Thursday, 16 December 2010

How to get a literary agent (or not)

1. Write a damn good book. (Convince yourself it's word-perfect; show it to no one who might cast doubt on this conviction)

2. Pitch the book to the right agent in the prescribed manner. (Or not. Don't let submission guidelines get in your way; this book can't be pinned down in a paragraph)

3. Practice patience. (Chase after two weeks. That's plenty of time for the book's brilliance to have penetrated)

4. Submit a full ms on request in the prescribed manner. (Convince yourself this is it: your genius is about to be universally acknowledged and rewarded)

5. Accept the rejection with good grace, putting it to one side if necessary until you are in the right frame of mind to read it as the valuable information you need to get better at what you do. (Curse and pity the poor fools who didn't have the wit to recognise genius when they read it; do not entertain the idea that they know more than you do about books and publishing)

6. Start a new book, keeping close at hand the rejection letter that contained vital information about what you needed to do to get further this time. (Start a new book ignoring that ridiculous rejection, which you've torn up in any case)

7. Pitch and submit as earlier. (Give it another shot, possibly mentioning the idiots that turned down your previous work of genius)

8. Accept the rejection with good grace, learning from it all that you can. (Wonder what is wrong with a world that can reject you twice. Storm. Rant. Flounce. Better: do it on your blog, naming and shaming those who thwarted you. Alternatively, curl up in a ball and never come out)

9. Repeat steps six to eight, as required. (Give up. Tell yourself it's because you're too good to get published)


On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to be signed by Gregory & Company, a fantastic agency that specialises in crime and thrillers. I had previously submitted three other novels, all of which were read in full by Jane Gregory's team, all of which were rejected with two pages of feedback that helped me to see why they weren't books that could be published easily, or even at all. My fourth attempt needs work, of course it does. But thanks to a brilliant team at the agency, and an editor who knows exactly how to lead a writer through what's needed, I feel enthused rather than daunted. In fact, I'm dying to get stuck into the changes.

'You've been trying us for some time,' Jane said when we met.

'I'm famed for my stamina,' I confessed.

Not to mention bloody-mindedness, but also as it turns out, the ability to listen to what I'm told and to know that a good writer can always - ALWAYS - be a better writer. This was driven home to me when I read Jane's interview for Mslexia, where she talks about what it takes to be signed by her and to make it as a writer.

Keep the faith, take advice from the experts, never give up.



32 comments:

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Oh FANTASTIC news!!! Many many congrats Sarah. I just knew, that time we were in Bantry Library, there would at some point be a row of books by you all together on a shelf - didn't I???!!!

Hugs and glass of bubbly! And they are both for this, and for NOT GIVING UP. Marvellous message - so important.

Vxx

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, V! You did indeed say that, and your faith in me was something I fell back on in moments of self-doubt. Your own success is more inspirational than I think you know.

(If I toast anything at this stage, it's my bloody-mindedness - NOT GIVING UP was what tipped the balance, for sure.)

S xx

WriterMelS said...

Huge Congratulations, Sarah!

Well done keeping on keeping on, as I say. I wish you all the very best for the future. Mel x

Nik Perring said...

Congrats, Sarah - that's wonderful to hear!

esruel said...

Wow! Success! Not before time!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thank you, Mel! The keeping on was a big big part of it, probably what made the difference between where I was and where I am.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Nik. I'm made up, I really am.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Esruel!

Jenzarina said...

Yes!!!!
Talent and incredible perseverance win through.
Best wishes for the next stage of the adventure!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Jen. I can't hardly wait - but I think my patience is almost a moot point at this stage..!

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

Congratulations, Sarah! Well done! You and your "bloody-mindedness" give the rest of us (the un-agented!) hope. :)

Sarah Hilary said...

Thank you, Madeline. Keep the faith!

Tania Hershman said...

Such great news and such a great blog post!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Tania! I got a little package from my editor today - so lovely to get something with their agency logo on it and not have my heart in my mouth for fear it's a rejection letter!

Pete said...

Colossal, huge, heartfelt and happy congratulations Sarah. Can't wait til it hits the shelves. - Pete (Cholero, remember?)

Sarah Hilary said...

Hi Pete! Of course I remember - it's been a long time but as you'll gather, I was busy all that time. Thank you for the kind words. How's things with you?

Lauri said...

Congrats on getting an agent and thanks for the post.

I am currently in the agent finding stage. After living nicely in my little pond where I am somewhat of a big fish it is daunting shrinking to protozoa size in the vast ocean of the "world out there". How to keep faith in my novel is the problem. I've had only one fairly nice rejection and I'm already thinking I'd rather just stay in my little pond and give the book to my usual publishers.

Crap this bit...

Frances said...

Absolutely delighted for you, Sarah!

Emma said...

Congratulations Sarah! Very well deserved...
Emma (formerly from FW)

Rachel Fenton said...

Congratulations - just read your good news at tania's blog - and thanks for the advice and perseverance remider!

Jarmara Falconer said...

Great advice, and well done! You have show us with hard work we can make it. Thank you...

Have a great Christmas and a wonderful New Year.

Caroline - (Choille) said...

Really wonderful news Sarah.

I'm delighted for you.

A great Xmas pressie I'm sure.

All the very best
CarolineX

jonathan pinnock said...

Only just seen this - fantastic news! Many, many congratulations!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks for dropping by, Lauri, and don't be daunted by the pool-switching. If you've already had a nice rejection, it means you're making an impact - form rejections are far easier for agents to issue. Good luck, and stay strong.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Frances!

Sarah Hilary said...

Lovely to hear from you, Emma, and many thanks!

Sarah Hilary said...

Thank you for swinging by, Rachel, and for the kind words.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thank you, Jamara! I hope your Christmas and New Year bring much happiness and enjoyment.

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Caroline! I've been watching your snowy blog posts with interest. I hope you're able to enjoy a warm and wonderful Christmas. xx

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Jonathan!

WOMEN RULE WRITER said...

Great news, S. I just heard via Vanessa's blog. Well deserved. Nuala x

Sarah Hilary said...

Thanks, Nuala! x