It occurred to me that, having posted earlier about the process of getting an agent, it might be useful for me to expand on what actually happens when you get to meet one for the first time.
First of all, it is probably fair to say that if you get the call (or email) from an agent asking for a meeting, this is very positive! Agents are extremely busy people, so will not waste their time on such a meeting unless they are seriously considering representing you. Of course, such knowledge will still probably do little to quell your nerves!
In my own case, I was invited down to the offices of Luigi Bonomi in London, and I panicked all the way! By this time he had read the finished first draft of my novel, and also given it to one of his colleagues to read as well. I knew they had come up with a number of things about the book they wanted to discuss with me, and would both be in the meeting (making me twice as nervous!).
The meeting opened up with the usual pleasantries on all sides, and then I was asked a few questions. In a way, it is a little bit like a job interview. It is strange, really - the agent will be working for you, but it certainly doesn't seem that way if you're eager to break into the business!
The questions were very much what you might expect - how long had I been writing, was this my first book, what I did for a living, how I saw my career as a writer developing, what books I enjoyed reading, and so on - and as with any 'job interview', it is best to prepare some answers ahead of time, so you don't get flustered during the meeting itself.
I had also familiarised myself with details about Luigi's agency and the books and authors he already represented, just in case I was asked. I wasn't, but it always pays to be prepared!
The main bulk of the meeting was really to discuss changes to the manuscript. Or, probably more importantly, to find whether I was willing to take advice and make such changes if I was taken on as a client.
My feeling about this is that I absolutely love writing, from coming up with the initial idea right through to the final draft. However, I also believe that it is important to write something that people want to read. So was I willing to take advice to make what I had written more commerically appealing? You bet I was!
As a writer, you're often in a vacuum, away from the commercial pressures of the world, just writing what you want to write - but (and this is a big 'but'!) if you want your work to be published, then you need it to be commercially viable. This means that your agent has to have a product he or she thinks they will be able to sell. And as I have said before, agents are often more in tune with what the market (not forgetting the editors and publishing houses who will buy the book in the first place, before it ever sees the 'public' light of day) wants. As such, their advice is invaluable.
I therefore made myself very open in terms of the discussion we had, and we all came to a mutually agreeable vision for the novel.
I should perhaps also say that although you should be pleasant, friendly, amenable and open to advice, this does not mean you should be impassive. By the end of my meeting, it had still not been explicitly stated that Luigi would represent me, and so when he asked me if I had any more questions, I asked him directly, 'Do you want to represent me?'. Fortunately the answer was 'Yes'!
So if you do get the chance to go and meet an agent, remember to be polite, professional, open to editorial advice, but do not be afraid to ask for what you want!