The last time I wrote about writing was almost three years ago. How impossible and frustrating the hunt for an agent seemed then. I had begun to think I would never achieve my goal. But since September last year, everything has changed. I am now at the stage where the first draft of an accepted manuscript is with Hodder and Stoughton. I’m waiting for feedback before I make final adjustments before publication. The date is set.
So how did I arrive here? Well for those who are interested in agent-hunt statistics, I sent fifty agent submissions about Tomorrow, and thirty one for Ready, Vet, Go! For the majority of those, I received form rejections or no reply. There were small rays of hope. Twice, I was asked for the full manuscript of Tomorrow. Both times it was rejected.
Time then, for a rethink.
Having added some darkness to Ready, Vet, Go! and polished it till it shone like Bruce Willis’s head on an action photoshoot, I started to send it out again. I confess I wasn’t expecting much. There had been little interest when I sent it out the first time. Vetty things were so yesteryear. Still, I was more selective with my agent choices than I had been. By now, I was seeking out information before applying: personalising every letter. I sent it out to four agents to begin with, two of whom sent me feedback, explaining they liked my writing, but didn’t feel they could sell it.
So I looked for the next four. I had sent Tomorrow off to The Ampersand Agency and had received a form rejection in the past, but not Ready! I liked their website. And they were members of the Association of Authors’ Agents, which put them on my gold-standard short-list. They even sounded encouraging about new authors submitting.
I swithered over which agent to send it to. I suspect the owner of the agency is least likely to be taking on new talent. There’s a good chance they already have a full list. And if veterinary practice is anything to go by, there are clients who prefer to see the boss.
But I liked the look of Peter Buckman. He had a friendly smile. He was one of the few agents who specified that they didn’t look at a new author’s online profile before deciding. What’s more, his blurb said he was soppy about happy endings. Throwing caution to the wind, I sent my submission and crossed my fingers.
It was at that point, that the blow fell. I had sent my manuscript to Charlie, my husband. He likes to read my work, and has surprised me in the past by talking to colleagues and contacts about my writing (for context, I am shy about sharing in person. There are few things worse than enthusing about your work and offering to show it, to be greeted by the fixed stare of someone who isn’t sure how to tell you no).
Anyway, back to Charlie. He opened up the Kindle, looked at the first page, and said, “Do you know you have an error in the first line?”
I could feel myself growing hot. This was my most recent manuscript. The one from which I had culled the samples for sending. Feverishly, I opened my computer and clicked on the attachment. There it was. First line. First sentence.
“Standing by the window, Philip’s could feel the corkscrew beating of his heart.”
At that moment, I knew exactly how Philip had felt. I had sought out some of my favourite agents, had spent ages researching and agonising over each letter. So much for Bruce Willis’ head. It was me who was going to Die Hard.
For twenty four hours, I did nothing. What could I do? Chalk it up to experience and move on? A day later, I drove Charlie to the airport and we discussed it. Why didn’t I try to explain, he asked. Maybe make light of it? This might just be the thing to make me stand out.
On the way home, my mind clicked and whirred. And when I got there, I opened up the computer and wrote a new letter. Weren’t agents always looking for a reason to reject? Everything I had read suggested it was the case. So this is what I wrote.
Dear Mr Buckman,
I recently read an article filled with useful information about how I should present myself to an agent so as to give myself the best possible chance of success. It stated that many agents received so many submissions that they were virtually looking for a reason to reject each one. I suspect, if that is the case, that I may have done you a favour.
Continued… Double Agent