“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.
Sophia Bennett is the author of Sequins, Secrets
and Silver Linings, (Jan 2011 US release). It is her
debut novel, the first book in a trilogy, and has sold
to 13 countries. The other books in the series are
Beads, Boys & Bangles and Sequins, Stars & Spotlights.
She lives in London with her family, where she is
working on her fourth book and planning her fifth.
See her website here. Sequins has its own website here.
TIP 1: WANT IT REALLY, REALLY BADLY, AND FOR A LONG TIME
In the intro to this subject, Chuck mentions that what we write "can help other scribes who are on the same journey." Hmm. I’d love to, but my journey wasn’t typical. It’s a bit of a fairy story, really, but here goes anyway.
As far as I know, I got my agent by answering one question correctly. The question was "When did you first want to be a writer?" and my answer was "Er, when I was about seven." The man asking the question was very tall, very well-known in the business and more than slightly scary. Luckily, I seemed to say the right thing.
TIP 2: ENTER COMPETITIONS. TAKE UNUSUAL ROUTES. MAKE YOUR LUCK
One important detail: I found my agent through my publisher. He is Barry Cunningham—the man who discovered JK Rowling. He also, bless his heart, discovered me when I entered a competition in The Times newspaper for unpublished children’s authors. That was in 2008, by which stage I’d been seriously trying to write for publication for 10 years. Barry told me I’d won the competition with my manuscript—Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings (then called Threads during its release in the UK)—in early 2009. The prize was a £10,000 advance and publication in the UK.
TIP 3: WRITE WHAT MATTERS TO YOU, HOWEVER CRAZY THAT SEEMS
I thought I was mad to write Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings. It’s for young teens, and it’s about high fashion and war victims. It’s comic, it references Dior, Vivienne Westwood and the Oscars, but one of its key characters is a child soldier. Who else but me was ever going to get it? I assumed that any agent or publisher, if I was lucky enough to get one, would tell me to take out either the fashion or the war. There were five judges on The Times/Chicken House panel, including David Almond, one of my favorite authors. They all told me not to change a thing. I still remember hearing that and walking around the house in a daze for hours.
By now, I was already 10,000 words into the sequel, and Barry was willing to buy that, too. But despite thinking of Barry as my fairy godmother (in a beard and, occasionally, a kilt), I knew that I wanted an agent. I really don’t like negotiating contracts, as I know for a fact that I have no idea what I’m doing. So I asked Barry for recommendations. At the top of his list was the man who gave him Harry Potter to read that fateful day: Christopher Little. Without knowing it, JK Rowling has become a recent theme in my life.
TIP 4: HAVING A BOOK OFFER IN HAND NEVER HURTS!
So there I was, in Christopher Little’s office in London, with one book about to be published and another practically under offer. I had a list of agents to visit that week. In the end, I saw three. They were all very impressive and they all offered to represent me. In the end, because of my situation, finding an agent was really, really easy. Choosing the right one was really, really hard.
TIP 5: MAKE SURE YOU LIKE YOUR AGENT
I chose Christopher, as I say, because he scared me a bit (in a good, avuncular way), because he told me I wouldn’t hope to make any money from it until I’d written at least five books (which sounded about right, if not positively optimistic), and because he seemed to know a lot about what worked in foreign territories. Since then, his agency has expanded to include a new agent, Caroline Hardman, and I work with her. She has a real feel for the sort of books that I want to write and some great connections around the world. And, best of all, she’s good at telling me what’s going on which, as it turns out, is my favorite trait in an agent. She also knows excellent coffee joints for us to meet in, which is almost as crucial. Make sure you like your agent. They’re going to see you at your most vulnerable and they’re going to be your combined therapist and cheerleader. It helps if they like you, too.
After those ten years of writing fiction, and three unpublished novels, it took 34 drafts until I was happy with the manuscript of Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings that I sent into the competition. It wasn’t easy until … suddenly … it was. Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings has just been published in the US, following its initial UK release under its previous title. It’s a story with a wildly happy ending. But sometimes, fairy tales come true.
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