- The Mason Spirit - http://spirit.gmu.edu -

“Date” with an Agent—and Destiny?

 Creative writing major Sarah Batcheller is enrolled in numerous courses on how to make her writing shine, but hasn’t been sure of how to publish her work once it’s finished. That’s why a recent event at Mason’s New Leaves Conference, hosted each spring as part of the Fall for the Book festival, was so significant, as it offered Batcheller a rare chance to speak privately with a noted literary agent about her writing.

MFA student Ben Rader gives his pitch to agent Jeff Kleinman at the Speed Dating with Agents session, a part of Mason’s New Leaves Conference.

Batcheller and 25 other MFA students and alumni submitted a query letter and the first few pages of their manuscripts before the “speed dating” with literary agents event. Then, at the conference, they discussed their work with either Jeff Kleinman or Erin Harris from New York’s Folio Literary Management.

Batcheller spoke with Harris about the novel she’s writing for her thesis, “a story about three generations of Chinese American women in the U.S.,” Batcheller says. “A fictional retelling of my family’s heritage.” Harris advised Batcheller to reconfigure her book and the query letter.

“Her advice was to consider changing the narrative structure to make the novel more sellable, and to move some information in my query letter so more important things are discussed earlier,” Batcheller says. “Overall, it was useful to hear how to get a pitch through toan agent, and that [my book] is something Erin would be interested in when it’s complete.”

Amanda Bender, a second-year MFA student and organizer of the session, says the event was important for writers, not only for the practice and advice it provided, but for the chance to possibly see their work published. The agents from Folio were, as always, “on the lookout for projects they would like to represent,” Bender says.

Batcheller would like to see the speed dating become an annual event.

“Writers tend to worry about being picked up by an agent, but we also need to learn how to choose [one],” says Bender. “[It’s] not just practicing query letters, but learning how to decide where you want to pitch and if that agency’s values align with yours. It is like dating.”