Book News

How I Got My Agent

FairyGodmother

I am beyond thrilled to have accepted an offer of representation from the amazing Jessica Alvarez of BookEnds Literary.

I wish I had some wisdom to impart on the subject of how to go about getting an agent. But, beyond “Write a book, submit it to respected agents who represent your genre, and hope you find someone who loves it,” I’m afraid I’ve got nothing.

How did this happen? I only starting querying the manuscript in July.

I don’t send out big batches of queries. I research each agent until I’m pretty sure I would love to work with them. (Obviously you don’t know how well your personalities will mesh until you interact a bit.) So, in that three month period, I sent out a total of three queries. Of the three, one agent sent me a lovely, encouraging rejection, saying she really liked what she’d read and urging me to keep querying. The second response was Jessica’s. And she wanted to call me.

I can’t tell you how it felt to read those words. All aspiring writers long for The Call. Was this it? The email said she liked the manuscript but a call from an agent isn’t necessarily the call. I know because I googled it.

Then I visited Jessica’s twitter which I’d been stalking for ages and saw this tweet:

Could she be talking about my manuscript? Could she have liked it to this degree? And if she had, did that mean she wanted to represent me?

Because it was half-term and my 6 year old was home, I suggested we talk in the evening, which meant I had to wait hours to find out. And as you can imagine, it was all I could think about.

I’m happy to say the call was The Call.

I already knew I wanted to work with Jessica and the fact that she was lovely on the phone made me even more certain. She seemed to be offering representation. She even said point-blank “I’d love to work on this with you.” You’d think at that point, I’d have believed her but after we’d talked for another ten minutes, it still hadn’t sunk in.

“So, just to clarify,” I said, “Are you offering representation?”

There was a short pause during which I suspect Jessica questioned my sanity.

“Yes,” she said.

Reader, I’m not sure – I was bright red and shaking at this point – but I think I might have actually said the word “Hooray.” (I sometimes channel Emma Thompson when I’m nervous, or at least I like to think so.)

I asked for time to reflect because all the advice says you should. But I wouldn’t have queried Jessica if I didn’t think she was wonderful, and it was so hard to keep that ‘yes’ in. I made myself think things through seriously but I confess I only managed a couple of hours before I emailed to accept her offer.

Now, four days later, I’m still walking on air.

Writer's Life

Recommended for Acquisition: A Lesson in how not to conduct yourself.

Mr.t

There’s so much great advice about how to write your query, but what happens when you actually get recommended for acquisition? How should you respond? What are the pitfalls? For it is a truth universally acknowledged that all new writers make mistakes but it isn’t necessarily true that we learn from them.

Learn from me. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Allow me to tell you a story.

The Literary Equivalent of the Charge of the Light Brigade

There’s a particular publisher I won’t name. They’re wonderful and have published some of my absolute favourite romances in recent years. I sent a query to an editor there. She requested the full, read it, and then loved it. She recommended it to the acquisitions board for publication, at which point they sent me an email asking me to send anything else I’d written with a synopsis.

This is where things start to go a bit wrong. Usually, when engaging with industry professionals, I research things. I make sure each communication is as well written and well thought out as possible. But I’d just been recommended for acquisition for the first time. I was excited.

How many mistakes did I then make? Let me count the ways.

Julia’s mistake 1: I immediately responded to the email. Let me repeat that: I immediately responded. I did not take a breath. I did not stop to consider. I just answered.

What Julia Learned: At the beginning of the post, I mentioned how much information there is online to help you craft a query. I spend ages reading this advice. I wrote countless drafts. I sent my first attempt to a critique partner and then I rewrote the whole thing again. Aspiring writers spend so much time on that initial contact. It doesn’t make sense to do any less when responding to the chief editor of a major publisher. Everything you write is a chance to show your ability.

I think I was worried that if I didn’t immediately respond, I might be perceived as rude or amateurish. The opposite is true. Editors are busy people. This one was probably relieved to have dealt with me for the day. I doubt she was hopping up and down with excitement to see my name pop up in her inbox ten seconds later.

Julia’s mistake 2: About ten minutes later, I remembered something I’d forgotten to include. So, I sent a second email.

What Julia Learned: If you rush to respond, you will forget something. Make yourself wait. Even if you write your response immediately, read it over, and decide that it’s perfect, make yourself wait at least 24 hours. There were now two emails from me waiting in that editor’s inbox neither of which I’d spent enough time crafting.

Julia’s mistake 3: I then read the publishing company’s requirements for a synopsis. Turned out they like a long synopsis. I’d sent one that was two pages. So, I wrote a new synopsis which I thought was rather good, and send it to them in yet another email.

What Julia Learned: Oh my god, read the publisher’s guidelines for things like your synopsis and manuscript formatting before you send your first response. Before. I hadn’t and there were now three rushed, overly-excited emails waiting in the editor’s inbox.

Then Comes Rejection

The editor got back to me after she’d met with the acquisitions board and delivered a kind, very encouraging rejection. She said they’d all loved the manuscript and that I was a wonderful writer. She then cited market forces as the reason they were passing. I was devastated. I’m good with constructive criticism. Tell me you think chapter six needs to be rewritten from a different point of view or you think my characters aren’t behaving consistently and I’m good to go. Tell me that you love my novel but that you don’t want to publish it and I’m not sure what to do with myself. There was nothing for me to fix. Or so I thought. I trunked the manuscript while I tried to figure out what went wrong. I was uneasily aware that the barrage of emails probably hadn’t helped but I told myself they couldn’t be a major factor.

What Julia Learned: Of course it’s a major factor. If you’re writing in a genre that isn’t currently flying off the shelves (and I’m told historicals are tricky these days), everything else matters much more than it ordinarily would. That editor is trying to find well-written books that her company can make money from. An author who’s ill-prepared and unprofessional (even in my rather cutesy, enthusiastic way) is a liability. Was I going to be like that all the time? Would I always fill her inbox with a gazillion responses, obliging her to sift through them for the one that I actually wanted her to take as my final answer? Would I always be disorganised? Did that mean I’d be unreliable?

So don’t be like old Julia. Be like new Julia. Consider long and hard before you click send. Also, be like Mr. T and follow your dreams, fool.