How I Got My Agent


In case you missed the Twitter announcement, I am absolutely thrilled to say that I am now officially represented by the very lovely Emily Sweet (Emily Sweet Associates.)

If you’d have told me two months ago (when I was deep in the emotional turmoil of the dreaded ‘Query Trenches’) that I would be writing one of these blog posts – the type I devoured to try to distract myself from constantly refreshing my inbox, I would have laughed. Or cried. Or stared at you with wild eyes, twitched a bit, and then hoovered up anything vaguely chocolatey in the vicinity. Because querying was like being in some kind of limbo-esque parallel universe. You smile and nod, you make the right noises in your daily interactions, but your brain is somewhere in an agent’s unread inbox, and your fingers constantly twitch – compelled to check your email, even though you’ve got your notifications set to ‘Sonic Boom’ so there’s no way you could have missed an incoming message… But, that little old lady’s trolley wheel was a bit squeaky, maybe you DID miss it? Better check…

So why did I put myself through it? Well, if your goal is to be traditionally published, chances are you are going to need an agent.  The majority of traditional publishers do not accept submissions from unagented authors (unless they’re running a particular competition/open submission period). Given that there are vastly more agents than there are publishers, and that many of these agents receive hundreds of submissions A WEEK, you can kinda see why. But, an agent (a good one anyway) is more than just a book seller. The right agent can help you get your manuscript ready for publishers, advise you on all aspects of your writing career, and hold your hand when it all gets a bit much.

Query Stats

So, my stats (because I know that’s what all the currently querying authors want to know 😉 )

Queries sent: 28

Full Requests: 5

Form Rejections: 5

Queries withdrawn/not responded to: 18

Offers of Representation: 2

The Journey

Initially, I sent just five queries, to agents I had seen active on Twitter who seemed like they might be a good fit. Two of them came back within days asking for the full manuscript. I was elated, overjoyed, bouncing off the walls… and naïve.

I reasoned (disclaimer: querying authors have no sense of reason. Do not trust your reason when you’re querying) that it would be foolish to send any more queries until I’d heard back on the fulls. What if there was something glaring wrong with the book? If I’d already sent it to all and sundry I could keep getting rejected for the same thing. So I waited.

And waited…

And waited…

Hint: There is a lot of waiting involved in the query process.

Summer holidays came, and I tried to put my non-pinging inbox out of my mind. But when September came around I decided I’d waited long enough (FYI, I never did hear back on those fulls). So, I resolved this time to take a more methodical approach than just querying agents I had looked up (OK, stalked…) on Twitter.

Out came the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook, and I went through the list of literary agents, looking at their websites and researching their preferences and submission guidelines. Finally, I had a list of twenty three agents I thought might be interested in my humble manuscript. One of whom was Emily.

I sent twenty three queries in two days. This is no mean feat. Yes, lots of agents ask for the ‘standard’ submission package (query letter, synopsis, first three chapters), but plenty don’t. Some want differing lengths of sample material, some want you to copy and paste into an email, some want a bio. Some want your first born child gift wrapped in scented paper – OK, I made that one up. Emily’s website asked for just the covering letter initially – so I duly sent that, and continued on with my marathon query sesh.

About an hour later, while I was busy cursing an agent who wanted the sample material formatted COMPLETELY differently to anyone else, (WHY?) my inbox chimed. It was Emily, and she liked my pitch. She asked for the first ten thousand words and synopsis. Fortunately, by this point I had approximately ten squillion different files with every length of sample material you could ever wish for, so I located my ‘first 10k’ file and sent it off.

I didn’t expect to hear anything quickly… or ever, to be honest. But to my surprise, a couple of hours later she replied again, complimenting my writing and asking for the full manuscript. After the months of deafening silence, I MAY have screamed a little bit…

After squealing at my husband, and cursing Windows 10 for choosing THIS moment to do an update, I composed myself and sent off the manuscript. Shortly after, more full requests rolled in, and were sent off. Then, I prepared myself for the long wait.

Which, as it turns out, wasn’t long at all…

The Call

The day after I sent my manuscript to Emily, I received an email from her – late in the evening. She’d already read the whole book! And what’s more, she described it as ‘incredible’ and wanted to arrange a time to speak on the phone! I was at work at the time (on a nightshift) so my poor colleague had to put up with me squealing, crying, and swearing at my phone for its lousy internet connection. We arranged to speak the next morning. I mean, there was no way I was going to be able to sleep, even after a long shift, until I’d heard what she had to say.

I tried not to get too excited. I had heard tell of ‘The Call that is not The Call’ – agents calling authors usually means they’re thinking of offering representation, but some poor souls have received calls only to be told all the reasons why the agent can’t offer…

But, it was indeed ‘The Call’ – after a long chat about the book, possible revisions, and future career, Emily said the magic words, “I’d like to offer you representation.” She was so passionate, so lovely, and I could already see how her suggestions would improve the book, I wanted to say ‘Yes!’ right there and then… But somehow I kept my cool. I was already out on full elsewhere, and I had to give other agents a fair chance to make counter offers (not that I expected any!). Emily didn’t give me a time limit for my answer (yet another reason I felt she was ‘the one’), but I promised to get back to her within two weeks.

Silence is Broken

My dead-as-the-grave inbox was in for a big surprise when I started notifying other agents of an offer of representation.

At this point, I had a good hard look at who I had queried, and (not wanting to waste anyone’s time) wrote to withdraw my submission from most of the agents. For those I felt I would still consider an offer from, I simply notified them and gave them a ten day deadline if they wished to counter offer.

All of a sudden, I went from a never-changing-inbox to having more emails than I could handle. Notified agents replied almost instantly, promising to get back to me ASAP. Even agents I had withdrawn from sent congratulations ‘to you and your agent’! It was a little surreal.

In the end, I did receive a counter offer – and from an agent who was one of my top picks. Choosing between them was one of the hardest decisions of my life (more about multiple offers in a later post), but in the end I went with my heart. Emily’s passion for my novel, and the gut feeling that we were simply a better fit personality wise, drew me to her. And then I found myself in the very topsy-turvy position of being the one to make ‘The Call’ to an agent, and having to send a decline to the other.

In the end, after months of waiting on other agents, I went from initial query to offer in less than 48 hours. And signed two weeks later.

For Those In ‘The Query Trenches’

But, the query process is different for everyone. One of the best things about the writing community is its ‘pay it forward’ camaraderie.  I learned everything I needed to know about querying from other writers, and will be passing what I’ve learned on to other authors who are yet to query, or who are currently in the trenches.

Over the next few weeks, I will be writing posts on every aspect of the torture that is trying to secure a literary agent. From writing a killer query letter, and doing your research, to how to cope with silence, and what to do when you receive more than one offer.

I’ll be compiling some of the best resources for querying authors, and even offering some query letter critiques to my followers – so watch this space!

I’m On YouTube Baby!

Well, my stories are anyway. Truth be told, I’m far happier behind the keyboard than in front of the camera ;).

As those of you who follow me on Twitter may already know, and those of you on my Facebook certainly know, the lovely people at Bad Actors: Writers with Microphones have produced two of my short stories in audio form.

I saw the submission call on one of my writing groups last year, and it sounded like too much fun to pass up! So, I duly sent a story for consideration and sat biting my nails for – well, not for very long at all. Within the hour the managing editor responded, and he liked it. So much so in fact that he asked me if I had another, and I was happy to oblige.

For a writer just starting out it was beyond exciting to think that, somewhere across the Atlantic, someone was reading, and recording, my words! They’ve even gone and added images and music too! The links are below, but first let me tell you a little bit about the stories. Both were originally written as assignments for a writing course I took last year, which just goes to show nothing you write is ever wasted. Even that story you wrote as a kid, when imagination reigned supreme and silly things like grammar and sentence construction were ignored, can be polished up into something awesome. You just need to believe in it.

 “Don’t Be a Hero” is a short and sweet tale about a young boy who fears his dreams of being a hero might be over before they’ve begun. For this one, the brief was to write approximately 1000 words about an eleven year old boy. It got me thinking about heroes, who are they? What do they do?  Is the definition of hero dependent on perception?  Is there more than one way to be a hero?

“S 4.0” can best be described as a comedic (and slightly crass – you have been warned) sci-fi piece. The brief for this one was to write a piece that was dialogue driven. I had, at the time, been musing on something of a modern paradox: we are constantly these days striving for perfection (particularly physically), yet technology is on a quest to be more “realistic”. This seems strange, as reality is far from perfect. So I wondered what would happen if we continued to shun realism and uphold impossible standards of manufactured beauty, and yet demanded our tech be realistic. Somewhere along the line, the two would have to collide…

And if those aren’t dark enough for you, watch this space. I have a macabre, darkly speculative piece coming out in an ezine any day now. (But be warned, you may never look at the school caretaker the same way again… 😉 )

Beta To Be Better!

Most writers know the importance of beta readers. Sometimes (well, a LOT of times) you simply can’t see the words for the prose in your own work. You can’t see that you haven’t got your point across properly, because you know what you’re trying to say, so you can reread it a hundred times and your mind will still fill in the blanks. You don’t notice glaring plot problems (like the fact you’ve got a family running from a blazing building, even though the flood waters are rising during an apocalyptical downpour… Yes, I have done this). You don’t realise you’ve said the same thing three different ways (or felt you had to, until a beta tells you “I got it the first time! Stop harping on!”

Good betas are invaluable. Every writer wants them. But, there seem to be fewer writers who want to BE one. To my mind that is a terrible shame. Not just because it’s nice to be helpful to others, but also because beta reading for others helps you with your own work.

I’m not just talking about the prospect of reciprocity, though that is a great thing too. Beta reading for other writers will often lead to them offering to do the same for you in return, which is great. You scratch their back, they’ll scratch yours. But even if there no prospect of the favour being returned, what you learn from beta reading is reward in itself.

As well as getting to read some really awesome stories, and the opportunity to give input to their construction, I have learned a great deal about my own words by reading those of others. It is far easier to see what works and doesn’t work in someone else’s work than in your own. But, and here’s the rub, having learned to identify it in the prose of others starts to make it more obvious to you in yours. You start to see that YOU’VE committed some of the literary sins that you’ve highlighted for others. They were hidden beneath your own perceived awesomeness before, but suddenly they’re leaping off the page at you. Suddenly, you can see your own grammatical errors more easily, spot the wrong pacing, realise that your character is coming across dull as dishwater… It’s as if your eyes have been opened.

So who should you beta for? Well, ideally you want to make sure that whoever you are reading for actually WANTS to hear your opinion. If what they’re really after is a pat on the head, or someone to faint with awe at their literary prowess, don’t go there. Make sure they are serious, and genuinely want to improve. Otherwise, your suggestion that perhaps having the main character wake at the end to find it was all dream, or reveal in the last page that they are in fact a dog, is not the best idea will be met with anger. And justifications. Or perhaps they’ll start to explain the bits you didn’t understand… Are they planning on visiting everyone who buys their book personally to explain the obscure bits? No? Then they ought to take your lack of comprehension as an indicator that they haven’t quite pulled it off.

In short, be sure your input will be welcomed. Sometimes writers receive critiques that make them seethe. But if someone has spent time and energy trying to help them, that in itself is a compliment. I always thank my betas profusely, and instantly, for their feedback. Even if I’ve just been kicked in the stomach by their words. And you know what? Often, when the initial shock dies down (“How could they not like my twenty-foot high giant poodle? How is that not the most awesome thing ever?” – OK, I made that one up), and objectivity creeps in, I can see real merit in the blows I’ve been dealt.

Often, they hurt the most because they confirm what the nagging voices in your head were already telling you. You knew it all along, you just didn’t want to listen.

So be the type of writer who takes criticism from betas with good grace, and in the spirit of helpfulness in which it was intended (but do get more opinions if you fundamentally disagree. REAL opinions, don’t cherry pick the people you know will boost your ego…), and be the type of beta reader that tells it straight, but tells it constructively.

It is also highly possible (and to my mind, positively essential) for the whole process to be great fun. The trick to that is to find someone with a similar sense of humour. I don’t know if any other writers out there cry with laughter at the cheeky, sarcastic comments their alpha/betas return their manuscripts with, but it sure helps if edits come with a free giggle :). Why take everything so seriously? It’s perfectly possible to get the laborious task of nuts and blots editing done with a little laughter to sweeten the process.

Now, I sit here eagerly awaiting the next instalment of a fantastic story by my (reciprocal) alpha reader. Last time I got edits back from him on my own work in progress the git had “corrected” gigglesome typos that I hadn’t made, he’d put them in for his own amusement… Well, it’s my turn to edit his work now… Be afraid, be very afraid… 🙂


“Mummy, I’m so glad you understand about reading!”

I am very pleased to say that my (almost) nine year old daughter is a total bookworm. Few things give me greater pleasure than peeking into her room an hour after she’s gone to bed to find her curled up, eyes glued to her book. Often she’s so engrossed she doesn’t even notice me. When she does she smiles sweetly, blows me a kiss and says goodnight… All with one eye on the page. Children (especially your own) are rubbish at hiding their true feelings from you. It’s blatantly obvious that the niceties are a brush-off, intended to hasten my exit so she can get back to what she’s reading. And I couldn’t be happier about that.

It was a few days ago, when she was enthusing about reading, acting out how difficult it was for her to put a book down, (“My eyes are all watery, my body screams sleep, but I…Just…Can’t…Stop…”) when she gave me a huge cuddle and said, “Mummy, I’m so glad you and Daddy understand about reading!” I know what she meant by that. She meant that both my husband and I are prolific readers, who simply can’t be militant about “lights out” time when a small child is currently being transported to a world of wonder by the written word.

“Please, I HAVE to get to the end of the chapter! I shan’t be able to sleep if I don’t.” combined with wide-eyed panic at the prospect of not finding out what happens at the end of a scene will be met with empathy pretty much every time. “You’re soft!” I hear you cry. Not really. Really we’re quite strict about a lot of things (although we are sillier than the vast majority of parents a great deal of the time too), and bedtime IS one of them. But books… A genuine love of reading… To us it’s akin to a human right. We know how we would feel if someone prevented us from getting to the end of a chapter because of some silly, arbitrary, real-life concept like time. Not to say we’ll permit her to keep reading until Silly O’clock, but we will certainly allow the leeway of a few extra minutes for the pursuit of such a valuable interest.

My (just turned five) son is now beginning to show great aptitude for, and a huge love of, both reading and writing too. He’s blitzing his way through all the “targets” at school, which is lovely, but not nearly so important to us as the fact that he loves it. Loves words. Loves reading them, loves learning about their construction, and loves using them. Boy, does he love using them. I don’t think his mouth stops moving in the thirteen hours a day he’s awake. I worry about the longevity of his jaw if he keeps flapping it so much. But it’s great to watch. Prising his little torch and his book out of his hand when he’s fallen asleep reading is another great pleasure.

It’s hard to say if it comes down to nature or nurture. I’m certainly no expert and wouldn’t pretend to have nearly enough knowledge or understanding one way or the other. But I do think it’s quite telling that whenever either of them draws a picture of Daddy there’s a kindle in there somewhere… Not hugely surprising, I myself wonder at times if it is somehow surgically attached to his hand. And my son has started producing books… Lots and lots of books. Either pritt-sticked at the edges or bound by bits of wool, tome after tome of stories straight from his crazy (and slightly twisted…) imagination appear on the table.

How does any of this relate to me writing? Well, I’ll let you in on a secret. You may take from the above that, as parents, our love of the written word has inspired our children. This is true, no doubt. However, it is my daughter who has inspired me.

She’s having much the same experience as I did at school. Being hailed by her teachers as a great creative writer, having her work read out to the class. And what does she want to be when she grows up? Yup, an author. It’s like talking to myself at her age. That got me thinking. How can I encourage her to chase this dream when it is also mine, and I haven’t? I’ve let life get in the way. Let normality intrude too far into the fantastical. It’s often said you need to BE the type of woman you want your son to marry and your daughter to become. I want to show her that chasing your dreams can be a reality, not some pithy concept bandied about to take the edge off the daily grind.

Whether I get where I’m headed or not, I want to be the type of woman who gives it her best shot, and the type of mother who supports big dreams.