I had a 1-2-1 session today with a London-based agent, and I am absolutely knocked over by the positive response that I received.
A little background: my submission is my first novel and it's a high-concept speculative romance. He remembers his future, including the love of his life, but memory can be slippery — an unreliable guide.
I began the conversation with one big clunking question: what would put you off this manuscript, apart from the obvious typo on page one?
I was astonished when the answer was, "well, nothing, really."
I must have paused for slightly too long. "No, really. It's a really interesting idea. There is definitely a hunger out there for this kind of high-concept romance. Reading your query letter I was a bit nervous about how that would play out on the page, but I think you did that really brilliantly.
"I think you've done a really great job of executing on that promise. Actually here, you've really done a great job of showing your protagonist's gift without confusing the reader." If this isn't precisely verbatim, it's near as dammit. Only now do I wish I'd asked her if I could record the call.
The conversation continued in similar vein. Of course, there's always a but, and she said that it wasn't quite in her area of interest ("if it had been themed on American college football instead of Formula 1, it would have been a definite yes straight away!"), but then followed that up immediately with the suggestion that I submit to a colleague of hers. At that point, I think I stopped breathing.
She offered some concrete tips on the query letter (actionable and useful), a suggestion on the title, and one point about the opening that chimed in exactly with something that's been bothering me for a while - it's an adult story but it opens with a fifteen-year-old protagonist, and it perhaps needs something to signpost that we're not going to linger in YA territory. She actually suggested a prologue as a possible solution - I think she was thinking of a flashforward - and I have to smile at that, because I'd tried a prologue in an earlier draft and that got hammered by everyone who read it. I'm thinking of a more subtle solution now.
At that point, we still had 3' 33" left over (yes, I timed it), and I had to resort to my backup question I never seriously thought I'd have chance to ask: the story is grounded in real-world occurrences (circa 1982 - 1992) - Formula 1 races, for example, but also a plane crash. Is there a problem with including events like this? The answer was reassuring: it's OK, basically. Do it with sensitivity. I could only say thanks.
That's it. I'm speechless.
Well, no. I am a writer (if not yet an author), so of course I can think of something to say: fifteen minutes of surprisingly positive feedback doesn't mean that I'm at the end of my journey, but I'm damned sure I am on a journey now. I wouldn't have made it this far without the help and encouragement I've received from my friends here and elsewhere, but particularly here, who have read my faltering drafts, skewered me with their criticism and have always given me their honest feedback and encouragement. You know who you are. Thank you.