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

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