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How to drop your Agent

Carefully!

Okay, well this is a blog I never expected to write.  And somewhat different from the tone of the last one.  For many, many years I have been desperately trying to get an agent, and in 2015 – I got one.

Whoops of glee did, in fact, abound.  I even blogged about.  I was so happy.  I knew not to expect miracles, but I figured I’d get a publishing deal in a year or two.

Only I didn’t.  And when I asked my agent about it, he was saying that a lot of the big boys were cutting their commissioning editors, especially in crime, and that until they appointed new editors, it was unlikely that they would take on any newbie writers.  Not good news for a newbie writer.

And yet, I know so many authors who are getting published, admittedly by the smaller press, but they are getting published.  The small press are guys my agent wouldn’t touch because the margin just isn’t there to make it worth his while.  Well, sitting around forever and earning nothing isn’t worth my while either.

I have a load of friends who are full-time writers, and a few of them were giving me the same advice all the time – Ditch the agent and self-publish.  I knew they were right, sort of.  But it still took me six weeks from admitting that to actually doing the deed.  Saying goodbye to an agent after so many years of trying to get one was without a doubt the scariest thing I have ever done. (And I’ve jumped out of a plane.  And had two kids.)

So I sent an email, acknowledging what my agent had done for me, but also recognising how the industry is and admitting the fact that I don’t want to be in my 50s before I get a book published.

Yes, I have self-published, Last Cut Casebook (LCC) is still out there.  And that’s one example of why self-publishing is not great for me.  I don’t have the know-how that is needed for marketing – nor the contacts.  I wish I did.  That’s why LCC, good as it is – and it is – I have the 5 star reviews to prove it – has only sold in single figures.

I didn’t just send an email and forget about my agent though.  I followed the email with a call, and spoke to my agent.  It was actually a lovely, reaffirming conversation, reality accepted and no blame laid on either side, because frankly, there isn’t any.  We’d have both sold the book if we could have.

And that’s really the point of this blog.  If you are going to ditch your agent, accept that as much as you want the book sold – so does he/she!  Agents only make their money by selling their clients books.  So if saying goodbye, recognise the professionalism of your agent, appreciate any work he or she has done.  And be honest.  Being honest is something I went on about when giving advice on how to get an agent, well it’s just as important for ending that relationship.  And don’t forget – read your contract and be clear on what you need to do from a legal standpoint – chances are there is a contract end period.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, once the relationship with my agent was – sadly – over, I sent off my manuscript to a publisher.  Within 8 days I had a publishing contract.  Not just for one book – but three!

A three book deal!

I can hardly believe it.  Such a happy bunny.  All I have to do now, is write book three.  Which I’m off to do.  Ta-ta for now.

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Getting an Agent – some more ideas

Getting an Agent isn’t easy, but a lot of traditional publishers still use Agents to screen writers (yes I do mean that as two words) so they don’t have to wade through the worst of the submissions.  It took me years to find an agent, but I finally got one.  If you keep trying you can make it HAPPEN.  Here’s some more ideas of how:  (First ideas were here)

Honest

You have to be honest, not only with the agent you are submitting to but also with yourself.  Make an honest assessment of your own skill level.  You will need help with this, independent help.  Asking your friends and family will probably result in willing encouragement – the most encouragement I ever got from family was a sister who reviewed a book with the quote “I really wanted not to like this book but…”  To be fair after that it did get complimentary, so I can’t complain. The best avenues for feedback I’ve had have been my local writers circle (Swansea and District Writers’ Circle) and my editors Tony at Jefferson Franklin Editing and Sam at Bowler Fern Ltd (different editors for different types of books).  Yes, I have to pay them but they will tell me with I’m producing rubbish (I’ve ditched a whole series of novels because Tony said the main character didn’t work).  If you’ve got talent, you can make it, and remember I am telling you to be honest, honesty does not necessarily include that paranoid voice in the back of your head that constantly tells you you’re not good enough – surely I can’t be the only one with that?

You also have to be honest when you approach the agent.  You will have to produce a covering letter that says a bit about you and your intentions, don’t tell them that you’re going to write four books a year unless you actually can.  Most people are lucky to be able to one done a year, two for some.  Also be honest about what you are doing now.  If they are the only agent you are approaching, tell them why, and if not, say that you’re doing simultaneous submissions.  Some won’t mind, others might, that’s a risk you’ll have to take.

 

Audience

Know your audience is one of those phrases that often comes up about writing.  This time what I’m talking about is know the agent you’re approaching.  Get personal – within reason.  Make sure you know their name at least, “Dear Sir or Madam” does not cut it.  Know what that agent is looking for, appeal to that.  If you’ve met them, reference the meeting – possibly relate what they said to what you’re doing.  For example, if the agent mentioned that they were looking for a working class hero, say something like, “Joe Bloggs is just the working class hero you mentioned looking for”; again be concise.  Be clear about why you want to work with that agent.  If you know who the audience is for your book, don’t forget to mention that, it will help the agent figure out if you are an author for them.

 

Professional

Remember that you are approaching a professional, so you need to be professional in your approach because if you are to have a relationship with an agent, it has to be a professional one.  Don’t waste their time.  Prepare your covering letter and synopsis with all the same care and attention that you prepared your manuscript.  Make sure it makes sense, that it’s concise and intriguing and it doesn’t contain any spelling or grammar mistakes.

 

Patient

This is, for most, the most difficult part of getting an agent.  It takes time to send each submission and each submission takes time to get a response to.  I’ve had refusals take anything from two weeks to six months, and plenty that have never even bothered to respond.  I do now have an agent, and that was a long process.  It took about four or five months from submission to signing the agency contract.  I have no idea how that measures up to other people’s time frames.  I’ve spoken to a number of writers who have been through this experience and it’s a general consensus that you have to wait at least a month before chasing a response.  Then if you really want to contact the agency again, do so, but if you do, for everybody’s sake, BE POLITE.  Ask nicely if they received your submission and if they can tell you of any progress.  Don’t go in on the attack, you could have the next big thing as far as the industry is concerned, but if you’re rude to the receptionist, you are not going to get that agent.   Also remember that if you do get an agent, you still have to get a publishing deal, that could take a couple of years and when you get a publishing deal you’re looking at about 18 months before the book hits the shelves, so patience is the watch word in this job.

 

Expenditure

As the literary markets get harder and harder to make money from, the more agents are looking for publication-ready manuscripts and that means you need to edit your story.  You will, of course, need to edit your novel yourself from the first draft forward, but I’d strongly recommend that you also get a professional edit (and not just because I’m an editor).  Yes, this is expensive, but try to think of it more as an investment.  It amazes me what errors/gaps/issues an editor can spot in my scripts, amazes me what I find in other people’s scripts.  Spotting a problem is halfway to solving it, and most editors will give advice on how to make things better and that is invaluable.

Of course, the biggest expenditure is in the effort you have to put in.  Writing a book takes time, sweat and tears, so does going the traditional publishing route.  Don’t think that means I’m suggesting self-publishing – I’m not, but there again, there are stories of people who have self-published and got agents that way, but it is few and far between, on or two in thousands upon thousands, so don’t pin all your hopes on that possibility. There again, if you are self-publishing – spend money on a good editor it is important.

 

Numbers

Words may be our stock in trade, but there is a big argument that getting an agent is a numbers game.  Each agent is just one person, one person’s opinion.  If the first doesn’t like your manuscript, try the next.  If the thirtieth doesn’t like it, try the thirty-first.  Think of each rejection as one step closer to acceptance.  Though if you have to go much past forty agents I would suggest that the issue is the book not the agents, but on the other had Kathryn Stockett was turned down by 60 literary agents before she found someone willing to represent The Help.  Also, remember that things change over time.  It’s possible that this year no agent will touch a story about a prince in waiting[1], but maybe next year they’ll bite your hand off for it.  You can’t follow the trends in publishing because by the time your book is ready, the trend will have changed.  Set your own trend.

 

So there you have it, go out and make getting an agent HAPPEN for you.

 

[1]  You can steal this idea if you want, but John Christopher wrote it 1970.

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Gagging Thomasina

Anyone who knows me or reads my blog, will probably know that I suffer with depression.  So this blog is about my self-doubt, this blog is about Thomasina.

Although Thomasina only got a name about a year ago, she’s been sitting in my head all my life.  She’s the nagging voice that tells what I can’t do.  Not what I’m not allowed to do, mind, what I’m not capable of doing.  Which, according to her, is pretty much everything.

Thomasina has coloured my entire life, or should that be shaded?  It’s definitely darker with her in.  Add to that 27 years of agent and publisher rejections and it’s amazing that I put pen to paper, or keystroke to memory instead of blade to wrist.

Even though I know that Thomasina is there, that she wants, or at least expects, to see me fail, I have learned over the years some coping mechanisms to deal with her.  I am not doing the affirmations in the mirror as that’s just excruciating, but I try to block her out.  Doesn’t really work of course, I mean how do you close your ears to someone who sits in your own brain?  So she’s there telling me that I’m going to fail, get rejected, that I’m not good enough, each and every time I send any form of submission in.

Trying to quiet that kind of voice is like trying to herd cats and pigeons together – it’s not going to happen.  That said, I don’t always get rejections anymore, I am actually getting accepted, accepted and published.  Maybe only for short stories at this point, but something is better than nothing, take that Thomasina – she immediately chirps up that it’s still next to nothing and I want to slap her.

But something happened in Winchester (something I’ve mentioned in previous blogs), I submitted one story to four agents and all four wanted to see more.  So I listened to their comments, took note of their individual requirements and edited all into one version of the updated manuscript which I then sent to all four of them at the same time.

Within a day I got a positive response from one agent asking me to go to London to meet him.  I did think about letting the other three know there and then, but I didn’t want to be precipitous just in case it didn’t work out.

Of course it actually did work out.  Yes, I am now officially represented by a proper literary agent.  Happy bunniness abounds – there are even pictures to prove it (poor posture and everything!).

Happy Bunny

So ya-boo-sucks Thomasina, I am good enough, I can write and I will get a full novel published, may not be tomorrow, but it is going to happen.  This time Thomasina gives no reply, well a dirty look or two, but she can’t say anything – she’s well and truly gagged.

For now at least.

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