How long does it take to get an agent? Some of the authors I’ve spoken to took just a couple of months. Others – like me – took a lot longer to find someone to represent them.
In my case, I think my journey was hampered by the fact I never really thought I’d get one.
Having an agent, getting actually published was something that happened to other people.
Not people like me.
I underachieved at school after being bullied; I went to a mediocre university. I landed a job as a teacher and while I did well, found the job physically exhausting. I developed anxiety, went through infertility – and while I emerged from it all relatively happy, it was also with the belief that whenever I flipped a coin, it would land Gillian side down.
I always believed in my ability to write, but when it came to seeking representation, I treated it a bit like a lottery. I didn’t really do much research (other than a quick flick of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook) and would send off chapters in giant manilla envelopes (yes, it’s been a LONG search), only to have them land with a thud on the doormat three or four weeks later.
During my search, I wrote several different novels. I experimented with style. I like to think that my writing improved.
But more than anything, I think that my confidence grew.
You might imagine that you’d have to be pretty damn confident to apply to an agent in the first place. But for me, it was something I did fairly secretly and didn’t even talk about. In a way, it felt as if was punching above my weight.
Once in a while, I’d get a ray of hope – an agent scribbled that my book was “better than most” on the corner of a manuscript. A couple of times I was asked for a full submission – meaning they wanted to read my whole book.
But I was always nearly there, and never quite made it.
Now, talking to other debut authors I’ve realised that some of them actually researched their agent. They decided what THEY wanted and who they wanted to work with.
It sounds so sensible! But I think in my case I was scared of wanting a particular agent too much – who wants to be rejected by someone you’ve invested time getting to know?!
My method was more of the stick a pin in the listing, send something off and hope.
Luckily after over a decade of trying, I finally landed on my feet.
I wrote Everything is Fine in 2016 – at the time I was recovering from PND and used to write a chapter each evening. It gave me something to focus my thoughts on and put a bit of structure in my day (it was also a way of getting out of putting the little ones to bed and reading endless stories, which luckily my husband is pretty good at).
It wasn’t until 2018 that I was ready to send it off in earnest. I tried a couple of agents with the first draft – they asked for full read-throughs, but I never quite made it. I decided my central character might be more appealing when written in the third instead of the first person and set about rewriting the entire book.
Then, finally, I found my agent.
I’d already decided who I was going to try first when I finished the novel. Ger, from the Book Bureau – someone who’d rejected a previous novel from me, but who’d taken the time to write and encourage me to send anything I wrote in the future her way. “I think you have that something,” she wrote.
It was those words of encouragement that gave me the impetus to redraft the book.
And those words were the reason I went straight back to Ger when I’d finished ‘Everything is Fine.’
She said yes – and here we are.
It could have been a disaster – now I’m more experienced, I realise that the agent/author relationship is crucial.
Luckily, Ger has been a great agent – really supportive of everything I’ve done, a great cheerleader and someone who tells it like it is when it comes to ideas for novels, or sample chapters.
I now believe that if I’d had more confidence, I may have snagged myself an agent long ago.
My underlying feeling that I’d never actually ‘make it’ meant that I didn’t edit my manuscripts thoroughly enough. I didn’t research the right agencies enough. And I gave up after sending a novel off a few times. Perhaps if I’d believed in myself more, I’d have gone the extra mile and reached this point in my career long ago.
At the same time, I still have to pinch myself every day when I realise I’m a published author. And I know that as well as improving my writing, I lived a little more during the time when I was trying – I’m more wrinkly but I like to think of myself as wiser too.
Writers, as a whole, aren’t a confident bunch. But if you’re searching for an agent yourself, I’d urge you to keep going and, unlike me, do a little research before reaching out.