Friday, March 11, 2005

Confession 12 How I Got Published Part II

How I got published part II:

So, I got me an agent. She didn't fire me for not being called Kate and we decided she would call me by my real name. She had one author who insisted on being called by his pseudonym, even though everyone knew his real name, which was funny. I eventually dropped Kate and used my real first name to avoid the two first names problem.

She was the second agent I sent my stuff to. I was still in the writing class. The first agent I'd contacted was famous, at the time, for signing first-time authors. Our writing teacher had taken us on a class outing to hear him talk. It was great to see an agent in the flesh, to realise they were normal people trying to do the best job. Amongst his words of advice were: don't mention Bridget Jones, ever. If a trend is out there, forget it, if you can see the bandwagon, you've missed it. He also advised against jokes and exclamation marks in the covering letter and said you should be able to sum up what your book is about in ten words. He talked a lot about admiring 'dark' and 'cutting edge' writing, a clue my stuff wasn't for him somehow; but try him I did, managing to get in my ten words a BJ reference, a joke and an exclamation mark. The formula rejection letter, my first, nearly finished me off.

The agency I went with was small, with tiny offices above a shop in west London, but they were long-established and had lots of famous clients. The next time I went into a bookshop I looked up my new stablemates. I imagined the agency Christmas party, drinking sherry in a book-lined study, the fire crackling.

My new agent said she thought my kind of book could be the start of a new publishing trend. She was very positive. Her agency, she explained, always kept the territorial rights of their books so that they could re-sell them abroad and each time pick up a new advance. This is, I now know, normal practice and why it's not a good idea to sign with a publisher direct without the advice, at least, of an agent or the Author's Society. Some national writing competitions still offer a 'worldwide publishing deal' as the prize - that's exactly what you don't want. Another thing I didn't realise was that when it comes to the contract, it often starts off at the agency end. They're called 'boilerplate' contracts, and it saves the agent having to go through with a toothcomb from the off.

So, my agent started sending my novel out as an 'exclusive'. There followed months and months of rejection. I now know rejection is a big part of writing, but it was difficult to get through. I reached second base a couple of times - if an editor likes a ms they'll 'share' it with a colleague. They are the both, always looking for reasons not to publish rather than reasons to take you on. Then, if both (or maybe it's more) editors like it - or rather feel they have to publish this before one of their rivals snaps it up - they'll test others in the company, most importantly their marketing department. If the ticks keep coming, you'll get an offer. It's not just one editor's opinion any more. After 6 rejections there were just 2 more publishers my agent was going to try. She warned me that if they didn't want me, that would be the end of the game as far as that particular book went. But one of those final two publishers did want me and signed me up.

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.


Anonymous said...

Not sure if you'll pick this comment up as the posting's so old. I just discovered your blog (love it btw) and was looking through the archives. Would you mind telling me the name of the agent you mention in this post who's known for taking on first time authors. My reasons for asking are pretty transparent I'm sure!

Amanda Mann said...

Thanks for your kind comment. The agent was Johnny (or is it Jonny?) Geller at Curtis Brown. He's still there, but is a big, famous agent himself now. If your stuff is 'dark' he'd probably be worth trying though it wouldn't be read by him but by one of his minions.