Once you’ve written the very best book you can, then the next hurdle to get over is agents (no offence, agents!). I think/hope I’m nearing this hurdle!!
I used to be under the impression that once you got an agent you were practically guaranteed a publishing deal. When I first started writing I probably would have kissed the feet of any agent who offered to represent me. I still will be super madly chuffed when one does, but I’ve come to realise that a successful literary career isn’t as simple as getting an offer of representation from an agent (although it is a vital step).
Although debut writers can’t really afford to be fussy, you HAVE to have a good/great working relationship with your agent. Unlike publishers – of which you might have several if you have a long publishing career – you’ll hopefully stick with one agent throughout. They’re gonna be there with you in your highs and in your lows. They need to really “get” you and your work in order to bring out the best in both and guide you towards the most successful career possible. It can’t be a matter of snatching the contract out of the hand of the first agent to offer representation and signing your name in blood.
Conferences and events are SO useful in checking agents out and deciding whether or not you like them and could see yourself working with them. I’ve had some interesting experiences with that this year, getting a much better idea about several and learning very powerfully just how subjective the publishing industry is!
At the Winchester Writers’ Festival (WWF) in June, I had four 121 appointments with agents – a great opportunity to sit down with and get feedback from professionals. Of the four I saw, three were interested in my MS and wanted to see more (the fourth was about as friendly as a porcupine!). So, I came away from that experience ecstatic, right? Wrong.
I just ended up confused with my head spinning.
Just before I’d submitted to those agents, I’d been on a Golden Egg workshop. In an editorial there with Imogen – whose opinion I respect highly – she’d suggested that I started my first chapter slightly further in, past quite a lot of introspection, where the action got going more. So I tweaked it to fit with that suggestion, although I didn't embrace it entirely as there’s a conversation that HAS to happen before that point.
So, imagine my surprise in my first agent 121 when she said that she’d like more context and an opportunity to get to know my female character better before the action gets started. Yeap, the complete opposite to the previous advice I’d been given and had rewritten to fit with.
On to agent no.2, who said that it should start even further into the action than Imogen had suggested. Another complete contradiction from the agent I’d seen all of half an hour beforehand. Eh?!
Next day, agent no.3. She thought perhaps it shouldn’t start with a dream – as that’s allegedly a bit of a cliché – but when I asked where she would suggest starting, she went for where the protagonist wakes up. That’s definitely a cliché, although plenty of books do it! She also completely confused me when she announced that a story could only be classified as YA if it had sex in it. *eyes goggle moment* There’s loads of YA stories that don’t have sex in them! I pointed this out and cited The Hunger Games as being sexless (apart from a subtle reference right at the end of Mockingjay) and she admitted that she’d never read it although she had seen the films. My eyes goggled again that an agent could represent YA and yet not have read the most successful thing in YA in the last decade. Although she was interested in reading more of my MS, I’m not convinced that her understanding of the YA market and her opinions of it make us very compatible.
Finally, agent no.4, who was generally just great. Unlike agent no.3 who'd thought I needed to do more world-building in the first chapter, this agent thought I’d got it spot on!
So much contradictory advice (there was more I haven’t mentioned!), which I hadn’t expected at all from industry professionals. Weren't they all supposed to be singing from the same songsheet? Then again, as I said in this blog, they're all people with personal preferences and passions just like anyone else. What on earth was I supposed to do about it though? It didn’t seem possible to keep everyone happy! Well, you’ll have to wait until another time to find out the answer to that – this post is about agents 😉
At an event last weekend I got to check out two more agents and had a 121 with one of them. I was super impressed with how helpful and insightful their Q&A was and liked them a lot – especially when they suggested that the best way to fill the inevitable waiting time involved with publishing was to read and eat cake!! They’re definitely my kind of people 🙂 The feedback from my 121 was invaluable (and thankfully not contradictory or mind-spinning as above) – mainly small precise things that would sharpen up the first chapter fantastically. And they want to see the MS when it’s ready, yay (any agent au fait with Golden Egg tend to say this, knowing that they’ll get the MS in a much better state if they wait until then). Unsurprisingly, these guys are definitely very high up my (still hypothetical) agent list!
Although I’m not quite at the stage of approaching any of them, it IS exciting to have a growing number of agents interested in seeing my full MS! Hopefully when I get Nicki’s feedback (eta unknown), I’ll find that I am nearly at that stage. If not, then at least I’ll have more time to really nail said list, ready to explode out of the blocks when the starting pistol for the submission stage of my writing journey finally goes off!
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