling, Harry Potterunattractive little boy, lives with Muggles until he takes a train that disappears on the tracks and transports him to a, shall we say, very private school called Hogwarts where the paintings talk to the students and a ghost scares the sh – -, oh excuse me, really scares some of the younger ones.”

Shakespeare, books, authorsI’d love to hear Shakespeare explain his main character Hamlet in three minutes: “This young man wonders if he should kill himself; yes, his life is that awful, so Hamlet deliberates out loud: ‘…. To be or not to be.‘ ”

I begin to step out of the line when I think of A Man Called Ove, which I recently read. Would author Fredrik Backman stand here? Would he explain nervously, “My book is about a grumpy old man who can’t get over the death of his wife, so he walks around policing the neighborhood while contemplating how to commit suicide”? Would an agent choose to publish this book, which is so much more than its three-minute summary?

I walk out of the restaurant, out of the rain toward the sun, and return home to my writing, my characters, and my books, which deserve so much more than three minutes.

writing, speed dating for writers

Could you describe the book you’re writing or reading in 3 minutes?








Thanks to Google Images.

133 thoughts on “Speed Dating

  1. Pamela, you have me laughing this Friday morning! Your suggestions are so funny. I loved Ove but yes, you’re dot on – that is the book in three minutes! As for Harry Potter, I think the agent would run a mile! Continue walking towards the sun.😀

  2. Agents forget that without author’s they would be surplus to requirements. *Thinks* …Take a room full of people who elaborate everything they see, hear,and imagine and are brilliant at the shaggy dog story. Then expect, a condenced version of said work to be delivered eloquently within three minutes. Ask them to sell their book that could have taken three or more years to perfect, for some a lifetimes work… *Gasp* are they idiots. It is like asking a thoroughbred race horse to walk sedately alongside A thundering race track full of runners and riders.

  3. You are right. I’m an East Coaster so speed dated at a Seattle writer’s conference, home of my main character. Found a NY agent, and a NY publisher who liked the manuscript and kept it 4 months. Their sales dept. turned it down because “We have no marketing clout in Seattle.” So now I’m semi-self and independent publishing with someone in Seattle. Much better if you’re an unknown writer. I wasted 3 years until I found her though.

    • That’s the other thing about this process, Paula. An agent can hold onto your work to decide if the agency wants it for months. And that’s before they even take it to a publisher and wait for more months to hear its decision. I’m happy to hear you’re going independent❣

  4. And this is exactly why I am leaning toward self-publishing 🙂 Although I have not gone through this process, I could feel the beads of sweat beginning to form on my head just thinking about it. As much as I would like to make a living from my writing, I will not compromise the integrity of my voice or the story I need to tell in order to impress or convince an agent to accept my story. I believe that readers are out there that want to read exactly the story you have to offer. It’s simply (okay, maybe not so simply) a matter of patience and perseverance. Well stated, Pamela, and happy to hear that you have reconnected with your true love – your writing, characters, and books – in a relationship that is much more valuable than any casual and hurried three minute love affair 😉

    • Excellent metaphor, Dave. No, we don’t want a casual affair. We want our books in a serious relationship with our readers. You, sir, are a very good writer. Keep up with your patience perseverance and you shall succeed.

  5. Brilliant post Pam. Love how you refused to take the bait. I am saddened by the many writers, good and bad, who have their dreams shattered. But unfortunately you need to play the game if you are to stand a chance. (Or else be a celebrity to start with.) Personally I’ll continue to write for pleasure, not profit.

    Love your references to those successful writers.

    • It helps to play the game if we know the rules, Roy. The rules of publishing seem to change monthly. That’s why I love our blogs, which give us a chance to share our experiences-funny or sad-as we practice the art of writing and the art of finding readers. Thanks so much for the tweet, by the way. You are so wonderful always in sharing with others.

  6. Love your writing!
    Never heard of speed dating for authors! But then never hear of much these days – British, trying to be a writer in English, but living in France.
    Good grief it seems a frightening idea though, in any language!

    • Well stay tuned! Blogging has brought so many of us writers together all over the world. I love learning the experiences of those who are in England and France and Spain; Australia, Canada, and India. And the wonderful bottom line is that we all support each other in our joy and love of writing. 💜

  7. This was very funny. I could feel the pain of the writers waiting. I have done it a couple of times when looking for a publisher for my books, and probably didn´t do very well but wanted the experience. I used to teach job seekers how to describe themselves in under 3 minutes when looking for work. With practice some did very well. The key was to touch on the relevant information the employers wanted to hear and not babble on. We actually played speed dating as an activity in my classes which was a lot of fun and good practice for them. Dating, job seeking and finding an agent or publisher are all very similar!!

    • Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I’m not out there dating or looking for a job right now! But I really do see your point that it makes good practice to try to hone your skills in describing yourself, your skills and your writing in three minutes. But, on the other hand, if what you say in those three minutes is what makes a person decide if you are a good date, or a good employee, or a good writer … Well I think there’s the potential that the listener could be missing a lot by only taking into account that three-minute impression.
      I love your feedback every week on my posts, Darlene❣

  8. I witnessed a form of this at the London Book Fair in April. A short list of 3 minute pitch candidates selected from a submitted chapter so okay a bit of online foreplay BUT the young woman who won and got signed up there and then to the agent of her choice form the panel hooked in 30 seconds had everyone moist eyed in 2 minutes had my heart in her hand in 3 minutes … I can’t remember a word of what she said, I just know I’ll buy her book. Magic is magic and she is it.

    • But is her BOOK magic, or just her 3-minute tribute to it? (Not to sound cynical, because I know there are people who are amazing wordsmiths in short short fiction.) Soooo, did you make a pitch?

      • I have no doubt her ‘new’ agent, one of the most prestigious in London will have her signed up to a publisher in quick time and then what will be will be. As for me I didn’t submit an entry for 2016 but have made myself a promise I will for 2017, something darker and a bit more edgy than my usual ‘relationship’ pieces.

  9. Good post. Yes, I’ve been to two of these events and after the first I told myself “don’t do that again.” Yet, I went back. Dear Jesus, holy cow! Guess what? I just signed up to repeat it for a third time, might as well, I believe in threes. Then I will walk away. Ha!
    Seriously though, how can we mesmerize them for three minutes? I find them highly critical, something I suppose they learned in college.

  10. I’ve been in that position and find the whole process rather disgusting. I agree. Our books deserve more than three minutes. But I loved the way you put this post together. I had a hearty chuckle – always good for the soul.

    • I think our souls wiggle in ecstasy when we chuckle (much like a sweet dog when we tickle her funny spot). Yes, you and I think so much alike, Anneli. Our books deserve so much more than 3 minutes in a drippy restaurant. :-0

  11. Oh Pam, what a great post, how about speed cooking? I can’t believe what we do these days. I’m glad you walked out knowing that your writing deserved so much more than three minutes.

  12. I just did one of these pitch fests! We had three minutes, but honestly, it was very laid back and no one enforced the time. Some pitches finished early; others ran a bit over. I had a great experience with it and met some really nice agents. But I agree–and I think most agents do too–it’s not the best way to go about it. But at least it allows writer and agent to meet face-to-face. Makes the follow-up email query stand out more.

    This was a lot of fun to read! Your posts are always entertaining. 🙂

    • Well, I’m honored that you stopped by here, Carrie. You are a role model! And to be honest, I’m shocked that you did one of these “pitch fests,” (which does sound better than speed dating). The problem with no enforced time is that some authors overtake the agent’s time (I saw that happen in the venue I attended where the agent kept looking at her watch and rolling her eyes). But I couldn’t blame the author; we ARE passionate about our work.
      I look forward to hearing about the subject of your next book. ❤

  13. There’s so much in this. Your nail on the head perfected combination of wit and wisdom for one, but also an invitation to a larger question. What is our obsession with speed? Is fast always best? Well done for walking out to the sun, who would laugh in the face of anyone who said…now come on, tell me how you make these strawberries red and be quick about it – I want them ripe in three minutes! Love and hugs, Harula xxx

    • Well, of course you dig further into my words and find even a bigger, deeper question of what we want from our writing, our books, our LIFE. Do we want speed and a quick answer? Nooooooo, I think not, even though in this culture we’re being ‘raised’ to think we do. No poet can write with speed. Just insight. And no insight is accomplished in 3 minutes!!! (Nor do strawberries turn red that quickly. We all need to bask in the sun’s (muse’s) warmth first.)

    • I’m afraid that’s the problem, Patricia. We writers are so desperate to find a way to send our words/our writings “out there,” that we’ll even speed date. What’s next???!!! :-0

  14. I was sweating bullets just reading the first part of your post, Pam. The whole power differential feels weird to me – lined up to perform our dance for the judges. That’s probably why I haven’t done it. I love your 3-minute scenarios for famous authors (the Stephen King one cracked me up!). Yeah…walk out. I’m reading your book now, btw, and I’m hooked.

    • I’m so glad you’re hooked. :-0 I did just download the ‘newer, revised’ edition of Twin Desires, but mainly it’s just formatted better, with a bit of a tweak at the end. You know how that is.
      And yes, that’s how I felt at the speed dating. Like in the old cowboys days, where the ‘bad guy’ shot at your feet so you had to dance around to miss the bullets. (Well, of course I’m over-exaggerating, but we writers are allowed to do that.) 🙂

  15. This is fantastic Pam and really made me laugh. How true! As if anyone could sell their story to an agent in that short time – I think it says more about someone’s confidence rather than their writing ability. I’m dreadful at verbally selling myself so I’d be dead in the water in about 20 seconds! 😀

    • Perhaps that’s part of my problem, too, Dianne. I’m an introvert. How the heck am I supposed to ‘entertain’ verbally in comfort? I’M A WRITER, LEAVE ME IN PEACE. Ha ha. Oh well, for some, the concept works.

  16. Hilarious post and I felt for you having to think about a fast pitch which made me think of softball where the pitcher can slow ball or fast ball pitch and fool the batter. Anyhow, I’m glad to know that you are a person of integrity who believes in herself and didn’t stand around waiting for either approval or denial.

    If I had been in your shoes I don’t think that I could have withstood the torment of waiting and hoping.

  17. I think it’s a great idea ~> for some authors and some agents some of the time. But I wouldn’t want to put all my just hatched “eggs” into a basket with a 3-minute detonation device.

    An author’s synopsis, jacket cover, or book blurb are handy tools that would translate easily to a 3-minute pitch at one of these egg timed events. Here’s a 30-second pitch for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

    Marley was dead. Scrooge, his ever-more-miserly partner, views Christmas with disdain. It’s a humbug! He chastises children for caroling in the street, scoffs at his nephew’s hearty well wishes, and gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit, Christmas Day off begrudgingly, with a capital “B.”

    “Be here all the earlier the following morning.”

    On Christmas Eve, as Scrooge slurps gruel before a cold fire boasting a single glowing coal, Marley’s ghost pays him a visit, explaining that he has arranged for Scrooge’s transformation and reclamation. His redemption.
    “You will be visited by 3 ghosts. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.”

    After wandering time’s corridors with his spirit escorts, Scrooge awakes to a new dawn on Christmas morn. “I am not the man I was!”

    • You are the winner of the 3-minute blurb. Charles Dickens no less!! I’m thinking that the next time I need a blurb for my book back cover, I’ll get in touch with you! Thanks, Nancy. Great fun. 🙂

  18. I went to a Writer’s Digest conference in NYC a few summers ago to pitch my book. It was a horrifying experience, but I’m glad I did it. I did get 3 requests for more pages, which is a lot of requests in 30 minutes’ time when you consider how long it takes for agents to respond via email!

    I’m not a fan of the method behind the madness of querying, and I think there are better ways. The demeaning process is a perfect explanation as to why so many authors have gone indie.

  19. Oh, man! This is too funny. Had to stop by after you mentioned you went to this on my blog. Love all of the examples you provided. Who in the heck stands a chance with this? Bet it was an interesting experience though!

    • No one else suggested that, David, and it’s a brilliant idea! I couldn’t “stand” standing in line anymore, watching so many poor writers nervously twitching, but if I’d lasted, I think I’d try to pitch Gone with the Wind. 🙂

  20. A phenomenal post. Good for you for leaving. To expect an author to sell their book to an agent in three minutes is insulting. Surely your work is worth more than three minutes of their time.

    • Artists are used to insults, are we not? Insults to our creativity, our “whimsies,” our paradoxical thinking. I’m immune to the insults, but that doesn’t mean I think we should accept them!!! Thank you SO MUCH for commenting. xo

  21. This was humorous and also meaningful to me, who hasn’t done too much since the 90’s by using SASE to mail out manuscripts. 😀
    I have done speed dating with a bell chime which meant the time to move on to the next person.
    Like most people, I have given short summaries of my long and winding job career plus life details at job interviews. This only trivializes each part of the two! It would be hard to get someone “hooked,” in only 3 minutes without sounding dramatic and yet, simplistic. Can you imagine War and Peace or Gone with the Wind? 🙂

  22. This is so funny and I love your imagined summaries too! And I can just imagine it from the agents’ perspectives too… that must be terrible as well, haha!

    • I’m afraid many people think “speed dating” is a great idea, for men and women to find a mate, as well as for an author to find an agent. Sometimes I think I belong in times far far ago. l;-0

  23. It is a wonder agents ever find anything if they place reliance on synopsis and short extract. Neither really give the ‘feel’ of the book – which only reading can do.

    • And there’s the rub, or in this case, the exact answer to the reason speed dating is not a good idea. A book is not a synopsis. A book is an EMOTION, if it’s well-written.

      • Or, mostly, a series of them which knitted together give the experience the book offers. I remember the expertly condensed Readers’ Digest versions of the classics. Just not the same thing as reading the original, at all.

  24. Kudos to you for being brave enough to attend an author’s speed dating workshop! I’d crawl back into my hole and pull the dirt over my head. What a wonderful concept! Your reminiscing made me laugh! My little short story turned into a series of four novels. Can’t say I saw that one coming, but my husband may disagree! I can’t even imagine summing THAT up in three minutes! I just read one article that said to sum up the story in ONE sentence. EEK! My main character hasn’t been quiet in four years! I should tell him about the ONE sentence thing. Smirk. Smirk. Then, we’ll work on the three minutes.

    • First, congrats on having a ‘little short story’ turn into a series of novels. That is fabulous! Second, when I start to tell my guy about something really neat that I need to relate to him, and I’ve been talking about it for 5 minutes and haven’t gotten to the ‘neat’ thing yet, he always asks, “can’t you just tell me in one sentence?” Nope, never! 🙂

  25. So you walked out and did not talk to any agents? I guess least talking to agents you can reveal twists of reviewing a book for those who may want to read you have to be careful not to include spoilers.

    Anyway thanks for post, did not know agents did that.

    • No, before I left the ‘speed-dating agent’ restaurant, I did talk to several agents, and they did ask me to send a few chapters of my novel-in-progress. The agents were extremely nice; it’s just the concept that I find disturbing. Maybe I’m a snob, but I think authors should be treated with a bit more dignity. ;-0

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