Finding an Agent

Yesterday evening I braved the torrential rain that hit Birmingham and attended a Waterstones event on how to get a literary agent. The speakers were local authors Gemma Todd, Liz Tipping and Stephen Aryan.

Here are their stories (in brief):

Gemma Todd (writing as G.X. Todd)worked her way logically through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. She noted down all the agents working in her genre and then researched them further on the internet, looking specifically for anything that she could use to personalise each agent’s covering letter. Her first novel went out to 17 agents and received some positive comments but no offer of representation. So, she put that book aside and wrote another. She repeated her submission exercise with the second novel but also going back to the agents who’d made positive comments about the first book.
After six months of submissions with her second novel, Darley Anderson agreed to represent Gemma.

Liz Tipping found her agent, Juliet Mushens at United Talent Agency, accidentally via a Twitter appeal for ‘hilarious romantic comedies’. However, at that point Liz’s novel wasn’t finished. When it was complete, she went back to Juliet plus other agents she discovered via the internet. Liz said that she chose to submit to agents who looked ‘friendly and nice’ in their photos and, to make the experience less daunting, she turned it into a challenge to amass one hundred rejections rather than one acceptance. She also put her book on the now defunct site Authonomy and received interest from Harper Collins editors. Liz signed with Juliet Mushens and is now published by Harper Collins.

Stephen Aryan wrote eight books in several different genres over fifteen years before he was signed by an agent and published. When he started his first hunt for an agent at the turn of the century things were much more difficult because the internet was in its infancy and all submissions had to be posted rather than emailed. Now he advises using social media to follow agents that interest you and using #askagent to ask questions. Stephen was also signed by Juliet Mushens and spent a year working on the book with her and then another year working on the book with the publisher.

The overall message from the evening was positive with a theme of: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again’. And also a reminder that the wheels of the literary world turn very slowly.

Happy agent hunting!

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  1. #1 by Amanda Martin on June 9, 2016 - 9:15 am

    Hope indeed, and I admire their tenacity. I’ve applied to only a dozen agents and feel despondent and discouraged. Perhaps I’m lacking tenacity rather than talent! 😕

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on June 9, 2016 - 12:43 pm

      Books are so subjective I think it’s definitely worth trying more than a dozen agents, Amanda. But it’s a tough call to know when to draw the line on submissions and decide that a particular book doesn’t have what it takes. Good Luck!

  2. #4 by Linda Daunter on June 10, 2016 - 5:37 pm

    I like Liz Tipping’s idea of trying to get a huge number of rejections. They would have made a good talking point when the book was eventually published. J.K. Rowling always seems quite proud of the number of publishers who turned down Harry Potter.
    I haven’t tried to get an agent yet. My secret plan is to try smaller publishers who accept submissions from agentless writers and then, when my book rockets up the bestsellers lists, agents will come to me!

    • #5 by Sally Jenkins on June 10, 2016 - 7:11 pm

      Good secret plan, Linda! But it’s not a secret any more …

  3. #6 by Maria Smith (@mariaAsmith) on June 12, 2016 - 7:14 pm

    Having had no dealings with agents, I don’t feel qualified to say anything much on the matter. However, as a sales person by day, I can identify with them having to go with something they feel confident that they can sell, and something they are enthusiastic about…

    • #7 by Sally Jenkins on June 12, 2016 - 7:33 pm

      I can understand that, Maria. In order to sell something enthusiastically you have to believe in it.

  4. #8 by juliathorley on June 14, 2016 - 4:36 pm

    Thanks for a useful post. I’m not ready to look for agents, but it seems like a lot of hard work. I’m going to need a thick skin, I fear.

    • #9 by Sally Jenkins on June 14, 2016 - 5:13 pm

      Sadly, for a writer, a thick skin is as essential as pen, paper or computer. Good Luck for when the time comes, Julia!

  5. #10 by susanjanejones on June 20, 2016 - 11:14 am

    Great post, Sally. I’ll remember it when I’m next applying. The last agency told me they were full up. The one before that said they liked it, but it wasn’t a page turner.

    • #11 by Sally Jenkins on June 20, 2016 - 7:15 pm

      Fingers crossed for next time, Susan. It’s all so subjective – different things make different people turn the pages!

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