Hook an Agent Part V – Bestselling authors share how they found their agent

In Part I of my ‘Hook an Agent’ series I shared my submission letter for The Sister which you can read here. In Part II, here, Literary Agent Rory Scarfe told us ‘Never let your ideas be ordinary.’ Part III was Rowan Lawton sharing her top 3 tips for writing that synopsis & I shared part of my synopsis for The Sister. You can read that post here. Part IV, you can read here, featured agent Eugenie Furniss advising us to tighten those first 3 chapters, I also shared the opening of The Sister.

Today, the final part of the series, is all about how to find an agent. It’s tricky to find the right agent for you and as with any industry there are those who are fabulous and those who aren’t. It’s imperative to find someone you can trust because not only will they be guiding your career, they will also be taking a percentage of your earnings. There are horror stories of course, authors who have had their fingers burned, and while I feel it’s better to have no agent, than the wrong agent, the good news is there are so many credible ones to choose from.

We all have different approaches from reading the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook to Googling Literary Agents. I was very careful and almost reluctant to submit my manuscript. It took ages for me to draw up a list of who I wanted to submit to. For my search I read as many books as I could in my genre and when I fell in love with one I emailed the author to ask who their agent was and whether they were happy with them. If the answer was positive (and they weren’t all positive) I’d find out who else was on that agent’s list, how successful the books they placed were. Then I’d stalk them on social media, trying to get a sense of whether I thought I could work with them. I ended up with a small list but it’s important to not initially send your submission package out to as many agents as you can, as sometimes that ‘no’ will come with personalised feedback on your story and then you’ve the option to tweak your MS if you agree, before you send out again. I’ll hand over now to this fabulous bunch of bestselling authors who will share their journey.

I bought a copy of The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook and circled all the agents who represented the bestselling authors in my genre. I then drew up a list of thirty and sent a personalised cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters to my top six. It didn’t take long for the rejections to start rolling in but Darley Anderson (who represents Lee Child and Martina Cole) asked to see the full manuscript. Six agonising weeks later he rang me back. The book had potential, he said, but it wasn’t of publishable standard – yet. He told me what I needed to work on and told me to resubmit when I’d written a new draft. Several weeks after I resubmitted it I had a phone call. It was Madeleine Milburn who was (then) Darley’s head of foreign rights. She loved my book so much she said, that she’d asked Darley if she could represent me. Maddy’s enthusiasm for my book was infectious and I signed with her. Several years later, when she left to start her own agency, I went with her. We’re now approaching our ten year agent/author anniversary! C. L. Taylor

I finished writing The Teacher and then sent my first three chapters off to fifteen agents. After four immediate rejections within a week, I was contacted by Diane Banks who asked to read the rest of the book. She then travelled to Ramsgate from London and we met for lunch. It all happened so fast! I got on really well with Diane and so I signed with her agency. Katerina Diamond

I’d given up hope of finding an agent, and I’d signed a two book deal with HQ Digital (Carina at the time) when i got an email from Lisa Moylett, my now agent asking to read the full. I was in France with no wifi, so had to tell her that I’d send it when I got home…I sent it the morning after I got home and she emailed that night to say could she call to talk to me about representation…only problem was, I’d been for dinner with a friend and had sunk loads of wine so had to email back and say I couldn’t speak to her til the morning! Luckily, even though I did give her a bit of hassle, she still wanted to represent me – I was invited for lunch with her and Jamie MacClean, her business partner, and was instantly made to feel like part of the CMM family. There was no way I couldn’t sign with her! Lisa Hall

I first came across Rowan Lawton on the Novelicious website where I read that among other things she likes issue-led debuts. My first novel was issue-led, so I thought Rowan might like it. Instead of submitting directly to her, I entered that novel into a competition on which she was a judge. I was shortlisted, and Rowan liked my book and worked with me for some months on changes. In the end, she turned me down. Of course, I was gutted, but I remained determined. I entered the Bristol Short Story Prize twice when she was a judge and to my astonishment was shortlisted both times. I met up with Rowan at one of the prize ceremonies – and as we chatted, I realised that we loved the same kind of books. She was so friendly and engaging, and unlike any other agent I had approached, she was eager to read everything I sent her. Finally in June 2016 when I sent her my third book, The Maid’s Room, she agreed to represent me. I was ecstatic because I knew this was a game-changer. I hugged her very hard indeed. Sure enough, four months later, I signed with Hodder & Stoughton as well as several foreign publishers, and my debut novel The Maid’s Room is out on 16th November. Fiona Mitchell

I was a bit fed up about royalties one day and decided to approach (the late, great) Carole Blake. We were friendly on social media and when we met at conferences and I sent her an email that began, ‘I know you’re not taking anybody on, but I’m going to ask you anyway.’ She felt that lovely Juliet Pickering, another agent in the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, was a better fit for me, let Juliet read my work and made the introduction so we could see how we got on. We got on very well and Juliet has played a leading role in steering my career to greater things. I am a very happy (agented) author! Sue Moorcroft

I’d researched agents who I knew wanted psychological/crime fiction and those who I would love to be represented by, then made a ‘hit-list ‘of favourites. The list was fairly long! I got the usual rejections, then some wonderfully exciting emails asking for me to send my full manuscript. The agent I signed with happened to be the first agent who asked for the full. Her response ended up being a rejection, but with a snippet of hope tagged on the end – the magical words: ‘I think you are talented and would be very happy to talk more about you and your writing, or to see anything else you might write in this area.’ By the time I received this email, I’d begun my second novel – Saving Sophie – the opening chapters of which had been longlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger, so I immediately let her know of this! A meeting was arranged for the following month and I accepted her offer of representation about a week after. Sam Carrington

I had known my agents for some years prior to signing with her and our paths had crossed several times at various writing events. When the time came for me to look for an agent, I wanted someone I felt comfortable talking to, someone who I could speak to freely and someone who I felt loved my work. My agent ticked all these boxes, so it was an easy choice for me. Sue Fortin

 

Thanks so much to all who have taken part in my ‘Hook an Agent’ series. I do hope it’s been useful to writers approaching the submission stage. Good luck to all submitting!

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Hook an Agent Part III – The dreaded synopsis…

 

In Part I of my ‘Hook an Agent’ series I shared my submission letter for The Sister which you can read here. In Part II, here, Literary Agent Rory Scarfe told us ‘Never let your ideas be ordinary.’ We’ll skim over the part where my teenage son now thinks that’s a fabulous quote to get tattooed on his arm and move swiftly on to nailing that synopsis, often the most feared part of the submission package.

Today I’m joined by the utterly fabulous Rowan Lawton, from the dynamic Furniss Lawton, who will share her top 3 tips to bear in mind when writing that synopsis.

1) Know the difference between a pitch blurb and a synopsis.

There is a big difference between writing a blurb for your pitch letter and putting together a synopsis. Your synopsis should be a plainly written description of specifics – what actually happens in your novel. There is no rule about length but I’d advise sticking to a couple of pages at most.

Approach the blurb as though you are writing your own jacket copy for the finished, printed version. Imagine your book on the shelf in a bookshop and what elements of your story would entice someone to choose your novel over another.

2) Do give away the ending in your synopsis.

When an agent is reading your synopsis they want to see how it’s all going to come together at the end. Will it be a satisfying read? Is the plot convincing? We get so many submissions that we often want to know how a story is going to end before we commit to reading a whole manuscript.

3) Don’t try to make claims about the themes of your novel in the synopsis.

This advice applies to your cover letter and blurb too, apart from possibly a line or two right at the end. I want to know who your main characters are, what is going to happen to them and where the action is going to take place, much more than I want to hear generalisations about themes. ‘This is an epic love story exploring themes of loss, human connection and forgiveness’ tells me nothing about what’s actually going to happen the book I’m about to read!

Fabulous advice Rowan, thanks.

Now I’ve pondered how to share my synopsis for The Sister (submitted as Buried Memories), as I did my covering letter, and have been advised not to as it would ruin the book for those who have yet to read. I will however share my opening so you get the general idea without giving away spoilers. For me, it only came together firstly, when I was able to put aside the rich, descriptive language I love to use when I write and keep it very basic and to the point. Secondly, I had to stop viewing it as an enemy. The synopsis is a friend we use to demonstrate the plot hangs together and an epic love story doesn’t suddenly fall apart when aliens randomly appear in chapter 43 and in the epilogue it turns out it was all a dream anyway.

 

‘BURIED MEMORIES’ is a domestic noir story featuring Grace Matthews, an anxious 25-year old woman who is devastated by her best friend Charlie (Charlotte) Fisher’s death and can’t understand why Charlie’s Mum, Lexie Fisher, would blame her. She feels until she discovers the meaning behind Charlie’s last words ‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace, please forgive me,’ she can’t move forward.

Struggling to know where to start unravelling the mystery Grace remembers a memory box she and Charlie buried as teenagers and digs it up. Grace realises that Charlie’s biological father might know what Charlie did and decides to trace him. During the search Grace is followed by a mysterious figure and becomes paranoid and dependent on medication.

Dan, Grace’s boyfriend agrees to help find Charlie’s father even though he’s struggled to cope with Grace’s misplaced sense of guilt, and erratic behaviour, since Charlie’s death. They begin an online campaign and Anna comes forward. Anna tells Grace she is Charlie’s half-sister and that their shared father is deceased. Lonely Grace seizes the chance to form a bond with Anna, keeping a link to Charlie. Without checking her out Grace readily agrees when Anna asks if she can stay for a few days…

 

I do hope that was useful. Take a deep breath, remember to stick to the submission guidelines (the synopsis might need to be anything from 300 words to one or two pages).

You’ve got this. Good luck!

For the final instalment we’ll be joined next time by Eugenie Furniss who’ll give her advice for tightening those all important first three chapters.

 

Hooking an agent part II – Agent Rory Scarfe shares his top tips for perfecting that submission letter

 

Last week I shared my submission letter for The Sister (originally titled Buried Memories) in the hope it might help those putting together submission packages. If you missed it you can read it here. Today I’m joined by agent Rory Scarfe, of Furniss Lawton, with his three top tips to give your submission letter a head-start.

1) Attention to detail 

As boring as this might sound, you would be amazed at how many letters fall at the first hurdle. This doesn’t just mean spelling the agent’s name correctly (though please don’t address me as Ms Scarfe), but also showing an understanding of what the agent/agency is looking for and why you have selected them particularly. That way you come across as focussed and thoughtful, rather than scattergun in your approach.

2) Show knowledge of the market

More than ever, it is the role of the author (as well as their publisher and agent) to have a commercial instinct and a long-term publishing plan. If you can demonstrate an understanding of publishing trends and give examples of recent comparable successes that you hope to emulate then you prove yourself a potentially winning proposition. And remember, agents want to publish authors, not just books, in the longer term.

3) Have a point of difference and originality 

The great irony of publishing (and frustration) is that publishers are constantly on the look-out for something that is exactly like a recent success but also completely original and totally different. But that is not as impossible as it sounds. If you have a killer concept that can be pitched to an editor while they have a million other things to do and get their attention, even though the lunch hour beckons, then you are on to a good thing. Never let your ideas be ordinary.

The best of luck to everyone subbing.

In the next instalment agent Rowan Lawton will be giving her top tips on tightening that synopsis. 

A year ago today I signed a book deal. So what’s it really been like?

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A year ago today I signed a book deal and the past 365 days have been a whirlwind of highs and lows; pride and anxiety; celebrations and tears. I tried to imagine so many times what it would be like to sign my name on the dotted line, how I might feel, what the process might be like. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Emotions tumbled as I read THAT email at 7 am offering me a contract for three psychological thrillers. Euphoria was nudged aside by fear, did I have more than one book in me? What if I let my publishers down? Was I too old for a career change? A long chat followed with my commissioning editor Lydia Vassar-Smith, and to this day I still remember how I felt as I signed my name. Euphoric. Sick. Grateful. Afraid. I had no idea what publishing entailed and I was about to find out on a digital publisher’s schedule, which are known for being tough.

The publication date for my debut The Sister was set for 7th July 2016, less than five months away. In my naivety I’d envisaged spending those five months picnicking in fields, drinking champagne, and perhaps working on book two in-between long lunches and cream teas.

The reality was my edits came back straight away. My beautiful prose on the crisp white background was covered in red lines and comment bubbles. I made the first of many panicked phone calls to Lydia ‘I thought you liked my story?’ I gasped out in horror, convinced she had read it again and changed her mind. She assured me this was normal in the first round of edits and I tried not to cry/hang up/laugh hysterically as she explained she would work with me on the structural edits before I would be passed to a copy editor where it would happen all over again. The process could take weeks and in the meantime how was book two shaping up? This was when I stared longingly out of the window, bid goodbye to the outside world and pretty much my family, and got stuck in to making my lifelong dream a reality. When I first spoke to Lydia in February I didn’t realise how important it was that we got on. The author/editor relationship is very close and it’s important we shared the same vision for the book and I trusted the changes she wanted to make implicitly.

The edits for The Sister, although they felt huge at the time, were actually very light (when I compared them to The Gift later) which I was thankful for as this is the stage the fabulous Marketing Manager for Bookouture, Kim Nash, came in. Social media was something I’d occasionally dabbled in, blogging was something I already loved. Kim set up magazine and blog interviews and arranged for me to appear on local radio. Twitter has been an amazing support, not only for my books but I’ve met so many lovely people, some of whom I’ve now met in real life, and with a writer’s world being so isolated the interaction has been a real lifeline some days.the-sister

Soon weeks had flown by. I’d seen and fallen instantly in love with the cover for The Sister, the editing and proofreading were finished, I got to hold my paperbacks in my hand, listen to the audio version and see my debut go onto Amazon for pre-order. There were days to go before my story went out into the world but throughout the edits, the marketing, I hadn’t had much of a chance to work on The Gift and that has been a huge learning curve for me. The amount of time in a contract between books isn’t always writing time. When an author delivers a book it is far from finished and after talking things through with my family we made the decision to cancel our summer holiday so I could write every day. I was so grateful for the chance I had, I wanted to do everything possible to make my follow-up book as good as it could possibly be and I am lucky I had the understanding and support of my family to do this.

During the next few weeks, The Sister went to No.1, was nominated for The Goodreads Best Debut of 2016 and despite being released more than halfway through the year became the 6th biggest selling book on Amazon last year, it’s still in the UK top 100. The Gift was published in December 2016 and also hit the No. 1 spot and has currently spent over 10 weeks in the UK top 10. Both books are on the USA Today Bestseller’s list.

 

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There is much to celebrate and be grateful for but throughout this journey there has also been the inevitable ups and down of life to factor in. A family illness, a bereavement, the bittersweet feeling of finally being published and the one person I wanted to share this with no longer being with us. The stress of financial instability as I wasn’t able to carry on working and hit my deadlines. But there is an underlying excitement for the future. I now have the support of an amazing agent, Rory Scarfe of Furniss Lawton, and I’m very much enjoying writing my third book. I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months bring. I’m living the life I’ve always dreamed of and although it’s exhausting at times, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Big thanks to the team at Bookouture for taking a chance on an unknown author. I am eternally grateful.bookouture-web-logo-3

 

I’ve got a book deal!!

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I’m utterly thrilled to be able to announce I have signed a three-book deal with Bookouture. (You can read the official announcement here). The Bookouture team and their authors have all been so welcoming I feel like part of the family already.

My psychological thriller, The Sister, is due to be published July 2016.

It has all been a bit of a whirlwind and I will post more details soon, but for now, I’m off to celebrate.