A recent blog post sparked a lot of interest among visitors and pingbacks from writer-bloggers who offered their own take on the question that is never far away from the thoughts of every wannabe author: How does one find a literary agent and/or a publisher? Renita D’Silva whose debut novel Monsoon Memories has garnered a lot of rave reviews has hit the jackpot twice — first by landing a publisher and second by finding a literary agent! Here she shares her experience.
They say it is more difficult to find a literary agent to represent you than it is to find a publisher for your book. Do you agree? I do, as this is exactly what happened to me. This, dear reader, is my story.
You know how all the tomes on writing say, ‘Wait till the manuscript is the best it can be, then send it out’? Well, that is good advice. Advice that, you’ll surely guess given the title of this post, I did not follow. As soon as I had written ‘The End’ on my first draft, I bought a copy of ‘The Writers and Agents Handbook’ opened it to the list of agents and sent my manuscript off to the first ten. Now, there was another piece of advice that I willfully ignored in my ‘I have written a novel, have actually penned 85000 words and now comes the next bit, the exciting bit, the easy bit,’ state (wow, I think now, was I deluded or what?): I did not research agents. I just sent it blind, to the first few agents regardless of whether they were representing my genre or not. If I had spent those crucial few minutes doing research, if I had heeded advice, I would have saved time, money (postage, printing, etcetera), and spared myself plenty of heartache.
What I know now, what I have learned the hard way is this: If you send your Women’s Fiction manuscript to an agent who specialises in Literary Fiction, she’ll say no without even having glanced at it and you’ll be heartbroken and your confidence in your writing – fragile at best – will be tried. What you won’t realise is that she hasn’t even looked at your writing; she is not judging your writing just your haste, your lack of research.
I got a few rejections, but, luckily for me, two of the agents asked for a full manuscript. So I sent it off to them in a haze of joy and dreams of bestseller lists; launch parties and what dress to wear to the podium when I won the Booker prize. And I waited. And waited. No news was good news surely, I told myself. And then, three months and no nails later (having bitten them all off-at least I hadn’t got to the hair wrenching stage-yet), I got a reply. ‘I’m sorry but I just couldn’t relate to your heroine.’
And so, after wallowing in misery for a while – How could she not like my heroine? – I worked on the heroine, then sent it off again. Meanwhile, the other agent came back with: ‘Structure doesn’t work.’ So I worked on structure. The next one said plot didn’t work. By this point in time, I was going up and down like a yoyo. Up when agents requested a full manuscript, down when it was rejected. On the plus side, I was getting quite ‘positive’ rejections from agents who actually represented my genre. Many of them said, ‘Please come back when you’ve worked on it more. Make it the best it can be.’
After a few more knockbacks, I finally got the message. I started working at my daughter’s school to fund the money to send the manuscript off for a professional edit. I would definitely recommend this to all you writers slogging away at manuscripts out there. Expensive, but it shows you exactly what needs to be done to hone your manuscript as you are too close to your WIP to look at it through an objective editor’s eye.
So, based on the edit, I reworked my manuscript. It was hard work, I had to change quite a lot, but by the end of it, my manuscript was the best it could be.
This time round, when I sent it off, agents who asked for the full manuscripts (and quite a few did) came back to say it was good but they would have to pass due to the recession, their client list being full, etcetera. The reasons for rejection were nothing to do with the manuscript. I had reached a dead end. Manuscript was ready. No takers.
Then in the New Year, Mslexia – the magazine for women writers that I subscribed to – arrived and with it, the ad for Bookouture who said they were seeking submissions. My New Year resolution was to try again, and so, with crossed fingers and lots of prayers, I sent my manuscript off. Oliver Rhodes of Bookouture came back in two days to say he would like to publish my book and did I have any more manuscripts. I did not. He signed me on for a three book contract anyway.
So, I hear you thinking, where does the agent come into all this? Well, I signed over translation rights to Oliver and the lovely Lorella Belli of the Lorella Belli Literary agency handled translation rights for Bookouture. She read my book and emailed me to say she would like to represent me if I did not have an agent yet. After all those years of trying, an agent was actually offering me representation! I jumped about the living room in excitement and my son mused, ‘Mum, you’re happier about this than when your publisher offered to publish your book.’
So there you have it. I am a textbook case for ‘What Not To Do When You Have Written A Book’. And yet, I got published, found an agent and stumbled my way into a three book deal. You can too. Believe in yourself and however low you feel, however much you feel like packing it all in, don’t give up. It will happen, one day, when it’s your time. Trust me.
Renita D’Silva loves stories – both reading and creating them. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in ‘The View from Here’, ‘Bartleby Snopes’, ‘this’ zine, ‘Platinum Page’, ‘Paragraph Planet’ among others and have been nominated for the ‘Pushcart’ prize and the ‘Best of the Net’ anthology. Her debut novel, Monsoon Memories was published by Bookouture on the 21st of June. She is working on her second novel, also set in India. She was born in Mangalore, India, and now lives in Surrey, UK.
For inspiring stories on how writers got their agents check this out.