How to hook an agent – or not!

As an aspiring writer, with no clue at all about the publishing world and how it worked, I scoured the internet for articles on the topic of submitting my book. My most frequent search was undoubtedly related to securing an agent or ‘How to Hook an Agent’. From which agents to approach, to the average response waiting time. Regarding the latter, I found very little information out there, but that’s probably because every aspiring writer (because even the most successful were aspiring once) has a very different journey. 

For every Mr/ Mrs X who had a call from an agent within three minutes of submitting their first three chapters, there is a Mr/ Mrs Y who has been submitting their work for years and still hasn’t had that elusive phone call. Or, there are people like me, who don’t have an agent at all (which may mean the title of this blog is misleading – apologies for that). My journey to a publishing contract is quite unusual as far as I can tell (feel free to comment below if I’m wrong). So, I thought I’d share it. I know as an aspiring writer what I enjoyed reading most was other authors personal experiences.

Let me start at the beginning of my search. I’d written my manuscript, and in my naivety, I thought it was as good as it was going to be. So, armed with my copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook, I made my list of suitable agents. Before I could contact any of these agents I had to write the synopsis, which took almost as long as the first draft, and devise the perfect query letter. (I found lots of helpful articles online about this part of the process.) Then with a racing heart, and a whole lot of optimism, I sent it out there.

That was my first round of submissions. Out of nine agents I submitted to, four replied via standard rejection emails. I still haven’t heard from the other five! That was one of the biggest lessons I learned from that first round. Agents won’t always respond to your query. Don’t take it personally. They receive thousands of submissions.

So, I went away and revised it, changing it from first to third person and cutting my prologue. And so began my second round of submissions. Of the twelve agents I sent it to, I received six replies. Five standard rejections and one personal one. I was completely disheartened and wondered what to do next. But, I believed in my story and I wasn’t ready to give up on it yet. 

Then I met another writer, on an internet chat forum of all places, and over the next eighteen months, she became a good friend and a mentor to me (I call her my writing guardian angel to her face). She was already a published author and she agreed to read my manuscript and give me some advice. And she did just that. She basically gave me a copy-edit too – all of that time and effort, completely out of the kindness of her heart. Her encouragement and her support helped me keep going when I questioned whether I had the talent to ever make it as a writer. 

So, began the third round of submissions. I submitted to eighteen agents. Yes eighteen! I had slightly more success this time around. Two agents gave me some positive feedback. They liked my writing style and my characters, but they both told me that the genre was a difficult one to break into and they didn’t feel they could help me any further.

By this point, I was starting to think that this book was never going to see the light of day and resigned myself to starting another in a different genre. I consoled myself with the fact that I’d at least had some positive feedback, and that lots of writers don’t get their very first book published. 

It was January 2018 and I was about to shelve The Boss completely, when my aforementioned writer friend invited me to a book signing with her in Liverpool Waterstones. It was an event with a very successful author who writes in my genre. I hadn’t realised such events even existed, and was keen to go and hear this author talk. After the event, when everyone else was getting their book signed, I noticed the authors publisher standing on her own, drinking a glass of prosecco (probably enjoying a moments peace). After a nudge in the ribs by my friend, I plucked up the courage to go over and talk to her. I asked her if she had any tips for writers in the genre and she asked me what my book was about. I honestly do not recall what I said next – my big pitch! But whatever it was, it worked (or she took pity on me). She gave me her email address and told me to send her my book (and I almost hugged her), telling me that she didn’t usually give aspiring writers her email.

So, I sent it – and more importantly, and to my utter astonishment, she liked it. I won’t bore you with the back and forth of the editing process (except to say that she assigned me a wonderful editor who seemed to know, and love, my characters as well as I did). Seven months later, that same publisher I’d met in Waterstones offered me a two book publishing deal with Killer Reads, an imprint of Harper Collins. 

I’ve always been a believer in fate. If I hadn’t gone to that event that night, if I hadn’t spoken to that publisher, and if she hadn’t, for whatever reason, taken a chance on me, The Boss would have been resigned to a folder in my laptop. (She later mentioned to me it had seemed like fate to her too). Instead, it’s being published later this year, on 9thJune in e-book and paperback in August. 

I started writing just after my son died. It was a means of coping with the intense grief that overwhelmed me whenever my mind wasn’t occupied. I like to think it was no coincidence that I was offered my publishing contract almost two years to the day after I first turned on that old laptop. He started me on this wonderful journey and I know he’s with me every step of the way. 

Until the next time,

Caz 🙂

There is no footprint too small, that it cannot leave an imprint on this world.

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