Needles in haystacks and the tricky business of finding an agent

needle in haystack

Since the start of the year, I have been without an agent. Sob, sob. As any writer will tell you, getting an agent is harder than getting a publisher, so this ‘agent-less’ situation I found myself in was a little daunting, to say the least, and made me appreciate how my five-year-old felt when we left his favourite teddy behind when we went on holiday recently (and the less said about that, the better).

Having an agent is so important for a writer for many, many reasons, but they have to be the right agent – someone who is interested in the genre you are writing in, someone who ‘gets’ you and ultimately someone who is as excited about your writing (if not more so) than you are. As one agent said to me once, ‘I have to love the writer so much that I want to break down the publisher’s doors to make sure they get published.’ This is a serious relationship you are looking for – commitment, passion, enthusiasm, excitement – it’s pretty much up there with marriage.

But finding the ‘right’ agent isn’t simply a case of sticking a pin in the latest edition of the Writers and Artists Yearbook and hoping for the best. Neither is it a case of sending out hundreds of random letters to agents who may, or may not, be interested in your subject matter, let alone in representing you. This isn’t a numbers game at all (although I am sure there are authors who have done exactly what I’ve just described and are now international best-sellers). For me, finding an agent was about carefully researching which agents – and agencies – might be right for me. But there is still a bit of ‘needle in a haystack’ impossibility about all this, because unless you’ve met or interacted with the agent in some way, how do you really know anything about them and what if, with the best research in the world, it still doesn’t lead to representation, still doesn’t lead to your agent being found?

It’s a tricky, almost myth-riddled business with talk of super-agents and up-and-coming agents and agents of the year …. and can lead to a lot of teeth-gnashing by the poor writer who isn’t sure where to go next, or even if these ‘elusive’ agents actually even exist.

But, bear with me, because there is hope! After approaching three, carefully selected, agents at the start of the year, (which didn’t lead to representation – booo, hiss), I found myself getting more and more frustrated with the whole issue, so I decided to relax about it all for a while and concentrate on my writing.

And guess what?

Earlier this month I was contacted – I WAS CONTACTED! – by two agents – TWO! – in New York – NEW YORK! – who had both read ‘The Girl Who Came Home’, loved it, wondered if I was working on anything else and whether I was looking for representation? Of course I fell off my office/kitchen chair. This is the sort of email you dream about. This doesn’t happen to me – except, it did!

To cut a fairly short and surprisingly fast-moving story even shorter, I am very excited and delighted to say that I now have a wonderful agent, Michelle Brower, who is with Folio Literary Management, a mid-sized agency in New York. After receiving Michelle’s initial ‘chair-fall-inducing’ message, I did some research on her and the agency and I immediately loved what I read. I had a sense that Michelle was ‘right’ for me and after talking with her on the phone, this became even more apparent. For me, the most exciting, reassuring thing about this is that Michelle is very excited about my writing. She ‘gets’ me, loves the genre I write in – historical fiction – and is very clear about where she feels my writing could fit with certain publishers. Of course, there is still a long way to go and I’ll have to be patient as I wait for Michelle to break down those publishers’ doors, but it is such a huge step in the right direction.

Finding an agent has been a bumpy – and at times frustrating – road and, for a while, I was really at a total loss as to where to go or what to do next. But taking a step back, not panicking, tapping into those reserves of Yorkshire grit within me and, ultimately adding a spoonful of self-belief to a healthy dose of patience, has certainly paid off. I definitely feel as though I was supposed to wait for that email from Michelle and that signing with any of the other agents I had approached would have been the wrong thing for me and my writing.  With Michelle’s help, I also feel that I am turning a corner and that  this is a new start for me and my writing. Exciting times indeed!

So, although it turns out that agents are pretty much as hard to find as a needle in a haystack, for any writers out there who are looking, I can assure you that they can – and will – be found, but only when the time is right for you.

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