For any writer intent on a traditional publishing deal, the first major achievement is securing representation from a literary agent.
Most publishing houses - with the exception of some smaller indie presses, and the odd 'open submissions' window - will not accept direct approaches, so an agent is essential. But your agent does much more than submit your manuscript. Making the right choice is crucial.
'It is worth taking great care with the agent you choose as it will probably be your single most important working relationship, ' Fiona Cummins, bestselling author of Rattle and The Collector, told me, 'For me, it was key to find an agent who was approachable (I've heard stories about authors being too scared to email their agents) and who would push me to produce my very best writing. Happily, I feel Sophie (Lambert) is a perfect fit for me.'
Laura Marshall, author of Sunday Times bestseller, Friend Request, told me how important is it to get on with your agent. 'Consider who you click with the most when you meet them and who your instinct says will be the best fit for your career. Who is the most passionate about your book, and basically who do you like the most. I am so happy with my agent (Felicity Blunt). She is always absolutely in my corner, fighting battles for me that I don't even know exist! She is a tireless advocate for me and my books. Also she's brilliant editorially and it's so good to have her to talk to about new work in the early stages. Also on a personal level she is really supportive. '
Olivia Kiernan, author of debut crime novel Too Close To Breathe, and represented by Susan Armstrong, concurred. 'I know everyone says it but I can’t express fervently enough how important it is to choose an agent who you feel you can talk to and work with!'
Editorial input is definitely a consideration when choosing an agent. Make sure you only submit to those agents you would be happy to accept, should they offer, otherwise you're wasting everyone's time! Do they represent your genre, do they have a good track record of success, how editorial are they and will they look after your foreign rights and any TV/Film interest?
Jenny Quintana, author of the brilliant, The Missing Girl, and represented by Sophie Lambert too, advises, 'Try to get an agent who will be honest about your manuscript and will work with you on it before submission.'
Laura Shepherd-Robinson, author of Blood and Sugar, out in 2019 (can't wait!), represented by Antony Topping at Greene & Heaton, agrees with Jenny on this. 'The agent who makes you work hardest is the one for you!’
So how do you find your perfect agent? The direct, and probably the most often used route, is via the 'Slush Pile'. An unfortunate term, but the system works well, with many authors finding their perfect agent this way, myself included. But it's not the only way.
Jo Jakeman, author of the recently published Sticks and Stones told me how it happened for her...'I met my agent, Imogen Pelham (Marjacq), at York Festival of writing. After I won Friday Night Live I had a few agents wanting to see the full ms. Imogen spoke to me as if my characters were real people. I felt she understood me and my book more than the others did, but she didn’t shy away from giving me advice on where my book could be strengthened. She talks me off the ledge when I’m stressed, is super attentive, and is a badass negotiator. If it wasn’t for her I would have sold the rights to my book for a bottle of wine (and been thankful!). I have a great relationship with my editor too but I know that partnership could be short lived, whereas I hope to be working with Imogen for the rest of my career.'
Twitter is also a great resource for connecting with agents, but as Laura Shepherd-Robinson pointed out, 'There are a lot of top agents (often with very good established lists) who don't do Twitter because they don't have time/inclination and don't need to.'
So don't rely on social media as your sole resource, make sure you research the agents you're interested in thoroughly, via their websites and where possible by personal recommendation.
Steph Broadribb, author of My Little Eye, (as Stephanie Marland) and Deep down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble told me about how she met her agent, Oliver Munson. 'My submission process was rather unorthodox- I went out on the town with my future agent and a bunch of other authors after a book launch then had a DM conversation after about the book. He read the book in two days and offered representation.'
Steph and I both agreed that your agent needs to be someone you'd be happy to spend time with, preferably over a glass of wine!
Finding the right agent takes lots of research, tenacity (unless you're very fortunate!), good timing, a great manuscript, and a bit of serendipity! But find the right one and they will be your biggest cheerleader, as well as your contract expert, chaser of everything, answerer of a million questions, and hopefully your advocate for your whole career.
My agent is the brilliantly supportive Sarah Williams, of Sophie Hicks Agency, and in the second part of this blog post I'll be talking to Sarah about what she looks for in her authors.