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From Idea to Agent: Writing My Debut Novel

If there are approximately 18,956 (pretty good) reasons not to start writing a book, only one compels so many of us to try. To be published. To have a book out there in the world. Your book. The book what you’ve written. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. 

I was born on a chilly September’s day… is exactly how you shouldn’t start your novel if you want to see it in print. I hope you’re writing this down. What you should be thinking about is current publishing trends (years in advance, obviously), marketability and, of course, sex appeal. Unfortunately, I knew nothing about all of this when I started writing my recently published romantic comedy, The Shape of Us, six years ago. I’d just moved into a new flat in East Dulwich, and the Internet hadn’t been turned on, so I was facing an evening at home with no Internet – which I’m sure you’ll agree is one of the scariest things a human can possibly face. I’d written plays before, some short stories, a poorly received treatment for a TV show, and had spent 6 months in my mother’s spare room writing a “book” in my early twenties that people still ask about (I never finished it, please stop asking). In the quiet of East Dulwich, I opened a word document and started writing a novel. Why? I had a couple of stories knocking about in my head (a woman in her sixties trying to steal her philandering husband back, a man who lives illegally in an investment bank and falls in love with the receptionist), and so I decided to frame them all in the vibrant, wonderful city of London. This was a mistake, I’d be told many times later. Books set in London are trickier sells to Brits outside the M25 (our capital comes with considerable collective baggage). And although my narratives interwove and interacted with each other (people have likened the novel to Love Actually, which I’ve actually yet to see), they still had the whiff of short stories about them, which was another publishing no-no. So great, I was on a roll. Oh, and I wanted it to be funny. Everyone likes to laugh, right? Well, again, no. People like to laugh sure, but rarely at the same things. Humour is a risky business. Still, ignorant, I continued on. 

Over the next several years, I’d squirrel away days or weeks at a time to binge write (back when bingeing wasn’t particularly admirable) in between my work as a freelance search consultant. Along the way, I paid a copyeditor to help correct my grammar, and make me feel slightly more legitimate in the process. Eventually, I had a finished manuscript (how did I know it was complete? I didn’t actively hate any of the words), and after attending a Writers' & Artists' 'How to Hook an Agent' event, and learning the above weaknesses about my book, I started submitting to literary agents anyway. And receiving lots of rejections. To my credit, I made a point of really researching each agent thoroughly and looking at all their authors, which sometimes meant I had 50 tabs open at a time. 50! Even the most careerist of us can get downhearted at the thought the world might need a 51st tab. Sure, I was knocked by the rejections, but I kept on, until finally I found an agent who seemed to be looking for exactly what I’d written – a “large sprawling cast of diverse and believable characters.” I mean, mine was definitely “sprawling”… The agent requested the full manuscript, and then others did too, as if someone somewhere had dinged a bell that signalled “this might work”, and I ended up with three offers of representation. It was a pretty exciting and nerve-wracking time – I went with the first agent (the wonderful Hattie Grunewald at Blake Friedmann) because she’d “found” me, and seemed to love and understand the book as much, if not more, than I did. Then the hard work really began – sanding off the haggard edges and making the narrative flow. As a new writer, I withheld things that should have been much clearer, and overwrote descriptions because I worried I couldn’t write very good descriptions. Hattie nipped all that in the bud. My book was always a romantic comedy, but we leaned into the romance more (I love writing romance, who doesn’t like being in love? Also, dating / being in a relationship is hilarious – just ask my partner. I know it’s less typical for a man to write romance, but for me it’s never really been a question of why, but rather, why other men don’t). 

Finally, the book went out on submission to publishers, with high expectations. Which were immediately dashed. That is, until my incredible editor, Christina Demosthenous at Bookouture, approached us with an offer we couldn’t refuse (although we did initially, because another publisher jumped in the ring too, the bell dinged again!). Then the hard work really started – a second time. I couldn’t be happier with the results though. Christina has let my funny, quirky book keep its quirkiness, while helping it reach a much larger potential audience. Writing a novel can connect you to amazing readers. And if that’s not reason enough to start a book, I don’t know what is. 


The Shape of Us by Drew Davies was published no 27th November 2018 and is available to purchase here

Drew Davies was born in London and grew up in Whanganui, New Zealand. He attended the Unitec School of Performing Arts in Auckland and won a Playmarket New Zealand Young Playwright of the Year award in 2000. After a brief stint on a kiwi soap, he has worked in Search for the past 15 years. Drew’s other claim to fame is that Stephen Fry once called him droll. Either that, or he got his name wrong. He now lives in Wanstead, London. Visit Drew's website, Instagram page, or follow him on Twitter.