How I Got My Agent: Tessa Harris

“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Tessa Harris, author of THE DEAD SHALL NOT REST, whose literary agent is Melissa Jeglinski of The Knight Agency. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings.
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“How I Got My Agent” is a recurring feature on the Guide to Literary Agents Blog, with this installment featuring Tessa Harris, author of THE DEAD SHALL NOT REST. These columns are great ways for you to learn how to find a literary agent. Some tales are of long roads and many setbacks, while others are of good luck and quick signings. If you have a literary agent and would be interested in writing a short guest column for this GLA blog, e-mail me at literaryagent@fwmedia.com and we’ll talk specifics.

(Find out why agents stop reading your first chapter.)

the-dead-shall-not-res-novel
tessa-harris-writer-author

Tessa Harris lives in England and has been a journalist for 30 years.
Her first novel, The Anatomist’s Apprentice, was published last year
and has been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice
Award 2013. Her second novel in the Dr Thomas Silkstone series,
The Dead Shall Not Rest, is out now. In a starred review, Publishers
Weekly said, "Well-rounded characters, cleverly concealed evidence,
and an assured prose style point to a long run for this historical series.”

I REMEMBER MY FIRST REJECTION SLIPS

Most writers can remember their first rejection slips. They’re an (almost) inevitable part of the publication process. I clearly recall mine, even though I was only eight years old at the time. Apparently my book, entitled The Adventures of Auntie Mary, just didn’t cut the mustard. It took me another 43 years before that illusive acceptance – and a three book deal - finally dropped onto my doormat. So if you don’t have four decades to spare and want to get published, here’s how I finally did it.

I’ve always written. I simply HAD to. It was my way of expression, a compulsion, an addiction. In my early twenties I was lucky enough to land a job as a reporter on a local newspaper. Success! I was writing for a living, but it still wasn’t the sort of writing that I really wanted to do. In my spare time I wrote novels, screenplays and yet more novels and duly sent them to agents. Yet more rejections followed, until one day I had a breakthrough.

(Literary agent Brittany Howard is looking for new clients, including new romance writers.)

MY FIRST AGENT WAS A SCREENPLAY AGENT

Fast forward three years and I finally found a producer who wanted to option my screenplay. "Do you have an agent?" he asked. I did not. He recommended one and a good deal was struck. Like most film scripts, however, mine was never to see the light of day, but I was determined to bring the story that I wanted so badly to tell to a wider audience. I would write a novel, based on my screenplay.

It was then that I hit upon the idea of writing not one novel, but creating a series, based on one of the characters in my screenplay: a young American who came to Georgian London to study anatomy. The Dr Thomas Silkstone Mystery series was born.

I wrote the first book. It took me three years, juggling it with journalism and motherhood. Meanwhile the agent for my screenplay had retired. Could he recommend someone? He did, but they weren’t interested. I must have tried about 40 others. Many ignored me, but the ones who did reply liked my writing, it just wasn’t their ‘thing.’ I decided to target only those agents who dealt with historical fiction. I came close on a couple of occasions, but fell at the last hurdle.

MIDLIFE CRISIS

By this time, my 50th birthday was approaching. The thought of entering my sixth decade without being published concentrated my mind wonderfully. Surely there must be someone out there who would take me seriously as a writer? I Googled "historical novel society," totally unaware that such a thing (the Historical Novel Society) does, indeed, exist. I ordered some back copies of its magazine and earmarked US agents who had recently taken on historical novels in a similar vein to mine. I looked on their websites and sent query letters, with three sample chapters, via e-mail. Americans agents seemed much more open to my idea. I had interest on my third attempt. Could I send the rest of my novel? Could I? If I could have afforded the air fare I would have taken it across the Atlantic in person.

Almost a year passed, then one cold November night, an e-mail dropped into my inbox, telling me that Melissa Jeglinkski of The Knight Agency was willing to take me on. Naturally I was thrilled. Just eight months from that acceptance I had a three book deal with a major US publisher. That was just over two years ago and I’ve now just signed a second contract for another three books in my series.

(Read an interview with literary agent Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency.)

And the moral of the story? If you’re born to write you’ll hone your writing skills, do your homework and never give up. There’ll be obstacles in your way. Agents will reject you and let you down, but all you need is one to believe in you.

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