Special Guest: Sarah Hilary

Getting an Agent by Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN, is nominated for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year. It was the Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”), a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. NO OTHER DARKNESS, the second in the series, was published in April 2015. The Marnie Rome series is being developed for television.

Here’s what I learnt five years ago, at the beginning of my journey to publication. I hope it helps if you’re at this stage. If you’re beyond it, maybe you’ll share a wry smile at the memories. NB: the bits in brackets and italics are the bits that tell you How NOT to Get an Agent. But you know that, right?

How to Get an Agent (or not)

  1. Write a damn good book. (Convince yourself it’s word-perfect; show it to no one who might cast doubt on this conviction)
  1. Pitch the book to the right agent in the prescribed manner. (Or not. Don’t let submission guidelines get in your way; this book can’t be pinned down in a paragraph)
  1. Practice patience. (Chase after two weeks. That’s plenty of time for the book’s brilliance to have penetrated)
  1. Submit a full ms on request in the prescribed manner. (Convince yourself this is it: your genius is about to be universally acknowledged and rewarded)
  1. When a rejection comes, accept it with good grace. Put it to one side if necessary until you’re in the right frame of mind to read it as the valuable information you need to get better at what you do. (Curse and pity the poor fools who didn’t have the wit to recognise genius when they read it; do not entertain the idea that they know more than you do about books and publishing. If you really want to go to town, tweet about their ridiculous rejection in the hope that other agents will take note)
  1. Start a new book, keeping close at hand the rejection letter that contained vital information about what you needed to do to get further ahead this time. (Start a new book ignoring that ridiculous rejection, which you’ve torn up in any case)
  1. Pitch and submit as earlier. (Dont forget to mention the idiots that turned down your previous work of genius)
  1. Accept the rejection with good grace, learning from it all that you can. (Wonder what is wrong with a world that can reject you twice. Storm. Rant. Flounce. Better: do it on your blog, naming and shaming those who thwarted you. Alternatively, curl up in a ball and never come out)
  1. Repeat steps six to eight, as required. (Give up. Tell yourself it’s because you’re too good to get published)

When I was lucky enough to be signed by Gregory & Company, a fantastic agency that specialises in crime and thrillers, it was with the full knowledge that my book needed work, of course it did. Thanks to a brilliant team at the agency, and an editor who knows exactly how to lead a writer through what’s needed, I felt enthused rather than daunted. In fact, I was dying to get stuck into the changes.

‘You’ve been trying us for some time,’ Jane said when we met.

‘I’m famed for my stamina,’ I confessed.

Not to mention bloody-mindedness, but also as it turns out, the ability to listen to what I’m told and to know that a good writer can always — ALWAYS — be a better writer.

Keep the faith, take advice from the experts, never give up. (Or, you know, not)

You can reach Sarah on Facebook

Twitter – @sarah_hilary

Or over at her website – www.sarahhilary.com

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