Earlier this year I wrote an article for the Writers’ and Artists’ website about my experience of being a runner up in a national writing competition, and about how I used that moment in the spotlight to secure an agent.
And then, in July, my agent and I parted company due to creative differences. I think that we were both a bit reluctant to do this – we’d invested a lot of time in each other – but it had become obvious that our ideas for my book were too disparate to come to a successful conclusion.
So what then?
Initially, a lot of regret and a touch of panic. Every aspiring writer knows just how difficult it is to secure an agent. It’s a recurring theme at writing groups I attend. Now I was back in the pool of writers with nothing but determination and belief in their own work to keep them going. My gut reaction was to bombard all the agents in the Yearbook with query letters. Fortunately I subdued it. I needed to get work on my manuscript, or the trauma of parting with my agent would have been for nothing. This was my first task.
I still have masses to learn about the craft of writing, so next I signed up for a few workshops and they’ve been hugely useful. The Writers’ and Artists’ How to Hook an Agent, and Golden Egg’s Pitch, Synopsis and Covering Letter (with the lovely ladies from the Skylark Agency) were especially useful. I can’t recommend such workshops highly enough, and not only because of all the useful information they impart. You also get to meet like-minded, friendly people who are as invested in becoming a successful writer as you are. Some may have had similar experiences, or wisdom to impart, or will simply want to stay in touch. It all helps.
Then came research, lots of it. About agents. Last time round I had wasted time – potential agents’ as well as my own – approaching some who, with hindsight, just weren’t suitable. This time I’ve researched thoroughly. I’ve looked at agents’ client lists, reasoning that if there are basic similarities between my manuscript and the books they’ve already sold, that particular agent may respond well to my type of writing. I’ve read agents’ bios, wish lists, favourite book lists, etc, etc in order to hone my target list.
I’ve also spent a lot of time working on my query letter. I’ve tried to ensure that it gives a sense of my personality as well as offering tempting details about my manuscript and achievements (such as they are). I’ve messed around with the order of the paragraphs and I’ve tried to make my pitch as exciting as possible. I’m reasonably pleased with it all now, although inevitably it will change when I wake up at 3am, frightening my husband by yelling ‘Eureka!’ because I’ve had a brainwave that might just make it nigh-on irresistible.
And I’ve started the querying process. The waiting is hard. We all know that. But while I wait, I’m working on my next novel and buoying myself up with the knowledge that some great authors – Booker Prize winner Marlon James included – have had more than their fair share of knock backs. Perhaps it makes us better authors? It certainly makes us wiser and more resilient.
Maintaining your self-belief is vital. There are times when mine wanes and I think I might as well give up on my dream of being published. But, as they sing in South Pacific: ‘you got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?’ Writing IS my dream. I find it uniquely exciting, rewarding when it goes well, frustrating when it doesn’t. Do you give up on your dream when it proves harder to achieve than you’d imagined? Did Neil Armstrong ditch his ambition to become an astronaut when he discovered he was scared of heights? (OK, I confess – I made that up). The answer is a resounding NO!
So, onwards and upwards. I’m going to keep dreaming and writing and hoping. And now and again, when I forget that I’m actually a pretty good writer, I’ll look back at this article and remind myself of all the reasons why I’m not giving up.