All it took was was a ticket and three glasses of champagne for one aspiring writer...
When I was five, a teacher gave me a blank notebook with pages divided into two parts; one widely-ruled, to accommodate my childish scrawl, the other blank for pictures. I wrote about a pirate ship, an epic adventure on the high seas that seemed like it went on for chapters and chapters, but in reality could have only been two or three pages long. But it was enough, and I was hooked. Not only did I write, but I also loved to read, especially Point Horror and, when I was a little older, Stephen King.
I was twenty-seven when I decided it was time to write the novel I knew I had inside me (and would be more than two or three pages). It was a Young Adult fantasy, something to tie in with what was selling well at the time. Within three months I was finished, breathless from the thrill of having finally completed a full manuscript and with the anticipation of whatever may follow. To show his pride and support, my husband bought me a ticket to Marie Claire’s ‘How to get Published’ event. I was thrilled, but had months to wait so decided to begin my own research.
I spent hours trawling websites, researching the best way to get published. I wrote to twelve agents and soon had some interest, quickly followed by offer of representation from a small-time agent with a big New York accent. But, somehow, I didn’t feel a click with him. I agonised over the decision until finally someone I trusted told me, ‘no agent is better than a bad agent’. And so I thanked him kindly and declined his offer. I alternated between relief and a sick feeling that nobody else would be interested in my work, but a day or two later a letter landed on my doorstep from a reputable agency located in Edinburgh, asking to see my manuscript. More good news was to follow; a week later, among the rejection letters that had begun to pile up was another request for more.
By the time Marie Claire’s event came around, I was in discussion with two agents, but with no firm offer from either.
And so, in August of 2010, I made my way into central London, to Marie Claire HQ. It was incredibly hot and as we were served champagne on the terrace overlooking the city I spoke to many people, some of whom were just beginning their writing journey while others, like me, were looking for an agent.
With an artificial confidence provided by the two or three glasses of fizz I’d managed to quaff on the veranda, I took a seat in the front row, directly in front of the panel, which included Katie Espiner from HarperCollins, and author Harriet Evans, alongside Jonathan Lloyd, CEO of Curtis Brown Literary Agency. It was fantastic. You can learn a lot online, but events like Marie Claire’s, where you can hear from successful authors and the people who publish them, are invaluable. I still think back to that evening and am so thankful I had the chance to attend.
With the Q&A session over, we had a chance to ‘mingle’ with the panellists. And by mingle, I mean join the throng of twenty or thirty people crowded around them. I managed to chat with Jonathan and was blown away with how personable he was. When it was my turn, we had a chat about the agents who were interested in my book. I remember him telling me that interest was all well and good, but had there been any offers? I told him yes, in fact, there had been, but I turned them down because we didn’t click. At this point he paused, asked if I had contacted Curtis Brown’s YA agent, then pulled out a card and scribbled down her email address, telling me to contact her first thing in the morning.
I clutched that card all the way home, as though it were a winning lottery ticket. In a way, that’s exactly what it turned out to be. The next morning I emailed the agent, Stephanie Thwaites, and within a couple of hours had received an enthusiastic reply asking me for the full manuscript. Stephanie said she’d get back to me after the weekend with an answer. I immediately went online, searching the Curtis Brown website as though it were a crystal ball and would tell me what Stephanie’s answer would be. It gave me no answer, but I did find Stephanie’s bio, which talked of her love of gothic literature and Point Horror. It may not have been a crystal ball, but finding out our tastes were so similar seemed like a very good sign.
Sure enough Stephanie called me on the Monday while my husband and I were driving through the Lake District. She loved my book! She wanted to meet me! A week later I was in her office and she was my agent. Unfortunately that first manuscript wasn’t to be, but Stephanie believed in me and my work, and I went on to write a YA thriller, THE 100 SOCIETY, something that felt much more ‘me’ than the fantasy novel I’d first pitched. We sold the thriller to Hodder Children’s Books and it was be published in September 2014. Hodder also happened to publish Stephen King, my literary hero. I still have to pinch myself when I think about that one!
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if I had never attended that Marie Claire event. Perhaps one of the other agents would have offered representation. But maybe not. Someone once said to me that in the world of publishing, all the stars need to be aligned before you get a deal. While I can understand what they were saying, I have realised that there are ways to give the stars a little nudge in the right direction – and all it took for me was a ticket and three glasses of champagne.
Here’s more practical advice on how to get a book published…