I started writing when I was at primary school, but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I started seriously trying to get published. I knew from the outset that I wanted an agent – I had worked in the book industry and I knew my way around (ish), but that only made me even more convinced that I needed someone to fight my corner, give me advice about when to fold in negotiations, and take the heat out of any issues with my publisher (even though the idea of actually getting published sometimes seemed like pie in the sky.)
I did my research, worked out who I wanted to target, and polished my cover letter until it shone – but I made one elementary mistake. I forgot to polish the manuscript to the same degree. I sent it out to four agents and got four requests to see the full MS, but ultimately four rejections, although several asked me to contact them again.
When I sat down and really looked at my submission, I could see why. I had written the book, corrected my typos, and sent it out, thinking that was good enough, when really it needed a stiff edit and an outside perspective. I spent the next six months taking care of that. I joined a writing group and took their comments on the chin, and I found my sternest, most “don’t pull your punches” friends and badgered them for honest feedback. I took all their points on board and re-edited the book. Finally, I redrew my shortlist of agents and tried again.
Just two weeks after sending out the revised MS, I had an offer of representation from Eve.
Now, every blog I had read (and a fair few I have since written) urge writers not to jump at the first agent who likes their book. If one person thinks it’s good enough to take on, chances are, there will be others, and you need to pick the best match.
But in the end I did sign with Eve, and I don’t regret it for a second. The important thing, I think, is that I didn’t pick Eve because she was the first person to say yes, I picked her because I met with her, grilled her with a lot of questions about how she saw the book and my career, and what we would do if it didn’t sell, etc etc. And I was impressed by her answers, and I liked her a lot. At the end of the day I asked myself, could I imagine liking another agent more? And the answer was no.
When I came back from the meeting with her, I signed the letter of contract she had drawn up, explaining her fees and how our relationship would work, and then I lay on my bed in the sunshine and I thought, “Maybe I’ll never get published. Maybe this will be the happiest I’ll ever be about my writing. But that’s ok – one person believes in me, and at the moment that feels pretty bloody good.”
As it turns out, securing an agent didn’t turn out to be the high point of my writing career. I’m not sure what was – getting that first offer letter and realising I was going to be a “real” author, holding my printed book in my hands and seeing it in a bookshop alongside other authors I had admired for years, getting onto the Sunday Times bestseller list for the first time, or maybe even hitting number one on the New York Times Bestseller list. All of those were pretty amazing, and it’s hard to choose. But that first meeting with Eve, and hearing her talk about my manuscript like a real book… that ranks pretty high.
Since that day, my career journey has taken some surprising twists and turns but Eve has always been by my side, helping me map read, and giving me sage words on the wisdom of shortcuts or u-turns. Most importantly though, she’s never tried to take the wheel. The final decisions have always been mine, but having the benefit of her advice has given me the confidence to make the right ones.