Sunday, 6 March 2016
Out of the Slush Pile - How I Found My Agent
This is a follow up to my post 'The Day My Life Changed Direction'.
You know that feeling when you've just been told you've won the lottery? Well neither do I but I came pretty close to it recently.
Agent, Eve White, had just uttered these magic words, Congratulations! We only invite a few writers from our slush pile of 10,000 to meet us for a chat and you're one of them, and I was trying to think of some reply that didn't make me come across as either a) gushing b) desperate or c) unhinged.
In the end, I plumped for plain old thank you, which seemed to work.
Let me tell you how it all began. At the beginning of 2015, I wrote a novel and at the end of 2015, I finished a novel. In between, I received a favourable critique from my RNA New Writers' Scheme reader (for the partial I'd managed to complete by the deadline). I liked it, my best writing pal, Tracy, liked it, my husband liked it, the dog liked it - what more did I need to show the publishing world that I'd written something fabulous?
A lot more, as it happens. I needed someone who couldn't be bribed with teacakes, who didn't fear they'd end up in the spare bed or be denied a walk along the river.
I needed an agent.
So I made a start. I dusted off my Writers' and Artists' Year Book, I joined Agent Hunter, I read all the agent interviews on the Novelicious website and made a list of people who sounded like they a) might enjoy my genre of book b) were taking on new authors c) sounded like they'd be happy to work with said new author. Then I made a plan - I would send out my submission package a few at a time and then, after a month, send out a few more so that when the rejections came in I wouldn't be suicidal.
And that's what I did. I had a few standard rejections. You know - the ones that end with we don't feel passionately about your novel, I received a few more with short encouraging comments which made me kiss the screen. Then came the request all authors dream of - we'd like to see your full manuscript. Soon after that came another.
The first email came back. The agent had taken the time to give me feedback - great sense of place, compelling opening, strong writing, intrigue from first chapter but she wanted more drama. My heart sank. I'd come so close.
It was then it happened. I received an email from the Eve White Literary Agency. Eve represents Saskia Sarginson (The Twins) Jane Shemilt (Daughter) and Ruth Ware (In a Dark, Dark Wood) whose books are (or will soon be) Richard and Judy Book Club Reads. The email was from Kitty, Eve's assistant. She'd read the full manuscript and liked what she'd read. Eve had too. Could they arrange a phone call? The following day, they'd changed their minds - could I come up to London for a chat the following week?
So that's what I did. To say I was nervous was an understatement but as soon as I arrived at Eve's office in Pimlico (which is also where she lives) she and Kitty did everything to put me at ease. We discussed my novel, we discussed how it could be improved. It would mean a lot of work but they would help me with this. They believed in me. They believed in my work. They'd like to offer me representation.
If you read the advice given to writers in this position, you will know that what I did next is not what is recommended. What I should have done is let the other agents who had my initial three chapters know that I'd had an offer of representation and given them the opportunity to read the full manuscript if they wanted to. But, do you know, it didn't take me long to realise that this wasn't what I wanted to do. Okay, I might get more offers but what was it I wanted in an agent?
Here is the list I'd previously made. They had to be:
a) someone who I liked
b) someone who liked my work as much as Tracy, my husband and my dog did
c) someone who represented successful authors
d) someone who represented authors whose books I enjoyed
c) someone who I felt I could work well with
d) someone prepared to invest the time to work with me as a new author
I'd already found that someone - why look further?
That's why, last week, I signed the contract to be represented by the Eve White Agency.
And I couldn't be happier.