How I Got My Literary Agent (Part one)

Apologies in advance for this long post. If you’re a writer seeking an agent, then you’ll understand that it’s a long ‘journey’ (sorry – that’s so X Factor). I’ve put this in two parts, so as not to lose your interest. And, actually, in some ways, it is a bit like X Factor.

In June 2016, I was lucky enough to be signed with a literary agency. I say lucky, but it took years of writing and rewriting several manuscripts to get that ‘lucky’ (one of my favourite quotes is: ‘The harder I work, the luckier I am’). If you’re reading this and have just started out writing, or have been writing for years getting nowhere, my message to you is DON’T GIVE UP!

I’d written short stories off and on since the late 1990s, and had enrolled on online writing course (which I still need to finish…). But life got in the way, as it always tends to do, until 2012 when I began writing A Novel. I’d had an idea for years, and managed to write about 65,000 words. I never thought I’d be able to write that many in the first place, so that was a huge personal achievement.

Meanwhile, part of an assignment for the writing course was to look up literary agencies. I had only a vague idea what these were. Previously, I had assumed a writer would simply send their manuscript to a publisher and wait The Long Wait for the postman to return it. But thankfully, it was easier (and cheaper) than that – no postage involved: it was sent to literary agents via email.

It was now 2014 and I made a list of a few agents who I thought might like my novel, sending them the first three chapters, or however many pages they wanted (some of them vary greatly), along with a cover letter. I’d researched online what to write in said cover letter – and was anxious about the tiniest things (kind regards or yours sincerelyMs, Miss, or Mrs?)

So I sent off my submission package and waited. And waited. And … yes, you guessed it … waited.


Tumbleweed. Lots of it.

They must be really busy, these agents, I thought. I’ll just send out some more batches.

A few batches later there was an email from one of Them. This is what it said:

 Thank you very much for your enquiry regarding your work.  We take on new clients very sparingly and in order to do so we have to feel that something is very special indeed.  Having considered your enquiry we’re afraid we are not confident we could find you a publisher so we regret that we’re unable to take the matter further.  We wish you the best of luck elsewhere.

It was my first rejection and it really hurt. I’d spent nearly two years writing this manuscript and they thought it wasn’t ‘special’. I soon learned that this agency wasn’t the only one to think that. The rejections just kept rolling in:

We’ve now had a chance to consider your work and I’m afraid we don’t feel that we are the right agency to represent it.

Thank you for sharing it with us though and we wish you the best of luck in finding representation elsewhere.

I learned from my writing group that these were ‘form rejections’. Agents are busy people. As well as ‘agenting’, they receive hundreds of manuscripts a WEEK. They don’t have time to tell us why they don’t connect with our work.

I kept re-writing The Book – changing the first few chapters, the ending, the middle – someone, somewhere just might like it.

But no, no they didn’t. The stats for this book are as follows:

  • Total submissions sent out: 27
  • Form rejections:                  16
  • Personal rejections (where the agent will give a few words why it wasn’t for them): 1
  • No reply:                             10

I’d also entered it into several competitions – there was nothing going on there either. I had to face up to the fact that this book wasn’t going to be The One. But I loved writing. While looking after my children and working, it was something just for me.

In 2014 and 2015 I’d written two manuscripts as part of NaNoWriMo – where for thirty days in November, writers across the world unite in attempting to write 50,000 words in thirty days. I won’t lie – it was a hard slog. I came home from work one day with a migraine yet still typed three thousand words because the next day was the last and I couldn’t let myself down.

So I knew I could write more words. These two manuscripts, however, were shocking. Well, they might be okay, but I’m not going to read them for a long time as I’ve a feeling they’re really bad.

Between writing these, however, I’d written another book. I’d read an article about a family in New York who’d been kept from the outside world by their father. This wasn’t the one to hook an agent, but it was the one that had a unique-enough hook to get my foot in the door…

More in part two.

My debut novel 99 RED BALLOONS will be published 24th August 2017 (Avon HarperCollins) and is available for pre-order here.

5 thoughts on “How I Got My Literary Agent (Part one)

  1. Pingback: How I Got My Literary Agent (Part two) | Libby Carpenter

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