The Story of Finding a Literary Agent

Because I am the Mistress of Procrastination and have run out of house to clean, and because I have also done some editing and am feeling quite smug about it (even if, strictly speaking, it was the circle-and-cross-out-and-write-notes stage of editing, so not actually the tough part where the words have to be reordered to sound good), and because there’s been quite a lot* going on over the past couple of months, it is time for your Intermittent Blog Entry, persistent and loyal and inexplicably still-reading readers.

You can tell editing my own writing is difficult for me, because look at the length of that opening sentence.

I’ve mentioned editing twice now, because it is Very Relevant to the big things that have happened. Because now, dearests, I’m not editing my writing in the hope of making my would-be book good enough to attract an agent but am instead editing it so that My Agent can submit my would-be book to publishers.

Yep, I have a literary agent! And given that when I was looking for an agent I read every frickin’ blogpost I could find on How I Got My Agent, I thought I’d add to the noise. (Usually, actually, they seem to be written when people have also got a publishing deal, but I thought I’d do this now while the feeling is both fresh and still unreal.)

I mentioned last time I posted I was waiting for news from an agent who had been reading and mentoring my work. Alas, after six months and two rounds of rewriting and chopping, during which I learnt so so much that I’ll be applying to every future work, that agent ultimately decided my book was not something she was in love with enough to represent. Please read that with not a trace of bitterness, because there’s none there. Of course I was a total misery guts to work with the day I got the (incredibly nice) email saying no, and of course I went home and had a little cry – because I’m human and I’d enjoyed working with said agent and my hopes were drifting somewhere among the rare clouds. But it was also a lucky learning curve, and I was left with a far stronger manuscript to send out again.

I often read of people signing with their Dream Agents, and I even referred to the agent I was working with as my Dream Agent in the last blog post – because at that point she was. Thing to bear in mind: I know a lot of people have a Particular Agent in mind when they submit work, and that is The Agent they want to work with. But for a lot of other writers, the Dream Agent is the agent who loves your work, and who you get on with on a personal and professional level, and who you believe will represent your work in it best light. Which is to say, without approaching a lot of agents, you won’t know who your Dream Agent is until you’ve worked with them or sign with them.

I’m of the second group of people. I had a medium-length list of agents whose work I admired and who I thought I’d want to work with. I actually saved some agents for later down the list because my query letter got better and better with each tweak and personalisation when I sent it out. [NB if you know my day job – after the first round of submissions I stopped mentioning it in the query letter for my own peace of mind. I did not want to feel as though I used name-dropping to get somewhere, so there is no secret networking involved here.]

And, loves, this is where the story gets rather (even more) boring. Excepting the earlier mentoring, my Agent Story is not a fairytale of read-overnight-send-me-the-full clamouring lists of agents all wanting my work. It is a far more sedate, and usual, tale of sending out more carefully written emails, following submission guidelines to the letter, and then waiting as deadlines for responses passed, or every so often finding a rejection would roll in – until one evening I received an email from My Agent telling me she was enjoying the book so far, and to please make sure I told her if anyone else was interested.

Fun side fact: when that email arrived I was three whiskies into trying to deepen my voice so I could hit a note during music recording that I had been able to reach the day before. I’ve never been so proud of myself as I am for reading that email, over-analysing it to poor, patient music producer Rob, and then putting my phone away and replying in the morning when sober. Am super-professional.

I was on tenterhooks for another week or so – during which another rejection from someone else – until I received another email asking me to meet and chat. You are exactly right if you think I completely over-analysed that one as well.

And then the second stroke of luck. In meeting in person with said agent, not only was it an offer of representation, I knew without a doubt that this was someone I wanted to work with, who was professional but friendly, who understood my book, got my (slightly hyper – I was nervous) sense of humour and my book, and my ideas for the next book. I didn’t realise I was worried that I wouldn’t click with the interested agent until after the meeting when I was so so relieved and pleased and realised that this – this was my Dream Agent.

Then I hightailed it to a Pret (free wi-fi) to email every other agent who I hadn’t heard from to say I’d had an offer and could they please let me know if they were interested asap.

I never ever ever thought I’d be emailing literary agents and praying that they would say no, but that happened. And then I messaged my friends and my mum and had a small meltdown over my coffee because I realised that another massive step was out of the way. Granted, a massive step at the start of a lot of other massive steps. I’ve never been so excited to be staring down the barrel of a lot of work.

A week later I emailed Alice and said that, yes, please, I would really like her to represent me.

And that’s that. So now I’m Editing With Intent. I’ve always written seriously, but now it feels more serious. It feels more of a possibility that people might read my lovely, creepy, ghostly story, as if it’s been validated (to me, and I feel taken slightly more seriously by all the people who know I write but probably never thought it would go anywhere). It still might not [I am really good at being horribly realistic, even in the midst of joy, sorry], but the door feels slightly more open.

And now I Edit.

(I swear the book is far better written than this blog post.)

 


 

* The other ‘Quite A Lot’ of things mentioned at the start of this babbling involve being accepted on a training course aimed at redirecting my career, which means I’m dropping to four days a week at work from October,  and working on my coursework for another online course I’m doing for similar career-change reasons. But that’s another story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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