How I got my Agent

Ok. First of all, let me just get something out of the way. I suggest some earmuffs, or some other sort of sound suppressant, for what is about to come. Here we go:

WAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

There. Now I feel a lot better. I’ve been needing to do that for a while (it was a happy scream, don’t worry!). Oh, and you can remove the earmuffs if you want, unless of course they meet some sort of aesthetic objective (I have fluffy beige earmuffs on my desk at work, so that I may appear whimsical, whilst simultaneously armed to combat the winter frosts).

For those of you who maybe haven’t been following me on social media, or maybe you’ve somehow managed to evade the way I manage to subtly drop it into everyday conversation, on March 3rd 2017, I received some VERY exciting news.

I was offered representation from a literary agent (hence the screaming). Ever since then, my everyday conversations with my family and friends have gone something like this:

Exhibit A

Mother: Would you like a cup of tea?

Me: I HAVE AN AGENT.

Exhibit B

Friend: Would you like to go to the local tavern to engage in pleasant conversation, covering a wide range of topics that do not include any of your recent literary achievements?

Me: I HAVE AN AGENT.

Exhibit C

Boyfriend: How was-

Me: AGENTAGENTAGENTAGENTAGENT.

Um, ok. So maybe it wasn’t quite like that, but you get the idea, right?

The thing is, I’ve dreamed about this moment for a veeeeeery long time. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 8, and probably been aware of the existence of literary agents and their necessity to get traditionally published since I was around 12 (I bought the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2004, and it was like my bible when I was a wee writer… this was around the time that I finished my first book and thought ‘Ah, I’ll get published now!’ Because it’s THAT easy, obvs).

My big dream has always been to walk into a bookshop and see my book on the shelf. And as I started doing research, I realised that the best way to do this was to get traditionally published. And in order to do that, you need an agent. I know there are some success stories where writers get snapped up without an agent, but these are very few and far between.

So I’ve always known that I wanted to go down the agent route. I wanted to at least give traditional publishing my best shot before I considered other avenues. I used to spend hours reading over the blogs of fellow writers and how they got their agents, dreaming of when I’d get to write my own one day.

And now here I am! It’s all very surreal and awesome, and actually strangely difficult. Here’s my story. I’m going to TRY and be concise, but I can’t make any grand promises… getting an agent, after all, is not a simple process!

LET’S BEGIN.

HOW I GOT MY AGENT (THE ABRDIGED AS POSSIBLE VERSION)

Ok, so let’s rewind to 2013, when I started writing my first ‘proper’ novel. I know I said I wrote one when I was like 12, but that was sheer embarrassment and should probably never see the light of day again (unless of course I become a gazillionaire bestseller, in which case it will be auctioned to the highest bidder). This was going to be a REAL book. THE book. The one that got my name out there, got me in the bookshops, and would allow me to live a life of luxury. I’d be able to wake up in the mornings and pirouette into my writing studio (I imagine that if I did have a fancy writing studio, the only way to enter it would be via pirouetting) in my grand country estate, and write books all day long.

So I got to work. I was a second-year student at the time, so by day I went to lectures, and by night I wrote my book. I remember sitting up in bed, in our freezing cold student house, with gunky green damp creeping up the walls, and simply tapping away at the keyboard. It was a YA novel, a ghost story about a girl who could see dead people, and made friends with a spirit who promised to help her get revenge on the people who teased and bullied her at school. Sort of like Carrie meets The Ghost Whisperer.

I finished it, read it through, cried a little inside, and then rewrote it from scratch. What I ended up with was the first book in a planned duology, called The Magpie Effect. It was over 100K words, not very diverse, but it was a book. A book that I actually was quite proud of, and still am to this day. Don’t get me wrong, I would make some huge changes to it now, but I still like the story.

So I’d finished my book, and now it was time to consult THE INTERNET (my faithful Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2004 was slightly outdated by this point). I used a website called Literary Rejections to draft up a list of agents in the UK who were actively seeking the sort of YA that I’d written. I would HIGHLY recommend using Literary Rejections, they were an invaluable resource – and also have an extremely motivational Twitter page, if you’re the social media savvy type.

Anyway, I drafted up my list, wrote my query letter, and sent out my queries in pretty large batches (in hindsight, it’s better to do smaller batches and wait for replies, so you can amend your query accordingly). I sat. I waited. I bit my nails down to the quick. I refreshed my emails 50,000 times a day. I waited some more (are you noticing a trend here?).

And then, after a few weeks, the replies started coming in. I remember getting my first reply from an agent, how my heart skipped when I saw the opening lines. This was IT. This was my moment!

It was a rejection.

And so was the next, and the next, and the next. Most of them were standard rejections (‘Thanks, but no thanks’), but there were also some very encouraging personal rejections, and I even had one full request for the manuscript (he ultimately declined, but I was still over the moon with this response).

So, that sucked. I didn’t get anywhere with my first book, and now I just had a manuscript sitting around, gathering dust. It’s now available on Wattpad and doing quite nicely, but that’s beside the point. This brings us to late 2014, when I was a grumpy third-year Uni student. I decided that the best thing to do was start writing a new book. Maybe my first book was just my practise book. This next book was going to be THE book. The one that got me onto bookshelves and pirouetting around my country mansion, remember?

I don’t really know where the idea for this book came from. I wish it was something exciting and interesting, like a vivid dream or a hallucination, but truth be told I was desperately uninspired and pretty much forcing ideas onto the page. In the depths of my writer’s block hysteria, I looked up some writing prompts, read one about a teenager running away from home, and just immediately had this story sort of fall into my head.

I started writing, without planning or plotting, and a few months later I had a completed manuscript. By this time, it was 2015. I’d graduated, moved back home and got myself the first job I could find to start getting some money in (which just so happened to be at an ice cream parlour. Yum!).

This is where things went a bit awry (which has some really cool synonyms, in case you were wondering… crooked, askew, aslant… I was positively overwhelmed with choices). I did a VERY quick round of edits, went back to Literary Rejections, and drafted up another list of potential agents. I started querying almost immediately, when the book was still quite raw, and pretty much the whole second half of it was just a hot mess.

But I was reading a lot of How I got my Agent blogs at the time, comparing myself to a bunch of other young authors, and I was impatient and naïve. The prospect of not having Uni anymore scared me, because now I was in the REAL WORLD. If I didn’t hurry up and get published soon, I was going to have to work in a REAL job forever (because obviously being published means you can retire early, right? Pirouetting shall commence…).

So I sat down and waited again. I bit my nails some more. I refreshed my emails with all the enthusiasm of somebody checking their first ever lottery ticket. And eventually, the replies started coming in again.

There were rejections. More of these were personalised, which was promising. But they were still rejections.

But then I got an email that totally caught me off-guard. An agent wanted to talk to me on the phone.

I completely freaked out. I remember I was actually shaking, having palpitations, the whole lot. I was working as a benefits assessor at the time (alas, my time at the ice cream parlour was short-lived, but I will never forget those mint-choc sundaes), and honestly, I was downright miserable. I hated the job, and I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with my writing.

So this was a game-changer. The agent wanted to talk to me that evening when I got home from work. I started panicking about my accent, about sounding stupid, saying the wrong thing, about accidentally hanging up with my oversized ears (this has been known to happen), unfortunately timed sneezes. You name it, I worried about it.

Anyway, that evening, at 6 PM, the agent phoned me and it was the most wonderful conversation. She loved the idea of the book, and she liked my writing, and she saw a lot of potential in my work, but she just felt it wasn’t quite right yet. There was still a lot of work to do.

So what she offered was this thing called first refusal. I would work with her on the book, developing the story etc, until it was ready. Then, if she felt strongly enough, she would offer representation. If not, I was free to take the brand new, shiny, edited book to other agents. In the meantime, the condition was that I wouldn’t take the book to other agents while I was actually working with her.

This was music to my ears. It wasn’t an offer of representation, exactly, but it was something. I had my foot in the door. Now all I had to do was pull it off.

I’m not going to lie, it was a lot of pressure. A lot of pressure from myself. I knew I had to get this book right, or else I’d be back to square one, without an agent. So for months and months, we went back and forth, sharing story ideas, until I eventually came up with a strong, detailed synopsis. The agent I was working with was very editorial and creative, which was exactly what I needed. She really helped me to learn my craft and develop as a writer. In late 2016, I started rewriting. At the end of 2016, I resubmitted.

I sat, I waited, I bit my nails some more, I refreshed my emails with all the vigour of somebody trying to click the exit button after accidentally opening Internet Explorer.

On March 3rd, I received the most awesome phone call, and I signed with Amber Caraveo of Skylark Literary. She has taught me so much about how to build a story, and without her my novel, The Moonlight Exchange, wouldn’t be what it is today. She helped me discover the real story, and she actually saw a nugget of potential in it from the beginning. If she hadn’t seen that little nugget, I wouldn’t have an agent today.

In hindsight, I believe I am quite lucky. I submitted The Moonlight Exchange when it was extremely raw, and I’m horrified that I ever did so. It worked out for me, but I would honestly never submit a book that unready if I was still going through the querying mill.

So the future is looking up. We’ve still got some work to do, but hopefully my book will be ready to go on submission to publishers at some point this year (I get dizzy when I think about that). It felt like a painfully slow process at times, with lots of waiting (I have little to no nail left on any of my fingers), but it most certainly paid off, and I’ve developed some coping mechanisms for the waiting – most of these coping mechanism happen to be edible, I’ll have you know. Agents, after all, have other clients and an enormous slush pile to work through, so they can’t just work on your manuscript all day!

And now I’m excited for what’s to come, and to share my journey with you guys.

I’m probably going to do a ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ of getting an agent for my next post, so keep your eyes peeled for that.

In the meantime, thanks for reading!

Lee

 

 

 

 

 

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