Double Agent… (A Gent, part 2)

So at the end of my last post, I reproduced the letter I had sent to Peter Buckman at the Ampersand Agency. It was a risky strategy. Another no-no when applying to agents is the use of humour unless you are absolutely certain it is

  1. Appropriate
  2. Actually funny.

Still, given the situation I found myself in, I probably didn’t have much to lose. To my delight, I didn’t have long to wait. Within a day, I received the most civilised reply.

Dear Sarah,

Don’t worry: I’m sure you’re only human.

I will take a look as soon as I can.


Peter Buckman

Heaving a sigh of relief – my manuscript wouldn’t be rejected out of hand – I sat down to wait some more. Waiting was something I was used to.

I didn’t have long to wait.*

Only a few days later, another e-mail arrived. Eagerly I opened it.

It was a rejection.

There was, however, a different tone from all the other rejections I had received. It was cheerful and friendly and helpful. My style was good he told me. My grammar was perfect. It was only the subject matter that did not grab him. Best of all, he used the word “reluctantly”. This was a new experience. Nobody had ever expressed reluctance at letting me pass before.

He liked me, I thought. He wanted to take me on. He just didn’t think he could sell my book.

I think a kind of madness seized my brain at this point. If the subject matter of Ready, Vet Go! didn’t grab him, perhaps that of Tomorrow would be better. Tomorrow is based around an idea that came to me one day when I had been working the nightshift in Bradford and was driving back to Scotland the next morning. What would happen, I wondered, if a surgeon had to perform life-saving surgery on the wife of a man she had fallen in love with. Agents, I understood, were looking for new angles and unusual plot twists and there had been more interest in Tomorrow in general, presumably for that reason.

And so it came about that I broke the third rule of agent application. When you are rejected, accept it gracefully. Don’t argue.

Flinging caution to the wind, I forged a new message. If it was just the subject matter, would he consider taking a look at another manuscript? Please?

I had quite forgotten my other, self-imposed requirement. Make sure the manuscript is suitable for the agent. I had just sent off a work of womens’ commercial fiction to a bloke.**

Despite the fact that I had now broken almost every written and unwritten rule, when the hoped for response arrived only a few minutes later, despite being yet another rejection, (this time on the grounds of said blokiness), the latest e-mail contained an unexpected offering.

Peter had sent me the contact details of one of the editors at a publishing house. Send Tomorrow. Mention my name, he said.

In my long search for an agent, I had read about this possibility too. This was a big deal.

I confess I felt the same as I might if I was handed a delicious looking toffee apple on a stick. With the correct approached, the flavour could be delectable. Approach it wrong, and there was every chance that the stick would become uncoupled and there would be shards of toffee sticking to the carpet.***

I was still trying to work out how to approach an actual editor twenty four hours later. Should I send my three chapters and outline as usual? Full manuscript? Just a letter?

I was still contemplating, when yet another e-mail arrived.

It was from Peter again. He told me, he had just been sent a storyline by a company called Working Partners. They were looking for a writer for a series for adults.

A series about vets.

I am a vet, I thought.

In Yorkshire.

I’ve lived and worked in Yorkshire, I thought.

The deal was, that I, along with several other writers, would submit two chapters, based on the storyline they provided.

If I got the job, Peter would take me on as a client. Would I like to have a go?

With my heart in my mouth, I sent the message winging right back. Of course, I’ll have a go, I said. How could I possibly resist?

Casting my toffee apple aside, I held my nose and plunged right in…




*My family tell me there are two different time zones they inhabit. There are normal minutes and then there are my minutes. If they time a minute on the clock, it occupies quite a limited amount of time (usually round about the sixty second mark). However, when they ask me to do something and I call “Just a minute,” they know they are entering the alternate time zone and that the minute they have to wait might feel considerably longer. For reference, all literary agents exist within this alternative time zone when they are reading manuscripts from the slush pile.

**Peter’s terminology.

***I may have taken this metaphor WAY too far….



And for those who have managed to read this far, here are some gratuitous images of Jan-Arne’s bitch Susi with her gorgeous puppies.

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