Tag Archives: Polly Nolan

In the Tiger’s EYE!

This past Christmas, the baby got a lot of books as presents. I mean – a lot. This was a good thing, because my husband and I (obviously) love books, and we love reading to the baby, and it was great to see what stories our friends and family wanted to share with our beloved little person.

One book in particular soon marked itself out as a firm favourite, and it has retained that coveted status over the past few months. It is the marvellous I Love You More and More, by Nicky Benson, with amazing illustrations by Jonny Lambert.

One day, as I read this book with my child, I looked at the publisher’s details. Hmm, I thought. Little Tiger Press. I hadn’t heard of them before, but the book had given us so much joy and was so beautifully produced that, in a quiet moment, I looked up Little Tiger’s website. To my delight, I found that they also published Middle Grade and YA books under their Stripes imprint, and I spent some time checking out their backlist.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant, I thought, if I could one day get a book deal with a great little press like this.

Well. Fast forward a bit.

The Eye of the North had been out on submission with UK publishers for quite some time, and I had long given up hope it would find a home. It’s hard, dealing with rejection behind the scenes; I completely understand it’s part of the job, and that every single person whose book is on a shelf knows what it feels like, but that doesn’t make going through it any easier. Plus, I kept reminding myself that I had a deal to publish not one but (gasp!) two books in North America, and that was head-spinny enough for me. I won’t get to see The Eye of the North on Irish shelves, I told myself. But there’ll be time for that with future books.

And then.

And then.

It was a day, much like any other. My husband happened to be working from home. The baby was doing the usual stuff babies do, most of which is loud and/or dangerous. And, in the middle of it all, there was a telephone call for me.

(I don’t like the telephone, I should say at this point. It makes me anxious. But that’s a story for another day.)

I took the phone from my husband. It was my agent, Polly, who said: ‘are you ready for some good news?’

I think I responded with ‘Um?’

‘You have a UK book deal!’ she said, in delight.

To my absolute joy, the deal wasn’t just any old deal – it was an offer to publish from Stripes, the aforementioned imprint of Little Tiger Press, who look after the MG side of things. I was dumbfounded. My mind went straight back to the baby’s favourite book, and how much we all loved it, and how I’d joked with myself that they’d be a great home for me.

And now – I can announce! I’m so full of joy! – they are the UK/Irish/Commonwealth home for my debut novel, The Eye of the North!

I’ll keep you all up to date with things like cover reveals, release dates and any other news, but until then I hope you’ll all join me in shouting a huge RAWWWR of Tiger-y joy. I’m delighted to be joining the Stripes family and I can’t wait to take the next step into this new, uncharted and utterly thrilling territory. Thank you to everyone at Little Tiger/Stripes for their enthusiasm and faith in me and my book.

And now I’m off! Book 2 won’t write itself, you know. *wipes brow*

 

Authors For Nepal (and an Influenza Update)

Time is of the essence with this one – not just, of course, in terms of the people of Nepal and their need for aid after the recent earthquake there, but also because this fantastic auction to raise money for them is coming to an end soon.

Image: nepalpoint.com

Image: nepalpoint.com

There are some brilliant things to be had – signed books, literary swag of all sorts, author appearances, and things of that ilk – but the best bits, in my opinion, are the manuscript critiques which are being offered by some of the best literary agents in the business.

Including, of course, my agent, the redoubtable (in a good way) and fabulous Polly Nolan of Greenhouse Literary Agency.

Here’s a link to the page where you can place a bid to have her critique your manuscript (should you have written one), and included in her prize is a one-hour meeting or phonecall to discuss said manuscript – and, possibly, the publishing business in general, because she’s a fount of terribly useful information, is Polly – which means that being the clever person in possession of the highest bid when the auction closes would be a Very Good Thing. Of course, it would help if you’re a children’s/YA writer-type with a completed manuscript for Polly to read, but I’m sure plenty of you gentle readers out there fall into just that category.

And, if kidlit (and, indeed, writing) is not your thing, then perhaps you’d prefer to check out the signed books and/or literary swag which is also on offer. In short, what I’m saying is, get yourself over to the Authors for Nepal auction site and have a snoop about. There’s bound to be something there to suit you, and you’ll be doing a wonderful thing for your fellow humans at the same time.

As for what I’ve been up to – well. Recuperating, is about the height of it. I’m beginning to feel like myself again, though I’m still not back to 100% functionality (and perhaps I never will be, alas. Age is beginning to take its toll, too, and decrepitude is surely just around the corner…) I made the silly mistake of trying to work on two WiPs at once last week, which wouldn’t have been a good idea even if I’d been in the full of my health (then, perhaps the idea to do it wouldn’t have occurred to me had I been in the full of my health), but – needless to say – all it meant was I didn’t make huge progress with either one. This week I hope to pick one project, focus on it, and make some headway. It would also be rather nice to be able to read something without my brain deciding to slide out of my ears and/or waking up half an hour later with my chin covered in drool.

Not that this happened at all during last week. Not at all. *ahem*

In any case, I’m (hopefully) back on the blogging horse, and with any luck I’m here to stay. Perhaps my absence gave you a chance to miss me, and perhaps you didn’t even notice I was gone. Either way, welcome to a new week and I hope it treats us all as well as can be expected, and perhaps even a little better than we’d hoped for.

And I hope it will have a lot less to do with handkerchiefs and self-pity than the past seven days have had…

*parp!* Photo Credit: Auntie P via Compfight cc

*parp!*
Photo Credit: Auntie P via Compfight cc

It’s Official!

Yesterday, I had a wonderful task to take care of. It was the most wonderful task an aspiring author can be given, in fact, and it was this: I was finally able to break the news that I’ve been successful in gaining a two-book deal with Knopf USA for my début novel The Eye of the North. Yahoo!

The book is slated for release in fall of 2016, all going well, and I couldn’t be prouder of the fact that the publisher is one of the most prestigious in the world. I’m also really proud that it’s this particular story which will be my launching pad into the great big world of publishing, because I love it with all my heart and it’s the book I know I was meant to write. I’m so looking forward to getting to work on shaping the text with my new editor, Melanie Cecka Nolan, and I hope that between the two of us we’ll turn this story into the best version of itself that it can possibly be. I’m very fortunate, and I know it!

This is a post I’ve dreamed about writing, and for a very long time I was convinced it would never be a reality. (To be honest, even as I’m here writing it I’m not convinced it’s a reality, but I’m assured otherwise by folk who know their stuff, so I have to believe it’s true). The process of bringing a book from idea-seed to finished draft to polished draft and finally to a publication deal has been a long and arduous one (and one which I’ve exhaustively chronicled here, so don’t worry – I’m not going to rehash it!) but one thing I know for sure: without the support and encouragement of my family and friends (including, and sometimes especially, my web-based friends, many of whom I’ve never met in person), I wouldn’t be here. I want to thank you all most sincerely for your kind words, your advice, and your interaction; for celebrating my achievements with me and for commiserating on my losses; for your interest in my words and work; for your relentless enthusiasm and your certainty that one day, I would know how it felt to say ‘I am going to be a published author.’ During the moments when I didn’t believe it myself, you guys believed for me, and that got me through.

I can’t thank you all enough.

Photo Credit: @ifatma. via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: @ifatma. via Compfight cc

Writing and querying The Eye of the North has been the hardest work I’ve ever done, and I know there’s a lot of hard work ahead – but I’m ready and able for that. Bringing the book this far has been a complicated, emotional, frustrating, stressful, exhilarating and fascinating journey, and very little of it has felt how I expected it to feel; the learning curve has been immense, and sometimes I’ve found it hard to hang on and keep going. Having said that, I have no regrets. However, I do know how much I owe to everyone who has helped me, primarily my wonderful husband and our amazingly supportive family, who have always been so proud of me and so committed to making this happen. It has never ceased to amaze me how many people showed me unstinting support, right from the beginning of this crazy journey, and I can honestly say that not one person (at least, in my hearing!) ever expressed doubt that I could achieve this goal. I know how lucky I am to be able to say that, and I won’t ever forget it. I also know how much I owe my agent, Polly Nolan, and particularly how much I owe Sarah Davies, the powerhouse behind the Greenhouse Literary Agency, who have fought hard for me and my book from day one.

I hope I’ve made everyone proud, and that you’re all glad that your confidence wasn’t misplaced. I hope that when the finished book is in your hands, you’ll be glad to have been a part of it. More than anything, I hope that anyone who picks up The Eye of the North will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that the love I have for every word will shine out from the pages. After all, that’s the only thing that really matters – getting the story out, and making sure it’s as good as I can get it. After that, it’s all up to the reader.

For the moment, the book will be published only in North America – so, the US and Canada – but I’m hopeful we’ll strike a book deal for the UK and Commonwealth markets, too. As soon as I have any news, about anything, you’d better believe I’ll share it here as soon as I’m given the green light, and I hope you’ll enjoy travelling with me from book deal to publication as much as you seem to have enjoyed the journey from the very beginning to here! Thank you all, again, and I hope all your Fridays are fabulous.

Have a slightly weird, awkward hug from Emmeline, and a grubby, sticky one (that smells a bit funny) from Thing, and a giant bear-hug from me. Just because. We love y’all. See you back here very soon.

 

Is This Progress? It Sure Don’t *Feel* Like Progress…

Emmeline in all her papery glory.

Emmeline in all her papery glory!

The other day, I did the writers’ equivalent of a workout, which basically amounts to running up and down the stairs every few minutes to grab the sheets of paper being spat out by a (groaning and overworked) printer. It took a while to print all of ‘Emmeline’, especially considering I did it in batches of 25 pages so as not to burn out the printer’s motor (later rising to 30 when impatience overwhelmed me), and there are 260 pages in total.

Two Hundred and Sixty Pages. Almost 75,000 words. Sometimes I worry that the book is still on the long side considering it’s upper Middle Grade (or 9-12, depending on how you like to refer to your children’s book age ranges), but I reckon worrying about making it the best I can is more important than worrying about word count. I hope the story is good enough to carry the reader through; I hope, after twelve edits, that the book is as lean and perfectly formed as I’m going to get it.

But just in case it isn’t, I’m going through it one more time. Hence, the printout.

It really is true that editing on paper is helpful, particularly if the past few editing runs have been on-screen. Your eye treats printed material differently to material on a computer screen, and if something appears new, you can fool yourself into reading it as though it actually was. Some writers like to mix things up with different fonts, different sizes or colours of lettering, on different passes of edits, but I find that a bit of a distraction (plus, as a font nerd, I tend to get more enthusiastic about the individual letters than the words they’re forming, which can be a bit of a hassle). Everyone has to find a system that works for them, I suppose. I find I like to do as many passes of edits on screen as possible before I print, mainly because I hate wasting paper and toner and so this way I feel like I’m giving the environment a fighting chance as well as trying to produce my best work. I’m not sure – because the various passes fade into memory, at this stage – how many times I’ve printed ‘Emmeline’ already, but I don’t like to think about it too much for fear of making my inner hippie weep. I guess that’s why we also have a shredder and a paper recycling bin, right? Gaia will forgive me. (I hope).

But it’s also true that, at this stage, when every tiny pore and cranny and wrinkle of this book is as familiar to me as the ones in my own face, that the idea of tackling it again holds very little appeal. I know that each edit is helpful (and, hopefully, it’ll spare me pain down the line), and that each edit will, with any luck, make my book more ‘saleable’, or whatever the marketing term is, and that – most importantly of all – each edit makes my book better, and closer to the dream I had when I started it, but still. I wrote it. I’ve edited it, over and over. Beginning another edit doesn’t really feel like progress – it feels like being stuck in the mire, like dying in a computer game and being dumped back at Level One to start again from scratch. My schedule has been off for the past few weeks (because life, you know?) and I’ve used that as an excuse not to begin the reading process. ‘I’ve got other things on my mind,’ I tell myself; ‘I can’t bring my best focus to this work, right now.’ There’s some truth in that, but I know I could knuckle down if I really tried. Next week, however, things should start to settle down again and my excuses will fizzle to an early death – and my handsome printout will still be sitting here on my desk, tapping its metaphorical nails, raising its impatient eyebrow at me and going ‘Well? Are we going to get this done, or what?’

We’ll get it done. I know myself well enough to know that when I start, I’ll bring an unrelenting focus to the task. It’s just getting up the motivation – and the courage – to begin which causes the problem. Every edit is one step closer to sending the book back to my agent. Every edit is one step closer to (maybe) getting the phonecall which says ‘There’s a publisher interested…’ Every edit is one step closer to seeing my book on a shelf, and holding it in my hands – if I’m lucky beyond all my deserving.

And all that is amazing, and a dream. It’s also scary as heck.

But I’ll get it done.

Just not today.

 

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

The other day, my agent (Polly Nolan, for those who are new to the party – hello! Welcome!) posted an interesting Tweet. Here it is:

Why, indeed.

The opening of your novel is so important. It’s the bit that will draw in not only agents and publishers, but also readers. It should be true to your ‘voice’, open a window into your fictional world, give a clear impression of your protagonist and a hint about what’s facing them as your story unfolds, and – if possible – it should avoid a few classic mistakes.

As Polly says, ideally a strong opening to a novel shouldn’t feature weather or a character waking up from sleep, particularly if it’s due to an alarm clock ringing or because of a nightmare frightening them into wakefulness. In my opinion, a novel also shouldn’t open with a character describing themselves, either, particularly if it’s achieved by having them look into a mirror.

Photo Credit: Camil Tulcan via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Camil Tulcan via Compfight cc

Not that I’m anyone to judge.

My first ‘novel’ – completed, but never shown to anyone – began with a little girl looking out her aunt’s window watching the rain fall outside and wondering how she was going to pass the time until it stopped. Also, I once wrote half a novel which opened with a girl waking up from a recurring dream which had been bothering her for months. She returns to sleep and when she wakes up again – properly, this time – she and her sister help one another to dress, enabling me (the extremely novice writer) to describe what my protagonist looked like through her self-deprecating self-comparisons to the other girl. I then go on to describe the day outside and what the weather was doing, for no real reason.

All in the space of the first four pages. Yeah. Clever, huh?

It’s no surprise that neither of these stories went anywhere. The first was just nonsense, and I felt the second was too similar to every other YA-kidlit dystopian narrative out there. Parts of its story world did end up resembling another novel (in one of those weird ‘My-idea-has-been-STOLEN-from-my-very-BRAIN moments which happen to everyone at some stage), and I felt the other book had handled it much better than I ever would. So, I chucked my own story. But I thought of these books with a certain fondness when I read Polly’s Tweet. Everyone has to make the same mistakes when they’re starting out. It’s a rule. Or maybe a law. I was (and am, because I’m still learning) no exception.

The strange thing is that even though nobody ever read these proto-books of mine, and I had no feedback on my writing at that point in my life, I somehow picked up, probably from reading other books, that these methods of kicking off a story weren’t good ones. It’s important to say that this isn’t because they’re not good places to start off a story, per se; it’s more to do with the fact that everyone does them. These methods of beginning a story have been used so often that they’ve become almost instinctive (which is why so many beginning writers default to them), and they’ve become so clichéd that Madeleine l’Engle parodied them in the opening to her most famous novel A Wrinkle in Time. I’m sure agents see them in their hundreds, week after week – and that’s what you want to avoid, if you want to get their attention. (Other things to avoid: bribes, ‘presents’, scented paper, threats to burn their offices down unless they take you on, pleading, personal photographs of you, and general weirdness. Word to the wise. You’ll get their attention that way, too, but for all the wrong reasons).

However, I do have to admit that thinking about this issue got me wondering whether it’s ever a good idea to begin a story with an alarm clock ringing or the weather or your protagonist looking at themselves in a mirror. Just for fun, then, I put this together:

Katie woke from a deep sleep to the sound of an alarm. Half-conscious, she wriggled her arm free and slapped at her bedside table, searching for the clock as its relentless brrrrrrring burrowed into her brain. Her knuckles knocked against something cold and unfamiliar, something which clanged like hollow metal, and it jerked her more fully awake. What on earth had that been?

Consciousness crept over her, confusion coming with it. The mattress felt weird; harder than usual. The air smelled cloying, with a tang like blood. Her breath caught in her neck as she opened her eyes, feeling the sharp pull as a layer of encrusted… something broke apart, tugging at her eyelashes.

Everything was dark.

She blinked, but the darkness stayed absolute.

Then, like she was inside an egg being cracked with a silver spoon, light burst across her vision, slashing her retinas. She recoiled from it, hissing, as she raised her hand to shade her watering eyes. All she could see was light, like a scalding yellow sun. Gradually, it began to show her the smooth, domed ceiling above her, the featureless walls.  This is a dream, she told herself.

The alarm never stopped its ringing.

’99-097-31!’ shouted a voice, clanging inside Katie’s skull. She rolled her gaze around, wondering what she was enclosed in. A capsule? A cell? ‘On your feet!’ Like the words had triggered her muscles, Katie swung her legs out of bed. The floor was cool on her bare soles, but the light-filled gap was widening, permitting the brightness of a desert day to pierce Katie’s world. The heat was rising with every breath. The snow and ice that had been there, outside her window on the street where her house was, where she’d grown up, where her parents were in the next room and where she’d gone to sleep just a few hours before, had been replaced by unrelenting sun and cracked earth. A broken ruin lay somewhere on the horizon. As she struggled to stand, her feet slid across the metal floor in pools of sweat, throwing her back against her thin mattress. Her heart thumped painfully beneath her collarbone.

‘What’s happening?’ Katie called. ‘Where am I?’ But there was no reply.

As she gazed around, desperately searching for answers, a telephone, a door, she was transfixed by an image in the metal wall opposite. Her reflection. She saw a skinny dark-haired woman sitting on a sleep-tossed bed, bright blue eyes staring out of a hollow face, stick-like arms clutching the thin blankets. A scattering of dark moles pocked her face like ash on milk. The reflection’s thin, chapped lips stretched as Katie gasped, raising a bird-boned hand to her face. She felt rough fingertips touch her blistered mouth, and the movement was echoed by the mirrored woman.

But the reflection showed someone Katie had never seen before in her life.

So, there you have it. Maybe starting with an alarm, the weather and a character’s self-description isn’t always a bad idea.*

*Just kidding. It is. Don’t ever do this, kiddos.

How I got my Agent

This darling lady sums up exactly how it feels to get that 'yes!' you've been waiting for all your life. Image: blog.diversitynursing.com

This darling lady sums up exactly how it feels to get that ‘yes!’ you’ve been waiting for all your life.
Image: blog.diversitynursing.com

I’ve been hoping for the chance to write a blog post like this for a long, long time. Back in August 2012, when Clockwatching… kicked off and my writing career began in earnest, I barely dreamt that I’d ever get here; at the same time, if someone had told me that it would take almost two years, I might have been downhearted.

Looking back now, two years doesn’t seem so long. It seems like just the right length of time, in fact. I had, and still have, a lot to learn about writing and pitching and polishing my work, and two years is long enough to have given me a chance to grow as a writer but not quite long enough to have made me give up hope completely.

It may take a while to find an agent because – like me – you might not be ready for one the first time you query. You might have potential, and talent, and the drive to work hard (all necessary), but you might not be ready, all the same. But the good news is: all you need to get there is time and the courage to never give up, and the urge to keep writing until you find the book, the one which you know, in your heart, is the best work you can do at that time.

Not easy. But not undo-able, either.

I'm a-gonna do this...  Image: scarpzpaintball.com

I’m a-gonna do this…
Image: scarpzpaintball.com

So, I have an agent. I was able to make the official announcement on Friday last (Friday 13th, funnily enough), and it was so exciting that I managed to make a total grammatical mess of the Tweet in which I broke the news:

 

Gaining an agent doesn’t automatically make you a sparkling wordsmith in all social occasions, is what I think we can all learn from this.

Anyway. I am extremely pleased to have secured Polly Nolan, of the fabulous Greenhouse Literary Agency, as my agent. Polly hasn’t been an agent for long, but she has (and continues to have) a long and distinguished career in publishing, specifically children’s and YA publishing, and this is why I wanted to query her in the first place.

So, how did I manage to get her attention? Well. The old-fashioned way, of course.

I first contacted her almost exactly a year ago, in June of 2013, with a query for my book Eldritch. She was interested enough to read the whole thing, and her feedback was good – though ultimately it wasn’t something she felt comfortable representing. She did say, in one of our email exchanges, that I should go ahead and query Eldritch elsewhere, and that – in a strange way – gave me confidence. ‘It’s not for her,’ I told myself. ‘But she doesn’t think it’s a terrible effort.’ She gave me some excellent pointers as to how to make the book better, and so I’m hopeful that, one day, the world will see a version of Eldritch that isn’t quite how I’d imagined it when I first came up with the idea, but vastly better.

I pitched a second book to her in the course of another email exchange (my heart in my mouth as I did so – such audacity!), and she requested the full MS. This book was Tider, which she also read and liked, but which left her lukewarm overall. ‘You’re almost there, but not quite. You can write, but it’s missing something,’ was the feedback from this e-chat. We discussed whether it was my plotting, or my pacing – both of which can be worked on and practised, by the way, so if this is something you have trouble with do not give up hope – and eventually I told her I’d just finished drafting another book. ‘It’s my NaNoWriMo novel,’ I told her. ‘I’m quite fond of it. Would you like to take a look?’

That was in March. The book, of course, was Emmeline. And the rest (just bear with me; I’ve always wanted to use this phrase in a context like this one) was history.

Of course, I had also entered Emmeline into several competitions, one of which was the ‘Date with an Agent’ event. There, I gained fantastic and enthusiastic feedback from Sallyanne Sweeney, another stellar agent; that was a huge boost, and made me realise that my little story really did have potential. It had appealed to two extremely knowledgeable ‘beta’ readers, and so – even though I found it hard to get my brain around it – the story had to be good.

But while it’s good, it’s not perfect. Polly had suggestions, as did Sallyanne, and now that I’ve signed with Polly we’re about to begin the editorial process, whereupon she’ll send it to me covered with red ink and exclamation marks (and possibly drops of her own blood), and I’ll have to fix it. Between the two of us, we’ll whip the story into as good a shape as we can manage, and then it’ll be time for querying again – except, this time, it’ll be publishers who are being approached, and I’ll have a powerhouse like Polly in my corner.

And then, with any luck, another huge ‘yes’ will be in my future – the ‘yes’ which says: Your book is going to be on shelves, and downloaded to e-readers, and on sale alongside the heroes you’ve worshipped all your life, and available to order, and given to children as a Christmas present or a birthday gift, and inscribed (like I used to do as a girl) with their full name, and it will be read. Hopefully, it will be loved and cherished and will eventually fall apart from use, dog-eared and creased from being shoved into backpacks and too-tight shelves and passed from hand to hand. If you’re lucky, it will speak to its readers’ hearts, and they will remember it all their lives.

This is a dream I now feel able to indulge myself in, for I am one step closer to it.

So, if you are currently querying agents, I finally feel able to offer some real advice, based on experience.

1. Never give up. If you get a knockback, take it on the chin and keep going. You’re going to get a lot of rejections – either no reply at all, or a cursory ‘stock’ reply, or a personalised one which suggests that your submission has actually been read (which is very positive) – and each one should make you more determined.

2. Never be too afraid to query. My heart was in my mouth as I pitched Tider in an email about Eldritch; I almost didn’t do it, as I feared it was too ‘cheeky’. If you have an agent’s ear, and you are involved in an email exchange with them – because if they’re interested enough to engage with you about your writing, you should be hugely encouraged – then try telling them what else you’re working on, in case it sparks their attention. It also helps them to know that you’re planning for the future and getting on with more work while you’re waiting for your queries to bear fruit.

3. Always be ultra-professional in your queries. Think business letter, think formal address (at least, at first), think ‘job application’ – for, in essence, that’s what it is. I really can’t stress this enough. From what I’ve heard, a lot of people who query seem to forget that they’re trying to enter into a professional relationship. Sending emails from an address like ‘glitterboyunicornbreath at fuzzypants dot com’ and peppering it with .gifs is likely to get it deleted, even if the book you’ve written is genius. Be warned!

4. Always query more than one agent at a time, because they expect you to. Be upfront about things like requests for the full MS, though, or expressions of interest: if this happens, always tell the other agents to whom you’ve submitted a query. Always remember politeness and professional behaviour.

5. There are no ‘tricks’. There is nothing you can do to increase your chances of getting an agent besides writing the best book you can, choosing an agent or agents who represent the sort of work you’ve doing, and being brave enough to submit it. Oh, and being patient, of course.

So, what are you waiting for?

 

 

A Second Date with an Agent: Things Get Serious

Yesterday’s post was a big hit – it seems there’s a lot of interest in anything that smacks of an insight into an agent’s mind (and I so totally understand!) – so today’s post will recap the rest of the advice we were lucky enough to receive at the Date with an Agent event at the weekend.

I think the first thing I’ll say is this: agents are people, too. Having been in a room with several of them and having actually exchanged actual words with a couple, I know that you don’t have to do a Bavmorda on it in order to get their attention.

I command thee to represent me! Image: pinterest.com

I command thee to represent me!
Image: pinterest.com

Yeah. So, you know. No spells or bribes or potions or whatever. Just write a good book and send it to them, and don’t be pushy or weird about it. And also agents are a lot less scary in real life than you’d imagine.

Seriously.

Slushpiles, reassuringly, still seem to be the primary place from which most of our agents draw their clients; despite the fears of some of the participants, the agents assured us that they do read everything that comes across their desks and that – mishaps aside – they endeavour to get back to everyone within a reasonable time-frame. However, part of the whole ‘remember agents are people too’ thing is ‘remember agents are people too who have extremely busy full-time jobs and lives and commutes and significant others and children and bills and all the usual stuff.’ It was mentioned by a couple of them that people still do things like expect them to return calls or emails within days instead of months; if you submit to an agent, you’ve got to be prepared to wait for a response. You’ve also got to be absolutely sure you’ve made yourself as contactable as possible – put your details in the header or footer of every page of your submission, get an email signature with your email address(es), Twitter handle and contact numbers, be active on social media without stalking or harassing the agents concerned – and you’ll find that they’ll respond favourably to your efforts to make things as easy for them as possible.

When asked why they chose to become agents, Simon Trewin responded by saying that he loves the intellectual stimulation of the job, and that he has always had a love of books and words. Polly Nolan loves to work with authors and mentor them, and she takes particular joy in encouraging their stories out – and she’s certainly experienced at doing that, having been headhunted by the Greenhouse Literary Agency last year due to her skill at finding new talent. Sallyanne Sweeney relishes the close relationship between authors and agents – sometimes, publishers and editors change but the author/agent relationship can be a long-standing one. She also loves working with all aspects of book production, from the seed of an idea to a finished product. Madeleine Milburn loves talent-spotting and takes particular enjoyment in doing deals for her authors, and Faith O’Grady not only loves authors and books but also enjoys being part of the process of bringing a book to completion.

A very brave soul in the audience asked the agents about their ‘exit strategy’ – what happens when the relationship between author and agent goes awry? Simon Trewin stressed that he takes on authors, and not books. He, like all the agents, looks long-term at an author’s career but admitted that sometimes the spark between author and agent does fade and when that happens it’s best for everyone to sever the relationship and allow the author to go on to success with another agent. Sallyanne Sweeney described how her agency, Mulcahy Associates, loves to work with agents so long as the working relationship stays happy for everyone concerned, and Madeleine Milburn explained how sometimes it can take a long time to sell a book, and that authors should keep working, and keep writing, to keep their options open while their agent is working on their behalf. Faith O’Grady emphasised this by saying that authors and agents need to be persistent. Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who organised the event and who is a literary scout (The Inkwell Group), described writing a book as being akin to reducing gravy – she advised the crowd not to let their words get in the way of the story, and to keep editing and working on their stories until the very best and richest content is all that remains.

A lengthy discussion took place about author profiles and social media, and all the agents agreed that social media matters, but so do traditional means of making connections between an author and an audience. Connections sell books. They advised things like writing for your local paper, writing book reviews, having shorter pieces published – all of these things build a profile, and it’s always good to think about ways to find the people who will read your book. Marketing budgets in most publishing houses have been cut back, and so authors who have platforms and who are able and willing to help promote themselves are a good thing from a publisher’s point of view. Twitter is incredibly useful, not just for contacts but for finding out about opportunities and openings and competitions, and so long as you remember social conventions – i.e. do not harass or stalk anyone on social media, for any reason – it can be a very wise move to open a Twitter account. Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin also recommended developing a blog or website, and stressed the importance of including contact information, telling us a horror story about losing the cover sheet from an excellent submission she received, and having to work very hard to find a way to contact the author. Build a rounded, interconnected social media profile, and always bear your target market in mind.

A very good tip we received from Vanessa was to write yourself a selection of author biographies – 50-word, 100-word, 500-word – to suit different purposes. Author bios are not your life story, however; you shouldn’t be waxing lyrical about your lovely dogs and grandchildren, for instance. Write in third person. Be succint. Show your publishing credits and your social media handles. Show a bit of originality and flair. If you have relevant expertise, mention it – if you’re a retired police sergeant who now writes crime novels, for instance. Practise getting out and talking to people, presenting your work, doing author events. It will all stand to your credit as your career progresses.

The fantastic Vanessa Fox O'Loughlin, who runs the Inkwell Group and writing.ie, and is a prominent and very successful literary talent scout. Image: asiam.ie

The fantastic Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who runs the Inkwell Group and writing.ie, and is a prominent and very successful literary talent scout.
Image: asiam.ie

Vanessa also explained at some length what the process of selling a book entails, and how it affects authors. She described the reality of advances, which is a sum of money paid to an author in advance of sales, which needs to be earned back through sales before royalties – typically less than ten percent of a book’s gross value – can start to be earned. Self-publishing through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) or CreateSpace means that the author earns a far higher royalty percentage, depending on the price they charge for their work, and it is possible for an author to move between ‘traditional’ publishing and self-publishing. She stressed the importance of having your work edited and proofread if you choose to self publish, and how vital it is to engage a professional designer to create a book cover for you. There are several companies which provide a complete package for self-publishing, including Kazoo and Emu Ink.

The day finished with a discussion about an agent’s role – which is to get an author the very best deal possible – and a sobering reminder that signing with an agent is not the be-all and end-all; in a lot of ways, the work begins once you have an agent. We were reminded that most authors don’t write full-time, and on average authors earn less than £10,000 per year from their work – but I’m pretty sure that didn’t put anyone off. We were also treated to a wonderful talk from author Jax Miller, who is a client of Simon Trewin – referred to him through Inkwell – who has had a huge amount of success, rather quickly; not only was listening to Jax speak huge fun, but it also reminded us that sometimes dreams do come true.

In sum: it’s important to remember to be professional in all your contact with agents, do your homework on them and their agencies, and make sure your work is as ready as you can get it before you approach them. They are real human beings whose livelihoods depend on finding new talent and nurturing their existing clients, and they want to find you as much as you want to find them. Judging by the ones I’ve met, they’re also exceedingly nice.

I hope that these posts, today’s and yesterday’s, have been helpful and encouraging, and – as usual – if you have any questions or need more information shoot me a comment, Tweet or email. Basically: keep writing, keep submitting, and never give up hope!