Despite what they would have you believe, most writers want an agent. It can be argued, in these days of phenomenally successful self-publishers going it alone, that you don’t need one, but I think, deep down, the validation that signing with an agent brings still holds a powerful allure, even for those people. I tried to convince myself, during the early days of my career, that I didn’t need or want an agent. This belief began with a few rejections that I found so painful and damaging to my fragile ego that I resolved never to query again. I didn’t need to be in the club, I told myself, I could dance all on my own outside and have a perfectly lovely time. In fact, my internal voice continued to babble, I have far more freedom to do whatever I like going it alone. Why would I want someone telling me what I can and cannot write? Why would I want someone imposing their own time restrictions on me? All those things may be true, but since signing with my agent, almost a year ago, I have realised that sometimes sacrificing a little (sometimes sorely misguided) autonomy, is not necessarily a bad thing.
In a rather fortuitous twist of fate, I met my agent at The Writers and Artists Self-Publishing conference in November 2013. Meeting her was a revelation, and I found that, far from the idea I had of agents as somehow out to put as many barriers in the way of a writer’s career as they could, the opposite was true. As well as the many opportunities now open to me that I could not have dreamt of before, my agent is like my own personal (albeit sometimes very critical) cheerleader. She champions my cause, she picks me up when I feel down or uncertain, she provides valuable and honest feedback on my work that I just can’t get from family and friends, she makes me feel valued and talented – the latter point holds power that cannot be measured for a fragile creative ego. She’s not just a business associate, she’s a good friend. In this tough and lonely business, we need as many of those as we can get.
The first book we released as a team was Hopelessly Devoted to Holden Finn, written under my pen name of Tilly Tennant. She read it, said she loved it, but that’s never the end, and rightly so. Had I been working alone at this point there is a good chance it would have been. With her guidance, however, there was still a lot to do. The first task was an extensive edit. These things, as all writers know, can be an emotionally draining experience. So I was blessed by the fact that from the first day we got on extremely well and shared a good understanding, or the systematic dismantling of my (what I believed was already perfect) novel could have been a lot more painful. She kept in regular contact, treated my work with great respect and helped me understand the need to strip the novel right back, even if the edits seemed ruthless, in order to strengthen it as a whole.
When the book was finally ready she spent hours getting it seen by the right people in the right places – something I simply wouldn’t have had the time or contacts to do. What I had now in my career was expert guidance and a helping hand. I had someone with a vested interest and belief in my work, someone who would help me make the most of everything that came my way. She consults me over every decision and she respects my opinion as much as I respect hers.
The downside to all this, if it can be considered such, is that my output is slower. Every novel now takes a lot longer to get ready. As an independent author I could release a book as fast as I could write it and get it edited. Now my books go through multiple edits, I have publishers’ decisions to wait on, book fairs, submissions editors, even other author’s schedules to factor in. I have to be patient. But they say that good things come to those who wait and although I’m an impatient person by nature, I have realised that the end product is a much more satisfying one.
I have learned in the past year that getting an agent is not a free pass to instant success. I’m still relatively unknown and I still have to work hard on promotion every time a book is due for release. But the new milestones my career has passed this year – having a top 100 book on Amazon has to be a highlight amongst those – have made me more optimistic for the future than ever before. Whilst I continue to work three days a week at a desk job, there is hope now that eventually I can make a proper career out of writing.
My relationship with my agent continues to grow. At first, I think I was so mindful of how fortunate my position was, of how many writers search fruitlessly for an agent for many months, even years, that I was afraid to make any contrary opinions known. Now we are at a comfortable place where our interactions are far more evenly matched, exactly as a productive, creative partnership should be. And my hope for the future is that we will continue to build on that to release many more great books.
Sharon Sant currently juggles work as a part-time fiction editor, a rather less glamorous day job, her family commitments, and writing her own stories. She writes YA, NA, and recently struck out into the world of women’s fiction, releasing her debut romantic comedy Hopelessly Devoted to Holden Finn under the pen name of Tilly Tennant. Sharon is both self-published and traditionally published and happily mixes the two. In 2013 she was signed by Lucas Alexander Whitley literary agency. She is currently working on a second Tilly Tennant novel and a New Adult paranormal thriller for release under her own name.