Strictly speaking six years at the bus stop is an underestimation. My quest for a literary agent started when I was about twenty-one and didn’t have a clue what I was up to. So, to be absolutely accurate, and for anyone good at math you can work out my age, it’s really been fourteen years at the bus stop.
In my first, very naive attempts to get an agent, I sent the first three chapters of a book called Child Y?. I wrote it at university and it was way too short and proved how much I didn’t know. Friends read it and enthused and I had one handwritten response, but every other submission was followed up with standard rejections. I left University as a qualified physiotherapist and was soon too busy to even tinker with writing until ill-health caused me to consider a career change.
This time I didn’t want to find a literary agent through the more traditional route of searching through the Writers and Artists Yearbook and sending off submissions. In my earlier attempt I’d found it a bit disheartening and faceless. Those six years at the bus stop were spent making contacts, having one-to-ones, gaining feedback, making friends, and learning where to source up-to-date information. It might have been a longer route, but it was a way of avoiding the slush pile. In the end, I had two offers of representation and I’m delighted to say I’ve signed with Hattie Grunewald of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency.
In no particular order, these are the ways I found to approach agents without being part of the slush pile:
- Entering competitions – sometimes literary agents are judges and it’s a way for them to potentially read your work or even meet them. I entered the London Book Fair Write Stuff competition and ended up on the stage pitching to a Dragon Den style panel of agents.
- Online events like #PitchCB – This is a monthly event that takes place where you can pitch your book and potentially get invited to submit your work.
- Open submission periods – There are occasions when publishing houses and agencies will have a featured submission period. For example, United Agents held an open house across August.
- Friends recommendations – Often writers will know when agents are looking to add to their list and in what particular genre.
- One-to-ones – Conferences often offer the opportunity to have one-to-ones with agents and publishers. It was as a result of a one-to-one that I ended up signing with Carina.
I’m lucky enough to have had success with all the above in one way or another in a close space of time, but it’s important to remember that it was the result of sitting at the bus stop for years and years. And for every bus that flew by, spraying water on me as it went by, I never stopped tapping at the keyboard or believing that one day, if I worked hard enough, the buses would start stopping for me.
If you’re on the quest for an agent, the secret isn’t in never giving up, the real secret is to never stop typing.