Guest Post: Experiences with Literary Agents

I have decided to invite some writers to guest post on this blog, to share their knowledge, their tips and experiences. This week’s Guest Poster is the lovely Stephany Irwin who tells us about what it’s really like during the pursuit of getting an agent.

My Experiences with Literary Agents

by Stephany Irwin

Stephany

I have heard it said that it is harder to get accepted by an Agent than by a publisher – I’m not sure if this is true, but I can say that both can seem pretty damned close to impossible.

I have been writing young adult fiction for over twenty years. I started when I was at school and I penned a novel called Night Killers. It was a vampire horror novel that I was sure would become a best-seller. I remember sending some samples out direct to publishing houses (back when they were open to such approaches), and then eagerly waiting by the letterbox each morning for a response. I was 100% certain they were going to love it.

After a few weeks the rejections started to drop through the door. Some publishers sent a standard rejection or just a postcard and that was practically soul destroying. One publisher, Headline, sent me a handwritten note from one of the editors saying that my novel was ‘colourful and full of imagination’. She added that she was sure one day I would be published. I still have that note because those words kept me going when the other rejections rolled in.

I finally got picked up by an Agent in 2013. I had been submitting to agents for a number of years, making contacts in the industry and storing them in a notebook so I always had a direct contact to try at each agency. I had a few agents who were willing to see the next thing I wrote even though they didn’t want to sign what I had submitted at the time. I had agents who kept in touch with friendly e-mails and gave me advice and feedback but no contract. It was frustrating but every time you felt sure it was never going to happen someone threw a bone and you were back to believing that it just might.

Anyway, in December 2012 I saw an advertisement for a new literary consultancy which was offering to look at the first chapter of a novel and send feedback for the sum of £25. I had never been able to afford the more expensive reports that some of my writer friends had purchased so I decided to give this option a go. After a few weeks I got some really positive feedback and the offer to give me a full report for a reduced fee. I politely declined as I couldn’t afford the full report and expected to hear nothing further. The next day the Director of the company, a well-respected Editor from a publishing house contacted me and asked if she could work with me anyway and possibly show my work to some Agents she was in touch with when she went to London Book Fair. Of course I agreed.

I had a couple of telephone calls with the Editor over the coming weeks and she gushed about my book and how she was sure she would get a bite from one of the agents. I’d taught myself not to get my hopes up so I just went with the flow and tried not to get too carried away. However, less than a week later I was signed with an Agent in London at a small but well-known literary agency. The Agent had been on the panel who first accepted Harry Potter and she had also represented a number of huge crime writers when she’d worked in America. I was certain this was going to be the start of my writing career.

I took a trip to London to meet my Agent in June 2013. We went to an expensive restaurant and sipped coffee. I was a nervous wreck but she was friendly and extremely positive about my book. She saw it as a film and was certain that once it was picked up this was the direction it would go in. I was carried along by her compliments and headed back home believing I was only a few small steps away from my dream.

Sadly this wasn’t the case. Being signed by an Agent does not guarantee that elusive publishing deal. It just means that your book is going to be looked at by an editor – possibly an editor who won’t be interested.

Over the course of the next few months I was forced to rewrite my entire novel several times in several different directions to suit editors who “might be interested” but inevitably weren’t. I was happy to do it – but then desolate when another rejection rolled in – the editor was leaving, or it wasn’t quite right yet or the rest of the Team hadn’t fallen in love with it.

Rejections give you some harsh criticism as well as the ‘no’. They tell you if a character isn’t likeable or if your whole story isn’t well grounded. They tell you that you need to do even more work!

In January 2015 I parted ways with the London Agent. My writing was too “American” for her contacts. Refusing to admit defeat I started approaching my old agent contacts again in the hope of finding someone-else to represent me. I believed I was back to square one.

One of the Agents I approached had always said she loved my writing but it was a little too dark for her personal list – she read my submission and asked if she could forward it to an Agent at their branch in the US. I agreed and a few days later I was talking to my new agent on the telephone from New York while she raved about my book and mentioned the changes she would like to see made.

As a writer changes are inevitable – working with an agent means seeing the flaws in your work and being willing to work on putting them right. You don’t necessarily have to agree with your agents’ suggestion of how it needs to be dealt with but you do need to accept that there is something there that does need work. My current Agent feels like the perfect fit – we see the same solutions and we have a lot of the same interests and ideas. You need to find someone to work with that you can be comfortable with and that you can throw ideas around with – that’s more important than anything-else.

My current novel is New Adult contemporary romance with gang violence.  I have worked on polishing the manuscript with my agent and soon it will go out on submission. Who knows what the future holds – it could be more rejections and near misses or that longed for publishing deal – but either way as writers we just need to keep writing. Nobody knows what is round the corner.

Stephany’s website – www.stephanyirwin.co.uk

 

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A big thanks to the awesome Stephany for guest posting here at The Eternal Scribbler. I hope you all loved this article as much as I did and do please make sure to check out her website

Please note my normal “friday” blog will actually be a Saturday blog this week. (But hopefully only for this week)

As always thanks for stopping by, if you like what you see, do follow this blog. It makes me so happy! Also, I have more guest posters lined up to share their writing experiences, tips and suggestions so it definitely pays to lurk around my blog.

Happy writing

Ari

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