The Stone House by Kate Galley - Mentoring Update

It’s been a year since I chose Kate Galley as the winner of my latest mentoring competition. During that time Kate has worked tirelessly on her manuscript, plotting, planning, and revising. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and any of you who have written a book will know it takes as long as it takes and there really is no point rushing. We’ve talked about various ideas along the way, Kate’s original concept, as they invariably do, taking her in new directions. A year into her journey, I invited her share with you the brilliant opening and a little bit about herself and her book - THE STONE HOUSE.

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An avid reader all my life, I started to write The Stone House after completing a short online writing course with Curtis Brown. I live in the Chilterns with my husband and children, and divide my time between my job as a hairdresser, my family and my writing.

Kate Galley

The Stone House

When Anna Chapman learns of her mother’s death, she feels compelled to return to the remote house on Dartmoor she left seventeen years before.

Jodie Miller thinks she’s found the perfect place to hide, but the snow won’t last forever, and who will come for her when it thaws?

Prologue

Whenever I allow myself to think about my mother she comes to me in a series of monochrome vignettes. Her porcelain skin is paper thin, stretched high across the bones of her cheeks. Carefully arranged flicks of hair kiss her forehead and jaw. There is always a sweep of colour on her lips and a faintly vacant expression in her eyes. She is a 1950’s starlet.  

When I was six years old, the conventional life I’d been living with my mother and father in Bristol was unexpectedly packed up, and on a grim day in late autumn we left for Dartmoor. The isolated house set at the end of a single-track lane emerged from the land like a great stone monster, born from its bleak surroundings. I was told it was a move designed to improve our situation, and this had worked well for my father who wore his joy like a brand new suit. My mother, not so much. I sat at my window for days wondering if there were other children living nearby, whether I would see them walking across the field to come and play with me, but that was before I learned the locals called our house the Behemoth.

Even at the tender age of six I felt a transience to our lives. It wasn’t just the house, it was us. We weren’t much of a family, we were three separate people vying for attention, my mother the neediest of all. My father was devoted to her, all his time spent in pursuit of her happiness. She didn’t work or bake or read, and was often too tired to take me out, and there were occasions, when my father was away, she’d slip out for hours, leaving me wondering where she was. She wasn’t anything like the other mothers at school, but she was beautiful, and in my eyes that made her exceptional.

That’s how I still picture her, in that house. In the kitchen, sipping something cold and sparkling, her smile as brittle as the glass she held. In the bath with one arm draped elegantly over the edge, her makeup perfect despite the moisture dripping from the tiles. In the garden on the bench, under the apple tree, staring out across the moor. But that was before the voices arrived in her head. Before she began to blame me for my father’s death.

Three Things You Need To Know To Win A Writing Competition

Over the last few weeks, in between writing my next book, looking forward to the imminent publication of book three, a psychological thriller entitled THE HIDDEN WIFE, and signing on some very exciting dotted lines (actually that’s artistic license, it’s all digital signatures these days), I’ve been involved in more mentoring.

When I got my first book deal, back in 2016, I promised myself I’d Pay it Forward by helping unpublished writers whenever I can. I taught creative writing classes for years and love talking about and teaching writing. I’ve also run a fair few workshops, the latest one for ChipLitFest which was great fun and I hope useful for the participants.

After three books I think I can help, but of course I don’t have all the answers. Frustratingly, I’d imagine, the solutions can often only come from the authors themselves, but maybe I can point them in the right direction. (My first mentee, Nikki Smith, has signed a two book deal with Orion.)

My latest project came via a friend who really is the loveliest of people, and a very keen supporter of writers although not an author herself. Nicky Pettitt approached me to offer her beautiful Cotswold Airbnb as a writer’s retreat, free of charge for one lucky winner who would not otherwise be able to afford a few days away to concentrate on their novel. (I’m also chucking in some free mentoring during their stay.)

The competition is now closed to pitches and we are beavering our way through the entries as they come in but there are a few commonalities I’ve noticed, not only this time but in previous mentoring competitions I’ve thrown out, and I thought it might be worth sharing them.

Synopsis

This should precis the FULL story, beginning, middle and end. Including spoilers. This is not the time to hold back as the purpose of the synopsis is to show the scope of your story and how it plays out, right to the end.

Opening Paragraph

Something should happen. This may sound daft but you need to grab your reader here. Make them want to read on, and on.

Show not Tell

Ask yourself, ‘Does your reader need to know this?’ And if so, ‘Do they need to know now?’ If the answer to both those questions is yes, then fine, but there is still the need to proceed with caution. Info dumps or reams of description slow down the pace. The author’s task is to keep those pages turning.

The quality of the entries has been phenomenal, as is always the case. There is so much talent out there and I’m sure I only scratch the surface!

But also I see similar issues cropping up again and again.

I hope that highlighting these will help not only those of you who apply to work with me, but also anyone sending out their work to competitions like the GWN short story competition I’m judging, and those of you submitting to agents.

I’m sure a well constructed synopsis and a punchy opening paragraph will attract their attention for all the right reasons. Good luck!

Amanda x

Three Books - Who'd Have Thought It? - Not Me!!!

There was a day a few years back - maybe more than one but this one sticks in my mind - when my husband came home from work and found me sobbing into the kitchen island. I think that was my lowest point. I don’t even recall what had prompted that particularly melodramatic reaction, but I know there were times when being a published author seemed an impossible ambition.

If only I could have seen this photo…

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I took this last week when I was gathering together my resources for teaching a ‘Getting Started’ workshop at ChipLitFest. I wanted to take copies of my books with me and it was the first time I’d stacked them up together including my latest book THE HIDDEN WIFE. It sounds stupid, but I hadn’t really thought about the fact I now have three physical versions of my three books. Three published books. Three books with covers I love, spines that bear my name, acknowledgements and dedications inside that share the names of all the people who have helped me achieve this.

Me with Danielle at Waterstones Gloucester when I dropped in a proof copy of my latest book - THE HIDDEN WIFE

Me with Danielle at Waterstones Gloucester when I dropped in a proof copy of my latest book - THE HIDDEN WIFE

When I was struggling to get published I can’t tell you how many times I wondered if I was deluding myself. Was it pure vanity to call myself a writer and spend so much time and emotional energy on a journey no one had suggested I should undertake and had no guarantee of a successful outcome? In fact, the odds were very much against me. I found my agent via the slush pile, I knew no one in publishing and although I worked hard at my craft, I had no formal writing training, everything was self-taught.

What I did have was enough self-belief to never give up. Looking back, I don’t think I ever seriously considered it as an option. I was dogged. Sometimes all I had was my tenacity. Nothing else kept me going but the dream, and the odd bit of encouragement as I received ‘better’ rejections.

So if you share my dream don’t give up, keep trying, improving and editing and submitting. Mourn the rejections, then move on. Celebrate the successes as they come and remember that the only real guarantee is that if you give up, it won’t happen. And if you find yourself at your lowest ebb, crying into the cold granite worktop, know that one day you might be holding your published book or short story and it will all be worth it - promise!

If you have enjoyed reading this please take a look at my books available from Amazon, Kobo, iTunes and your local Waterstones and independent book shops. Thank you.

You can buy THE HIDDEN WIFE now in eBook and audio and from July in paperback from your local bookstore.

You can buy THE HIDDEN WIFE now in eBook and audio and from July in paperback from your local bookstore.

A Year of Seconds

2018 has In many ways BEEN a year of seconds: second book, second deal, second mentee.

It was a busy year, manic at times. I was writing book three whilst promoting book two. So I might have spent the day immersed in the world of THE HIDDEN WIFE then the evening reading and signing book two, LYING TO YOU. Which meant a quick refresh of my own words in between, to switch my brain from one book to the other. And although CLOSE TO ME published in 2017, it was translated in France, Poland and Russia in 2018, and published in paperback in the US.

Reflecting on the year, some moments stand out. The announcement in The Bookseller of my second deal, my appearance at Cheltenham and Stroud Festivals, and when my first mentee Nikki told me she’d secured a top literary agent. Also, reading Kate’s writing for the first time, my second mentee, and being invited to join The Ladykillers, a group of brilliant female crime writers.

Lying To You charting on both Amazon Kindle and Kobo bestseller lists was also wonderful, and the great reviews it’s received across Amazon, Netgalley and Goodreads.

2019 will see the publication of THE HIDDEN WIFE and I’ve been asked to do something very exciting later in the year that’s still secret.

Lying To You and Close To Me will also be published in more foreign territories in 2019/2020. It’s so thrilling to see my foreign covers and social media posts from far flung reviewers.

I’m also looking forward to writing something new, a book I hope will capture you all as much as the concept has excited me.

I wish all my readers and fellow writers a healthy, happy and productive new year.

Amanda x

The launch of LYING TO YOU at Waterstones in Cheltenham

The launch of LYING TO YOU at Waterstones in Cheltenham

The Polish edition of CLOSE TO ME - love this cover!

The Polish edition of CLOSE TO ME - love this cover!

Mentoring 2018 - The Importance of the Covering Letter - Karen Coles

Covering Letter

When you send out your completed chapters to a literary agent, you are taking a first step into the unknown world of publishing. And much like applying for your dream job, you want to present yourself in the best way possible. It’s easy to forget, in the scramble to polish your manuscript and put together a pithy and concise synopsis, that the first and possibly only thing an extremely busy agent will read is your covering letter.

That may seem unfair, but imagine for a moment you are that agent. You’ve spent your day seeing to your existing authors’ needs, and the only time you have to read from ‘the slush pile’ is after work, maybe on the train, or as you catch a flight, or in a taxi to your next meeting. You might have ten, twenty, fifty submissions waiting in your Inbox. The first few covering letters don’t grab you, but the tenth one does. Which one would you spend your precious time on?

Maybe, despite an uninspired covering letter an agent does read on, you might be lucky, but is that really the first impression you want to give? I know for a fact many agents won’t open emails addressed to ‘Dear Sir’, and why should they? If you can’t be bothered to learn their name, or sex, then why should they consider beginning a long-term working relationship?!

In this wonderful guest post by Karen Coles, she proves that a well-crafted covering letter can be the difference between form rejections and multiple offers of representation! Over to you Karen, and thanks so much for sharing your inspiring tale…

Karen Coles

Karen Coles

A few weeks ago, I was struggling to write a synopsis for my recently-completed novel. Having written several versions, I finally managed to cobble together a reasonable description of the events in the story. I breathed a sigh of relief. The opening chapters were polished to within an inch of their lives, bless them. The synopsis was done. All that was left to do was the covering letter. A doddle, I thought - a paragraph or so about the book, and a little a bit about me. It did not occur to me for one moment that the letter might be as, or even more, important than the synopsis.

I wrote my letters, emailed a few agents, and attached my sample chapters and synopsis. Then I sat back and waited. Before long, rejections started arriving – form rejections.

I re-read my chapters. I loved them, but knew they were a bit odd and wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Still, I was disappointed that none of this initial round had even asked for a full manuscript. Then I spotted a post about covering letters on Twitter, by the lovely Amanda Reynolds herself. I responded to it, saying how difficult I was finding it, and she very kindly offered to take a look at my letter. Let’s just say it needed some work!

My first error was in not mentioning why I was submitting to that particular agent. This made me think about the agents I had been sending my work to. I hadn’t even attempted to submit to ones I thought out of my reach – those who represented my favourite writers. This time, I decided to do just that. After all, if I was just going to let the story sit on my hard drive, I may as well aim high before mothballing it. Knowing why I really wanted to be represented by the agent meant it was much easier to write an individual letter.

The next problem Amanda spotted was that I didn’t have a killer hook. I hadn’t really captured the essence of the story at all and had instead made it sound a bit dull. No wonder agents hadn’t been keen to read on! I did find this immensely difficult to do, but it turned out to be well worth that extra effort.

I submitted the story again, and this time had four requests for a full manuscript. Although I had tweaked the opening chapters, they were minor changes and didn’t quite explain the different outcome. I do think it’s vital to submit to agents who represent your favourite writers - after all, the chances are your tastes in literature are going to match – but it’s also important to work as hard on the covering letter as on every other part of the submission package. Thanks to Amanda, I have finally realised this. I have now signed with my dream agent, so all the agonising over that covering letter was worth it after all. Thank you, Amanda x

Mentoring 2018 - Introducing Kate Galley

Back in April, I posted on Twitter offering to mentor a second novel writer on their journey to publication. My first mentee, Nikki Smith, had completed her submission package and was sending out her synopsis, chapters and covering letter. She would in fact go on to secure representation within weeks.

As before, the response and quality of both pitches and entries was phenomenal, but one stood out to me from the moment I read the opening line...'Whenever I allow myself to think about my mother, she comes to me in a series of monochrome vignettes'.

Here Kate introduces herself and her book, including the two best decisions she's made so far for her writing career. I'm very excited to be working with her! Over to Kate...

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I’ve had my head in a book for my entire life. As a child I would often sit on a book during dinner, so it was quick to pick up when I’d finished. I would make up tales with my sister and daydream storylines when I was out walking our family dog. When I had children I would turn them into characters for bedtime stories, something different every night, and yet it never occurred to me that writing was something I could or should do.

Three years ago that changed. Something (and I have no idea what) made me open  the small laptop I had at the time and start to write. Quite a gruesome tale about a mother, her daughter and the ghost of her dead father, but it got me writing. I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing, it felt like something I should keep to myself, but of course that couldn’t last. When I told my family I was writing I received such a positive response that it boosted my confidence immeasurably and I decide to enrol on a writing course. That was in March 2017. A six-week, online course with Curtis Brown that helped me to make the most of my writing and also make many friends. It was the first, best decision, with regards to writing, that I had made.

When people hear that I’m writing they ask me where I get my ideas from and the answer is easy; I’m a mobile hairdresser. My wonderful clients are a constant source of inspiration. Tales of farming days in Somerset from a lady who is in her one-hundredth year, stories of being a Wren in the second world war, and personal stories of love and loss. I encounter many people daily who enjoy telling me about their very varied lives.

My other passion is glass. I started by making stained glass windows nearly twenty years ago and moved on to kiln-formed glass sometime later. I’m involved with a great group of glass artists here in Buckinghamshire where I live.

I mentioned that enrolling on the writing course was the first best decision I made. The second was entering the competition that Amanda was running. I couldn’t believe that someone would be so generous to offer their precious time, I also didn’t think I would stand a chance of winning. I was blown away when she phoned me to say that she had picked me for the mentorship.

Working with Amanda has completely changed how I look at my writing and allowed me to have much more confidence in myself. I’ve sharpened up what was, at first, a very messy plot and even made the bold decision to cut an entire family from the original manuscript! Having an established author read your work and like it is a powerful thing and I will admit to getting a thrill if she highlights a passage with a note to say, ‘love this!’

 My book is a story about obsessive love, damaged relationships and the repercussions when someone takes secrets to the grave. For the first time I can see me finishing and being proud of it. What comes next is yet to be known.

Harrogate Crime Festival - The First Time

What should you expect on your first visit to The Harrogate International Crime Writing Festival?

Me (Left) with fellow Wildfire author Karen Hamilton, proudly showing off the proofs we bagged of The Tall Man (Phoebe Locke)

Me (Left) with fellow Wildfire author Karen Hamilton, proudly showing off the proofs we bagged of The Tall Man (Phoebe Locke)

Last year was full of many firsts for me, publication of my debut CLOSE TO ME being the biggest, but going to Harrogate was certainly up there as one of the most memorable and fun. I was days away from paperback publication and full of anticipation and excitement. A special time. My second book LYING TO YOU is also due out just a few days after Harrogate so it's turning into a bit of  a tradition for me. 

Here are my top tips for first-timers, as I was in 2017...

  1. Don't worry about going alone, or being published, or an author. Loads of people come on their own, from all backgrounds: writers, bloggers, readers as well as their family and friends. It's a great chance to mingle with everyone. If you do know someone who is going, why not arrange to get together when you arrive? That's what Laura Marshall and I did after connecting on Twitter (our debuts were both due out just after Harrogate). It was great to have that support, but if you know no one, I promise you soon will.
  2. Have the courage to mix. If you think you recognise someone from Twitter or Facebook then say Hi. They will be just as pleased as you are to have a chat.
  3. If you buy a weekend pass/package you will get a great big goody bag of books, so make sure you have a way of carrying it home. It's heavy but you will cry if you have to leave any of your bounty behind. (You'll also get a lanyard that gets you in to all the panels and entitles you to free tea/coffee and lunches in The Old Swan, which were excellent.)
  4. If you don't book a weekend pass you'll need to buy tickets for the panels in advance, and get there early on the day as the seats fill up fast and the back is a long way away!
  5. People come and go, generally milling around outside on the lawns (where the bar is!). There are a lot of things happening: panel events, hosted drinks/dinners, proof giveaways, signings. If you're at a loose end (unlikely) take the chance to have a breather or look for someone new to chat with.
  6. If you see an author whose books you've read, enjoyed, maybe reviewed, then let them know. They will be so happy to hear it and have the chance to thank you in person.
  7. Simiarly if you see a Blogger who has supported you, go chat. I'm sure they'd love that too.
  8. Stay somewhere within walking distance so you can pop back if you need to. It's a great few days but can be exhausting. Good sometimes to take a moment and maybe change, eat, call home, sleep!
  9. It's a long convivial day-into-evening vibe. I'd say it's an unwise move to start the proceedings with two G&Ts at four in the afternoon - not that I'd do that, of course!
  10. Take photos! This is the sum total of mine. I'll try harder this year.
My book haul from Harrogate 2017

My book haul from Harrogate 2017

Phobe signing proofs of The Tall Man - there was a long queue!

Phobe signing proofs of The Tall Man - there was a long queue!

When is it OK to call yourself a writer?

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On #nationalwritingday I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the title of WRITER.

 

When do you allow yourself that job description and what does it really mean to you and others?

I was earning a modest living from writing a long time before I was published and yet I never called myself a writer. I was an on-line seller of murder mystery games (that I'd written), and then a creative writing teacher (teaching classes twice a week for almost five years).

One of the first questions I was often asked during that teaching time was 'Are you published?'. It felt like that was the gold standard and once I was able to say 'Yes, I am', theirs and my doubts would disappear. The irony was, when I did finally secure the longed-for agent and book deal, I was too busy to teach.

But I'm jumping ahead.

Let's go back to the start. To the day roughly ten years ago when I left a really horrible job and told them it was because I was going to write a book. It was a bit like joining a gym, or giving up wine (as if!). I'd told people, so I'd have to do it.

It would be years and a few unpublished manuscripts before I secured that book deal, and now, two books in, that feeling of needing professional validation has in-part remained with me. It feels OK to call myself a writer because I write full-time and my books are published, but in truth, I've been a writer all my life. Even as a child I wrote stories and one summer a very short book. (I was a precocious only child!)

But is there a distinction to be made?

If an author is 'a writer of a book, article, or document' then perhaps the change in perception comes when your book is published and you graduate from calling yourself a writer, to being an author? I asked some of my friends who write when/if they started calling themselves a writer...

Still feels strange now but I have been doing so for many years (long before publication) I believe if you write, you're a writer.

I know I should but in my head I won't be a 'proper' writer till I've sold my book.

Think really you should always say it as soon as you start - if you know it’s in your blood.

I didn’t feel comfortable calling myself a writer until I sold.

I say author now but I've been a 'writer' for years.

Maybe the answer to the writer thing is whatever makes you feel most motivated and comfortable.

Writing is often considered a vocation, something as essential as other needs, integral to our psyche and as such, unavoidable. On this day of writing, enjoy being a writer.

Amanda Reynolds

How to Find the Perfect Agent (Part Three) - The Debut Author

In the third part of my 'How to Find the Perfect Agent' posts, I asked Nikki Smith, my first mentee, to share her recent experience of submitting her work to agents and signing with one!

After some amazing published authors have given their thoughts on choosing an agent, and Sarah Williams (SHA) has said what she as an agent is looking for in an author, Amanda thought it might be useful for people to read about my experience as a debut author who has just secured an agent; the lovely Sophie Lambert at C+W.

(Nikki Smith)

My daughters' hands when we were on holiday last year - because acts of kindness and generosity can have such a lasting impact

My daughters' hands when we were on holiday last year - because acts of kindness and generosity can have such a lasting impact

My dream has always been to be a writer. I’ve had many varied jobs from a cake baking business to working in finance for a trampoline park, but more than anything I wanted to be an author. My journey has been a long one, and I would say to anyone who is currently writing, that more than anything, a huge amount of perseverance, determination and patience is required, as this process can (and usually does) take a long time.

I wrote a couple of books many years ago (looking back, I know they were NOT GOOD!) and after submitting them and getting rejections, I stopped trying. I continued to write, but just for myself. A few more years passed when I had my daughters and my job meant I was working crazy hours. A friend I’d been at school with (and hadn’t seen for twenty years) contacted me to ask if I’d ever done anything about my writing as she still remembered the stories I’d read out in class - thank you Natalia! It gave me the push I needed to do something serious about my writing so I signed up for a six-week Curtis Brown online course. I loved it, so I signed up for a second, started writing my novel in earnest, and then went on a three-month online course to try and improve what I’d written.

At this point I was in a job which was very stressful, so I resigned and went freelance so I could concentrate on my writing. I decided to give myself a year to see how far I could get. My husband agreed (I’m sure he thought I was insane but he was kind enough not to tell me that!) Then I entered a competition that Amanda was running and she picked me to be her mentee. Getting that phone call from her was the first time I felt my writing might have potential and gave me such a huge boost to my confidence. I also started entering writing competitions.

My Nan, Lily - she sadly died last year but left me some money in her Will and without it I'd never have done the CBC 3 month course

My Nan, Lily - she sadly died last year but left me some money in her Will and without it I'd never have done the CBC 3 month course

Once Amanda and I had worked together on my novel for a few months, I began to draw up a spreadsheet of agents to submit to. I found them by looking at their profiles on their agency pages, seeing who represented other authors I liked, checking whether they’d be interested in the genre of book I wrote, following them on twitter and watching videos of events they’d spoken at. I knew at this stage my book wasn’t ready, but I also knew how hard it would be to secure an agent (those odds are terrifyingly scary), so I wanted to do my research thoroughly.

The temptation to submit as soon as I thought I was ‘finished’ was huge, but I’m so glad I didn’t. Thinking I was ‘finished’ proved not to be the case the first three times – my MS needed a lot more work. Taking on board criticism is essential to improving your writing – if you can’t accept it then you aren’t going to be able to work with an agent as no MS is perfect (sadly!). Amanda made suggestions that helped me with this (and I should thank Hayley Hoskins as well for her input). Getting trusted readers to give feedback, consider it, and take time away from writing to come back with fresh eyes is so important. You only get one chance to submit, so don’t blow it by trying too early.

My cat Saffi, in her usual position for the day - she's kept me company over the past year whilst I was writing

My cat Saffi, in her usual position for the day - she's kept me company over the past year whilst I was writing

Once my novel was as good as I thought I could get it, I chose a few agents on my list and submitted the first three chapters, a cover letter and a synopsis. All literary agencies want things in a slightly different format, so read the instructions SEVERAL times and prepare a draft email – send it to yourself, wait, and re-read it the next day to double check for any errors. It’s so easy to send something off in a flurry of excitement, only to realise you’ve spelt the agent’s name wrong, and at that point, you’ve lost one of your potential chances.

I had my first rejection within hours of sending my first few emails. I was expecting rejections, but to get one that fast did knock me a bit! But I picked myself up and kept going. I started writing down ideas for a second book to keep my mind off refreshing my emails (which I still did. A LOT). I’m not a patient person and found waiting for responses really hard.

After a couple of weeks, I had requests for the full MS from three agents, a couple of standard rejections and one personal rejection asking to see any future work if I didn’t manage to get an agent for this one. Each time I got a rejection I sent a submission to another agent. Then I had an email from Sophie (who had the full MS) asking to see me. I felt she really understood my book, she had great suggestions on how I could improve it and I thought we got on well which I know will be so important in the months to come.

I was on a complete high after Sophie offered to represent me (and still am!) but also realise this is far from the end of the journey, but getting an agent does feel like I’ve jumped over a major hurdle and is the first time I feel I can legitimately call myself an author – which for me, is a dream come true.

Thanks so much Nikki for sharing your journey.

Amanda Reynolds

A gripping drama with dark twists and turns, perfect for fans of Big Little Lies, Anatomy of a Scandal, and Doctor Foster. 'GRIPPING and TWISTY' Laura Marshall, No.1 bestselling author of FRIEND REQUEST
'COMPULSIVELY READABLE' Kate Hamer, author of THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT

You think you know the truth, but what if your husband is LYING TO YOU?

When Jess Tidy was Mark Winter's student, she made a shocking accusation. Mark maintained his innocence, but the damage was done.

Karen Winter stood by her husband through everything, determined to protect her family.

Now, ten years later, Jessis back. And the truth about that night is finally going to come out . . .

How To Find the Perfect Agent (Part Two) - The Agent's Perspective

Me (L) with my agent, Sarah Williams (Sophie Hicks Agency)

Me (L) with my agent, Sarah Williams (Sophie Hicks Agency)

In the second part of my 'How to Find the Perfect Agent' I asked my agent, Sarah Williams, a few questions about finding talent and what makes a manuscript stand out.

When I contacted Sarah she read my submission quickly, requesting the full manuscript within days. She then got back to me  asking to have a chat as she thought it was 'wonderful'. I was on holiday in Italy, staying in a remote farmhouse, so we arranged to chat on the phone in a few days. I was seated at a cafe table in Lucca when she offered to represent me, the phone signal then cutting out! I danced through the tiny streets afterwards, a celebratory ice-cream in my hand and my family a few paces behind, pretending they weren't with me!

  • Hi Sarah, thanks so much for answering my questions, I know a lot of writers often wonder how an agent sifts through the huge volume of submissions they receive. What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to authors submitting to you to ensure they stand out? 

I can’t emphasise enough how important your cover letter is – and there is so much advice online about how to craft an excellent one. I don’t need to know what you like to do in your spare time or how long you’ve been married or where you live. I need you to pitch your book succinctly, tell me a little bit about it and where you see it on a bookshelf and why I’m the right agent for it. I’m not Sir or Agent or Editor - any submissions that don’t address me by name get deleted.  

  • Great advice. Thorough research is so important, and saves wasting everyone's time. So beyond getting that cover letter right, what was it about the authors you have on your books that made you choose to represent them?

For fiction, it can be any of a number of things that grab my attention and will make me fall in love with a book – from an incredible, vivid voice to a character I either love or hate or a world that I completely fall into and can’t stop thinking about even after I’ve turned the last page. For non-fiction, it is usually a story or an idea that is so unique, I want to keep reading more of what I’ve already seen and can immediately picture what a whole book would look like. 

  • What takes up most of your time as an agent?

I’d love to say lunches with editors and reading fabulous manuscripts, but in reality: answering emails. I am perpetually dealing with a range of things for my authors such as commentary on book jacket design to negotiating a film option to updating translation publishers on delivery dates to discussing publicity plans to fielding requests for speaking engagements. You name it, I’m probably dealing with it. 

  • Sounds fun but frantic! What do you do for me that I probably have no idea about?

Good question! I think the thing authors sometimes don’t realise (especially those who think they don’t need an agent!) is that even if I haven’t spoken to you in a few days, I have talked about you and promoted you in some way during my day-to-day dealings with other people. I’ve had lunch with an editor who is looking for something specific and I talk about you. I’ve just been called by a production company in LA and have told them all about you and your new book. I’ve emailed the new, fantastic review of your book to the translation publisher who is considering buying your book for their territory. The promotion is endless! 

  • So out of all that, what would you say is the best part of your job?

Making that phone call to say: you have a book deal or a film deal. Every single call like this I make is as thrilling for me as the very first one I ever made.

Believe me, it's just as exciting to receive those calls!

Thanks so much Sarah, for all your advice and the insight into the world of being a literary agent. 

Amanda Reynolds