How I got my agent

They say that finding an agent to represent your work is more difficult than finding a publisher, and that’s probably true. Once you have an agent and your novel is ready to go, then assuming you are represented by a good agent, and your work is solid, finding a publisher shouldn’t take you too long at all. In my case, once my agent had sent out the manuscript, we had our first offer from a publisher within 5 days - and that was one of the happiest days of my life.

Sounds simple, right? Well, not quite. Because the hardest part was finding a wonderful literary agent in the first place. And I don’t just mean someone who has the skill, contacts and credibility to land the novel with a good editor. I wanted someone with passion, who would help me along that difficult road of crafting the novel into what it is today. And agents like that are, well, extremely difficult to find. 

Once I had written 100 pages of the book, I sat down at my desk in front of my computer and thought, ‘All right, these folks must get dull manuscripts landing on their desks all the time, and over-written query letters they never read.’ And, there and then, decided I wouldn’t send any letters with flowery text and three chapters attached. Instead, I made a quick list of every agent I could find who represented writers in my genre, dropped their emails into a quickly sketched table, and fired out a series of short emails which read something like this:

Dear Agent, 

I am a new author seeking representation for my debut novel, The Ghost Hunters. Drawing on historical records of the day, this is the true story of Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England,’ and the enigmatic Harry Price, who investigated the case.

Please let me know if you would like to read the first three chapters and a synopsis.

Kind Regards

Neil Spring

I stared at the text. Not good enough. The agent, just like the publisher, wants to know that your novel will sell. Publishing fiction, after all, is a business like any other; whoever signs you as an author, wants to know that you can deliver the sales as well as the words. And here was the crux of my dilemma, which I am sure is common to other writers out there.

I had no experience. No books under my belt. No author awards. Nothing except my passion, 100 pages, and a query email that was failing spectacularly to reach out, grab you by the shoulders, and shake you with the cry, “read me!”

So I tried again. But this time, before re drafting that email, I went out to my friends and colleagues searching for someone, anyone, who knew anyone else working in publishing. One of them did: her best friend worked at Bloomsbury. ‘Will she have lunch with me?’ I asked. She would. Two weeks later, over a delicious lasagne in John Lewis, this lovely woman told me she thought my material was great, and worthy of publication. It wasn’t a book deal, but it was a start, and it was exactly what I needed to hook an agent’s attention.   

I went back to the computer. The next version of my query letter went something like this:

Dear Agent, 

I am a new author seeking representation for my debut novel, The Ghost Hunters. Drawing on historical records of the day, this is the true story of Borley Rectory, the most haunted house in England,’ and the enigmatic Harry Price, who investigated the case.

I have already shared the book informally with (nice lady’s name) at Bloomsbury and she think it is worthy of publication. A number of journalists, including X, have also said that they would be fascinated to review the book, and, given the success of recent films and novels in this genre, I feel strongly that it will find a receptive reading audience.

Please let me know if you would like to read the first three chapters and a synopsis.

Kind Regards

Neil Spring

That short query letter produced a flurry of interest. I emailed about nine agents and within the week, four had sent me a short email back expressing interest.

One of them said they loved the premise of my novel. Another admitted that he wasn’t taking on any further work at the moment. However, he thought The Ghost Hunters sounded so intriguing he absolutely had to read it. For all this, I had to wait a long time to hear anything. Days passed. Weeks. Every morning, I’d check my email feeling a knot of anxiety tightening in my stomach as I wondered: what if they hate it? What if?

No one hated it (thankfully). I think actually I was rather lucky to have a handful of agents interested. But only one agent made the telephone call: Cathryn at William Morris Endeavour. I told her about the interest my query email had provoked.

“We agents are a competitive bunch,” she said. It was three weeks before the London Book Fair. “How soon can you come into my office?”

The next day I was sitting on Cathryn’s sofa, high above Tottenham Court Road in a gleaming modern office, surrounded with Cathryn’s books all of them recognisable. I couldn’t quite believe this was happening to me. Honestly, I had dreamed about this moment for as long as I could remember. Suddenly, that dream of beginning the road to publication was becoming real.

Cathryn showed me the list of publishers to whom she would submit when we were ready as I pictured my novel sitting up there on the wall with the other success stories.

‘You’re sure it will sell?’ I asked, still craving reassurance. 

She stared me in the eye and nodded. ‘I have no doubt, Neil.’ Then, over coffee, she told me about all the scenes in my novel she “loved”. And in that moment, I knew…this was the one.

Cathryn had the passion.

And I, finally, had my agent.

 

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Comments (1)

  1. Natalie Page:
    Aug 23, 2013 at 02:32 PM

    Neil, thank you so much for taking the time to write this piece. You have managed to answer some key questions I have had for a while! I look forward to reading your book when it comes out- you deserve every success! Take care and congratulations. Natalie x


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