“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the GLA blog. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. To see the previous installments of this column, click here. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk specifics.
Roz is excited to give away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week; winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Chrissie won.)
Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and
How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence
(which is also available on the Kindle). Roz is the
ghostwriter of 11 novels, eight of them bestsellers.
She is now coming out from under the sheet with novels
of her own. She blogs about writing, and also tweets.
I started as most writers do, with a twinkle in the eye which became a first chapter, which became weekends at the keyboard, which became a way of life. I inflicted short stories and a novel on my writer husband and writer friends, who, to my surprise, urged me to submit to agents.
I thought I must be on my way to instant representation. Instead I got handwritten notes saying: “Some of us wanted to take your novel but the agency head felt it wasn’t for us.” Other notes hinted that the characters weren’t three-dimensional yet or the concept needed more work. With hindsight I know that means I was doing well—but at the time all I saw was the big, fat NO. I thought my novel must be rubbish and started another.
CAN’T WRITE AS ME? I’LL WRITE AS OTHER PEOPLE
Then I got the chance to ghostwrite a novella. My husband had been commissioned to write it and the publisher changed the brief so radically that he had to start again. However, he had other commitments—so I jumped in. It was accepted—and I realized I was going to get away with it. I would have a novel in print and without any agents at all. More commissions followed. I hadn’t got anywhere with my own writing, so I wrote as other people. I went part time, critiqued fledgling novelists and several of my ghosted thrillers became bestsellers.
I dusted off my early novel and looked at it with the benefit of my experience. I saw horrific flaws and marveled that those original agents had been so nice about it—but halfway through, it started to give me goosebumps. There was a story burning its way out, and now I knew how to tell it. I scourged it into shape.
Because of my ghosting, I was interviewed for How to Write a Blockbuster by Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly, although they realized they couldn’t quote me because my ghost identities were confidential. But they invited me to the launch.
TOAST OF THE TOWN
That party was an eye-opener. I met agents and publishers whose eyes bulged when I told them who I’d ghosted. People made “phone me” signs across the room. Cards were pressed into my hand and one editor scribbled his number on his speeding ticket. I danced home thinking, at last—now I will have an agent to represent the real me.
I was wrong.
Life became surreal. Agents were querying me. Publishers too. They asked me what I wanted to do next. I said I had a novel called My Memories of a Future Life, about a musician who cannot play anymore, and gets drawn into a disturbing, possibly supernatural experience as she searches for a cure. And I was brewing several other ideas about characters who are entangled with each other in unusual, surreal ways. “Send Future Life ASAP,” they said.
They loved the writing and were intrigued. However, they were looking for thrillers, not unusual modern fiction. I was at a crossroads. If I wrote what they were looking for, I’d get deals immediately—and good ones. But I was hoping to build a brand as me, which I could keep up for as long as I could bash a keyboard. I decided I was flirting with totally the wrong agents.
BACK TO SQUARE ONE
Now I knew what I was looking for, I got out Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and sent targeted queries. I found a new agent who was building a list at a big agency, who clicked with Future Life. I thought she was “the one,” then she told me she couldn’t take on any more clients. Generous to the last, she didn’t let me go without introducing me to some agent friends who liked unusual modern fiction.
Clearly the way to go was personal recommendations. While writing to the others, I remembered agent Jane Conway-Gordon, as I had ghosted one of her clients years before. We’d got on well, liked the same kind of stories, but I didn’t think Future Life would be her cup of tea because most of her clients wrote mainstream crime. I called her, described my novel and intended to ask if she knew who might like it. Instead she demanded to read it. Jane offered representation the following week.
All in all, finding the right agent for my work took 15 years. And bizarrely, she was right under my nose.
Roz is excited to give
away a free book to one random commenter. Comment within one week;
winners must live in Canada/US48 to receive the print book by mail. You
can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Chrissie won.)
get a sub to the magazine, a sub to
WritersMarket.com and much more.
(A $190 value for $50!)