Although writing has always been a big part of my life - my song lyrics were legendary at school! - it has only been quite recently that I’ve started writing novels. Knowing that I would need to amass significant knowledge about the publishing industry, I read - all around the internet and beyond - about how to get an agent.
Agents, I discovered, were tricky, difficult characters with exacting standards. Heaven forbid that there should be a typographical error in your submission, or that your query letter (or email) should be too informal or, indeed, too formal. Don’t ask questions; don’t chase manuscripts unless a significant portion of time has passed; revere and venerate agents, and don’t expect them to be nice to you. They don’t have time.
The thought of submitting my first attempt at a proper novel was, to say the very least, daunting in the extreme. But, being of the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ mindset, I sent out a stack of submissions.
Most of the fifteen agents I queried sent me standard form rejections. One did not reply at all and still hasn’t. But, to my surprise, one or two of the agents I sent my work to responded in a friendly, helpful manner. One chatted to me using email one evening, checking out my query as we ‘spoke’, and one even requested a full, seeing potential in my work even though my query was neither as flawless nor as confident as it ought to have been.
Because, as it turns out, agents really aren’t these distant, heartless, pernickety types at all. OK, well maybe some of them might be, but I’ve had contact with quite a few now and it seems to me that the majority are pleasant people doing difficult, time-consuming, and often demanding work.
My second novel is a love affair, in that I am in love with it to an extent that wasn’t true of my first. And, when I sent it out to agents (some of whom had seen the first novel and some of whom had not) my hopes were high. Sadly, it did not (although I had two requests for full manuscripts this time) garner any offers of representation, but several agents took the time to send me personal, encouraging responses. One in particular urged me not to give up, telling me that I ‘can definitely write’ a phrase that is now etched on my heart forever. I wasn’t suitable for her list, but she took the time to communicate to me that I would, in all probability, be a good match for another agent, and to keep trying.
I’m not saying that you can be slapdash about your queries, or that they should be anything less than the very pinnacle of your efforts. But my experiences have taught me that most agents are like me - clever, positive people who love books and love writing.
Not fire-breathing dragons waiting for the slightest excuse to toast your work.
Catherine Hughes is a thirty-nine-year-old web copywriter who lives in wild and windy Wales, with her four children, husband and three cats. She is the author of two as-yet-unpublished YA SF novels and is currently working on a fantasy trilogy that attempts to explain our rich lore of myth and magic. Despite having a degree in Law, she is really a very nice person, who blogs at http://dailyimprovements.blogspot.com/ on the theme of making small changes each day towards a better life .
Well done, Catherine, great post! You should receive your prize soon!