Sunday, 16 May 2021

On (eventually) getting an agent

I've been thinking for the last couple of weeks whether or not to post about my journey to getting an agent. On one hand, I don't know how interesting it would be to most people. On the other, it's been a big part of my life for a long time and now that I'm here. . .well, maybe I know what I'm talking about.

As mentioned before, I submitted my first works to an agent in 1999. I was 22. I'd written a load of loosely linked short stories, a ton of bad poems and I was nearing the end of my first book. I sent several of the shorts off to a London based agent - and bear in mind, this was through the post. In the UK of 1999, the internet was something for pervs and nerds. That meant email was, too. Most agents and publishers wouldn't have given a toss about a website for their company. So, I had to send the printed stories and a return stamped envelope and wait for the money to roll in.

Oddly enough, it didn't come in. What did come was a phone call from the agent. A landline phone call. She asked me about my stuff, what else I was working on, my background and so on. I tried to come across like I knew what I was talking about and not be too deflated when she politely declined to work with me or take any more of my short pieces. She agreed to look at future work, so I promptly worked my bum off on finishing my first book, sent it to her (again with the stamped envelope) and waited for the big cash. Several weeks later, I got my first real rejection. Over the following years, I grew used to the sight of an envelope through my letterbox with my own writing on the front. I had plenty of time and opportunity to get used to it. Email and websites were developing, but like everything else in the publishing world, it was slow and that meant relying on the post as well as the time it took an agent or publishers to tell me to sod off.

I wrote more. A lot more. Shorts, books, fewer poems until I eventually gave those up (my last one was in 2009 when my wife and I got married) and more books. In 2013, an American e-publisher which existed for all of about a year took two of my books. Agents still weren't interested in my tales even though they were much improved from the crap I wrote in the late 90s and early 2000s. Those two books went out of print pretty quickly, leaving me with a collection of short stories I was planning to publish myself and spreadsheets for other books which were rapidly filling with the dates of rejections. Around 2014, the agent who phoned me in '99 passed away. I kept writing.

A small Scottish publisher took two of my books, then went out of business. Hellbound in the States has taken five with a sixth to be published this year. I put the two from the Scottish publisher out (with the third to follow in a few months). Agents showed slightly more interest than they had. On average, I subbed each new book to a minimum of sixty or seventy agents. One or two requested the full novel which wasn't a great result. I began to expand my style from outright horror to more grounded thrillers (which I now learn might be referred to as speculative thrillers) and agents nibbled more frequently, but never bit. I wrote more.

After the utter shitshow that was 2019 for me on a personal level, I wrote a spec thriller last year in the middle of an utter shitshow for the entire planet. I subbed it. Again. Again. I wrote another couple of books and subbed my thriller. Again. Again. Then, near Christmas, I had a request from an agency for the entire book. A definite result. I sent it off and worked on new stuff as well as my new books. After a few months, the agent and I had some encouraging back and forth emails, then a Zoom call to discuss the books, my other work and where we might like to go from there. I made some changes to the story and sent it in. I wrote more.

Three weeks later, we had another Zoom.

Twenty-two years after that first phone call to the departed agent and the discussion about my godawful short stories, I signed with an agency on the back of the spec thriller with plans for others including the book I am currently writing.

And there we are. Of course, a few paragraphs it's taken you a couple of minutes to read doesn't include the seemingly endless rejections, the day jobs, the constant support from my wife in the face of what the fuck am I doing with my time and the surety I was lying to myself about my ability to write a novel anyone would want to read. I could write an entire book about all that. In the end, the writing is what matters. Because it's all I'm any good at, so why would I not do it?

I'm 44 in a few months. Being 22 in 1999 is a memory. That first submission is still here, though. Along with the hope it would lead to something.

Funny thing is, it might have taken a while but it did lead to something.

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