On today’s Book and Brew takeover, author Jane Cable talks to us about working with a literary agent.
Jane is a writer of romantic fiction and, after publishing two novels independently, she was signed by her agent, Felicity Trew of the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency. Her third book, Another You, was acquired by Endeavour Press and published at the end of 2016.
This is the story of how she found and successfully worked with her agent.
I think I had probably given up trying to find an agent. A few years earlier it had been the be all and end all of my writing career but with the upswing in independent publishing that seemed to change. Anyone could publish a book, and with the right book and the right marketing, they could sell it too.
What convinced me that I had the right book was an early draft of The Cheesemaker’s House reaching the final of The Alan Titchmarsh Show’s People’s Novelist competition. I knew I had something because one of the judges, Sophie Hannah, told me so. She also told me that my writing was very raw and needed to improve so I spent the next year or so honing my craft.
It goes without saying that the market for fiction is very, very crowded. It’s tough out there – and even the top agents can struggle to find deals for new writers. Which makes it even harder for them to take new writers on. After a couple of near misses (“you write well, but…”) I stopped submitting my manuscripts and concentrated on publishing them instead.
Of course I secretly yearned for more. I walked around supermarkets looking at the books on the shelves, just knowing that if one of mine was there people would pick it up. I’d stand in Waterstones, dreaming of seeing The Cheesemaker’s House on the offer tables by the door. But even my local branch wasn’t interested in stocking an independently published novel.
In 2015 I entered The Cheesemaker’s House for the writing charity Words for the Wounded’s inaugural Independent Novel of the Year Award and, to my surprise, it won. Not that I was surprised by the day the results were announced – I’d already been tipped off by the organisers but sworn to secrecy. And I was tipped off because an agent who supported the charity, Felicity Trew, wanted to read both my books.
Let me pause here for a moment. Words for the Wounded runs this competition every year and all the entry fees go directly to help injured service personnel. They have high profile patrons, judges and supporters and winning the award has the potential to change a writer’s life. If you have an independently published novel the closing date for this year isn’t until 11 March – apply here now.
Connecting with an agent
May 2015 was a breathless time. Felicity devoured both my books and, after a flurry of emails, we arranged to meet at Heathrow before she flew off to New York. It all seemed impossibly glamourous to me but Felicity was refreshingly down to earth and what was more – despite our age difference (I’m almost old enough to be her mother) – we got on really well as people, too. By the time she disappeared through the departure gate I had that rarest of jewels – a literary agent.
At our initial meeting I presented Felicity with a number of ideas and luckily she really liked the manuscript I was actually working on, tentatively titled The Seahorse Summer. To be fair, she loved the title as well. All I had to do was finish it.
I sent Felicity my first draft with my heart in my mouth. Would it be good enough? Would it be so bad she’d sack me on the spot? In truth it was somewhere in between; I had written two stories, not one. I had killed a character Felicity wanted me to focus on. There needed to be a more satisfying love interest. But the most heartening thing was her enthusiastic praise of my writing. I knew it was going to be OK.
Working on a book together
We met in an Italian restaurant in Notting Hill to work on the book. We plotted away, creating an entirely new character over our pasta and generally having a great deal of fun. Something I’d never expected from an agent was help with of this kind and it was really wonderful to have someone to bounce ideas off. I’d worked with professional editors before but this felt different. People asked me if I minded that Felicity wanted to change my book. I was delighted she had ideas – at the end of the day, she was the one who had to sell it and I wanted her to have total confidence as she approached publishing houses.
Three months later the second draft was delivered. Felicity’s edit notes described it as ‘super promising’ and we met again. The opening wasn’t strong enough and I needed to turn up the gas on the main romance, but progress was definitely being made. By early in 2016 she was happy with the book and began selling it.
Building an author brand
We also needed to work on my author brand. I’d always described myself as a writer of romantic suspense but that was hardly unique – and quite often misunderstood. Now I can proudly say that I am a writer of romance with a hint of ghostliness set in beautiful British locations. Oddly enough, having the essence of my work distilled makes it easier to write it.
The process of selling The Seahorse Summer – and negotiating the final contract with Endeavour – seemed long and drawn out to me (although other authors assure me it wasn’t) but Felicity kept me in touch every step of the way and came up with a deal we were all happy with. Although I’m quite business savvy I’d never have known what good looks like in a contract. Neither do I have all the contacts in the publishing trade to know who’s buying what and for how much. And I certainly would have panicked when Endeavour wanted to change the name of the book at what seemed to be the last minute, but Felicity was cool and calm and helped me to pick the new title, Another You.
Now, we’re moving on to the next project. I have a commitment to provide a draft for her next month and that keeps me focused. Felicity’s hunger to read what I’ve come up with is a really big motivation for me to make it as good as possible. And with an agent who looks after the business side of things and will sell what I produce, I actually have more time to write. What author doesn’t want that?