Every writer knows that, unless you have balls of steel and the confidence of Lady GaGa, it’s the only thing to do if you want to be published. Get an agent.
Because most people who write want to be read, right? It’s certainly why I write. Yes, there’s some ‘getting things out of my system’ involved, and some ‘checking that motherhood hasn’t totally turned my brain to mush’ involved, but essentially, at the core of it, thumping away like the heart of a newborn, is the desire to be read and to be read by as many people as possible. And with an agent on your side you’ve got a chance, a fighting chance, of your words being seen by more than you and your cat. They have contacts, they have clout, they have credibility.
I’d already done my research on David Headley and DHH Literary Agency before we met at the Pitch Up! event at London AuthorFair. Lit Factor had teamed us up so they must have thought we had something in common. From my research it didn’t seem that he was calling out for a 1940s wartime novel set in the Orkney Islands but the Agency website did say they aimed to ‘discover and nurture talented writers’ and there was a nice smiley picture of him there too.
We’d discussed the ‘elevator pitch’on my Creative Writing MA and the benefits of learning how to describe your book as if you were in an elevator with an agent and had only from the ground floor to the third floor to sell it to him/her. To be honest, I’d not really concentrated that particular lesson. Unrealistic scenario and, anyway, it’s ‘lift’ not ‘elevator’.
‘Give me the elevator pitch,’ said David Headley when I sat down in front of him.
‘Orkneys. 1940s. Prisoners of War,’ I said. ‘Alienation, loss and identity,’ I added for good measure. Tell me anything that isn’t about alienation, loss and identity and I’ll give you a fiver.
‘Hmmm,’ he said. Good hmmm, bad hmmm. Hard to say.
More questions. Why had I written it? (Been on holiday to Orkney and the story caught my eye). What research had I done? (Been back to Orkney, dug through archives, read everything going.)
‘Not keen on the title. Would you change it?’
‘Yes, probably.’ In a heartbeat.
‘Have you shown it to anyone else?’ I nodded meekly. What had I been thinking?
‘I like it,’ he said. ‘I want to read the rest of it. Please don’t sign with anyone else until I’ve done that. I’ll be in touch in two weeks.’
‘The sub-plot’s not very good and it’s too short.’ Who said that? Me. Shut up, shut up, shut up.
‘Every manuscript needs work,’ he said. ‘Send it to me when you get home.’
I sent and waited and daydreamed quite a lot and then – Lordy – another agent contacted me. Like buses, yes. She liked the novel. Was I interested in being represented by her? After prodding my knee with a fork to check I was really awake, I sat and thought. Of course I was interested. Blimey, I’d only ever dreamt of one agent being interested, never two. My fantasy brain was racing to catch up.
She was great. I really enjoyed talking to her, but I’d met David, seen his enthusiasm despite my efforts to quash it, and just sensed that he ‘got it’, got my story of 1940s Orkney, just got it.
So, Reader, I married him. Well not quite. It wasn’t that kind of speed date. But it does in a sense feel like a marriage. We have pledged to be in it together, to work for the benefit of both and to produce something at the end of it. The tiny patter of published pages hopefully. And it’s great to be a signed author, really good, but I’m also realistic enough to know that the hard work begins now. There are changes to be made (it’s too short and the sub-plots not very good, did I mention that?) and even then nothing is guaranteed. But there is someone out there who believes in me, who will read what I’ve written and give me honest feedback. I’m not sure if I can officially call myself a writer but I’ve started to believe a little and who knows?
Looking forward to the journey…
Follow Leigh on twitter: @ChambersLeigh