Sunday, 23 October 2011

Agents love bananas

I am represented by a lovely agent. Fact.
I am grateful for her every day. Fact.
It is because of bananas that she is my agent. Fact.

'She' is the paragon of patience and generous provider of tissues and shoulder I will hereafter refer to as The Lovely One. Ensnaring The Lovely One was simple (ish). I merely tempted her out of her agenty lair with bananas. Not the well-packaged yellow is-it-really-a-fruit enjoyed by cartoon monkeys, but bananas of the semi-humorous kind.

The story of my route to becoming an almost published author is not an unusual one. There was no headline-worthy six figure sum, no ravenous editors fighting over my book at auction, but there were a number of long, and sometimes lonely, years of bringing up my babies and writing whenever they fell asleep or got the lego out. There was the first book. Then the second. (The first crashed and burned). The tortuous trawling through the Writers' Yearbook in search of a suitable (read 'any') agent, agonising over evil (still so evil) synopses, the excessive printing of chapters and introductory letters, and remortgaging to cover postage. Then there was the awful wait before rejection letters fell like confetti on the mat. Funnily enough you soon you begin to enjoy the rejections, albeit in a faintly masochistic way. My all time favourite came via email from Intern...EIGHT, not even one, two or three. This was a girl who was literally at the bottom of the unpaid pile of pre-school (possibly) people who between making tea, filling the printer, and sending her CV to television production companies (possibly), decided to send me a two line email with two spelling mistakes, thanking me for sending my first three chapters - that had only taken me a hundred years of blood, sweat and my kids’ tears to write - but that it wasn't really Our Sort of Thing. I laughed at that one (maniacally, whilst jamming a fork into my thigh, of course). But soon the rejections begin to wear you down. The confidence ebbs. The shoulders hunch, the mouth saddens, and the eyes lose their sparkle. Just as I was ready to throw my keyboard out for the bin man, a ray of light. Not one but two agents requested to read the rest of my manuscript. One thought my writing had a 'haunting quality'...the other liked my 'voice'!! I was ecstatic again. Note: this emotional alternation between extreme high and extreme low is something the would-be writer needs to get used to. It happens a lot.

Then followed another excruciating wait before the two rejections appeared within days of each other. That bit was tough, though amidst the disappointment there was a single chink of hope. One of the agents, The Lovely One, offered to take another look at the book if I happened to do any work on it. I think she was just being polite. Because she is. I wrote her a thank you letter (if I can pass any advice on it would be to send thank you letters. People like being thanked. Thank you is a greatly underused phrase considering it's weight to length ratio) and then did what any loving, committed mother slash desperate author would do. I ignored the children for six months and rewrote the entire thing.

Following three days of nervous hesitation I plucked up the courage to recontact The Lovely One. I asked her if she was still interested in seeing the rewrite. I explained that I had fed my three girls nothing but bananas - quick, nutritious, and filling - for half a year, and said I was pleased with the result (of the rewrite as opposed to the neglected off-spring). The Lovely One wrote back to say she would take a look, but only if I promised to feed my daughters. Two weeks later an email appeared to say the banana diet had been worth it. It was Champagne time! We signed a contract shortly after. And though I can safely say it's been a long and bumpy ride - the book we signed on also crashed and burned amid another matful of rejection letters, a third book was written, and rewritten, and rewritten again - with many bouts of tears (mine) and wise words (hers), our shared sense of humour kept us glued together. Three years after the banana quip I signed a deal with Constable and Robinson.

So, if anybody asks me if I have any advice on finding an agent, for what it's worth:
Make sure your children like bananas.
Make sure your agent laughs at banana jokes.
And don't forget your thank you letters.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that Manda. It does make me want to grind your bones to bake my (banana) bread but luckily for you. I am not a giant. Or only in the tummy department. But what I like about your post fwiw is that it does give a real sense of what it takes. People have told me some of that, but your description is terrifyingly believable. (Have you considered the horror genre?) PS What if I plant a banana tree? Do you think that could be my USP? Or figs? I like figs. 'Food' for thought *guffaws unattractively at own joke*