LCOAW: Six Years At The Bus Stop (Avoiding the slush pile)

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.
  • lbf

    I’m the pink dot on the stage

  • 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.

Catherine x

An interview with Sam Eades – Senior Commissioning editor at Orion

I’m very happy to welcome Sam Eades, senior commissioning editor and associate publicist at Orion, to the blog today, answering some questions and offering some great advice!

Hi Sam, and welcome. Can I start by asking you to give us an insight into your day to day role?
I am a senior commissioning editor and associate publicist at Orion. I’ve been here seven months now, following stints at Transworld, Headline and Macmillan in the publicity department. I have an unusual role in that I both commission fiction AND publicise it! And no, I don’t publicise my own books, I think I’d annoy myself too much. No day is the same but some of the day to day tasks I might do include on the pr side: circulating coverage to agent, author and sales team; pitching for media; accompanying an author to interviews and events; pitching a book at an internal meeting; organising an author tour and on a really good day lunch with a journalist.

And on the editorial side: taking new business to the acquisition meeting; following up on submissions from agents; preparing an offer and a pitch letter for someone I want to take on; checking over a contract; briefing covers; checking metadata to make sure books feature in the right categories on Amazon; responding to an agent query about an existing author; looking at trends and anticipating trends in the fiction market for future commissions and on a really good day lunch with an agent!

As a child, was there a book or a series you returned to over and over? What was it that drew you in?
I’m embarrassed to say I owned every Goosebumps novel ever published. Ahem. I was a big Agatha Christie fan, I read lots of classics, Enid Blyton, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, Anne Fine before moving on to all the books on my parent’s shelf, Virginia Andrews, Jilly Cooper, James Herbert!

At what point did you know books were, or had to, feature heavily in your life?
My mum took me to the library once a week, and a voracious love of reading began. The first Brownie badge I got was a Book Lover badge which may have been a clue as to where I would end up.  I didn’t realise publishing was an actual industry where people had jobs until a work experience placement at Little Brown.

What advice do you give to those wishing to pursue a career in publishing?
Apply to internships at big publishing houses, small publishing houses, literary agents, scouts and freelance pr agencies. The more placements you apply for, the more experience you will get and the more likely you are to be in the right place at the right time when a vacancy comes up. Don’t limit yourself to editorial; there are a number of creative and exciting departments and individuals, who are responsible for bringing a book to market. Read Make Your Mark by Aliza Licht, it will teach you how to make the most of an internship and be remembered without being pushy. Once you land a placement, have a look at the publisher’s catalogue and familiarise yourself with their list. A heads up that entry level jobs involve admin and support work.

What book have you read most recently that you just can’t get out of your head?
Most recently, I really enjoyed Amy Cuddy’s PRESENCE *power poses at desk*. Over Christmas I read a ton of classics I’ve always wanted to read including Shirley Jackson’s WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE and COLD COMFORT FARM. I also was very lucky to get a proof of Curtis Sittenfeld’s ELIGIBLE and I loved every single word of it. I’m remembering that book now with a huge smile on my face.

What submissions would you love to see arrive in your in-box? / What’s your current wish list?
Where to begin! I would love to find a British suburban Ripley, a bit like Phil Hogan’s A PLEASURE AND A CALLING. Having read so many psychological thrillers, I’m leaning towards something warmer, a vintage set or vintage feel cosy crime series would really hit the spot. I think JoJo Moyes is a genius, and would love to find women’s fiction that packs an emotional punch like ME BEFORE YOU. I really enjoyed books like THE SHINING GIRLS and FIRST FIFTEEN LIVES OF HARRY AUGUST, so a high concept crime/sf thriller. Basically I like twisty, high concept novels, a good weepy or to channel my inner Poirot. And despite reading psychological thriller after psychological thriller I still can’t get enough of them! Finding the new Ruth Rendell would be nice. I like multiple voices, deftly balanced past and present narratives, mysterious prologues where we don’t discover who is narrating until the end… etc etc!

Did you ever want to be on the other side and write a book?

What is your favourite / least favourite part of your job?
Hanging out with your favourite authors and reading is the best bit. Eating sausage rolls at train stations in the middle of nowhere is the worst bit.

Is your taste in books the same as your taste in films or do you find they differ?
I love twisty American thrillers like INCEPTION and SHUTTER ISLAND, so there is some crossover there. I’m a real Netflix addict and enjoy PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, REIGN, THE GOOD WIFE etc. I’d love it if fiction could be as addictive!

Do you have any advice / top tips for writers?
These four books have been helpful to me on the editorial side. 1. INTO THE WOODS by John Yorke. It will help with plotting and examines the plot structures of famous books, films and tv series. 2. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL by Donald Maass. There are some great sections on landscape, character development, coming up with a theme and creating tension. 3. ON WRITING by Stephen King. Will fill you with pride at being a writer. 4. SAVE THE CAT. A book on scriptwriter than can be applicable to books (and recommended by @Mushenska no less). It will help you come up with your pitch, which will be invaluable when contacting agents.


For anyone dreaming of being published by Orion, do you have any advice?
Do you
accept unagented submissions? 
Have a look in the acknowledgements for your favourite books and books you feel are similar to your WIP and see who the author’s agent is. Get a copy of the WRITERS AND ARTISTS YEARBOOK, find those agents and check out their guidelines and look at their websites too. Here are some great articles on how to submit and land an agent:
If you can’t get an agent, don’t think all is lost. We have periods of open submissions at Orion with Gollancz and have a creative writing competition with Good Housekeeping. Authors we have published include Eva Holland and Diana Bretherick.

Thanks Sam for taking the time to come and chat with us!

Life Cycle of a Writer – Learning to be patient…

The last few weeks have been about short story celebrations and learning to be patient when it comes to the novel… I’m in the middle of a major re-write of my work-in-progress, taking out one character’s POV, adding in a whole new character and sub-plot. I had a really good, constructive conversation with my fabulous agent, Juliet Mushens, and embarked on the re-write full of enthusiasm. I sent her the first few re-written chapters and obsessively checked my emails for the next couple of weeks, waiting for her feedback. The feedback, when I rather nervously opened the email, was good – she loved the new chapters. Hurray!

I promptly emailed back saying brilliant-I’ll-give-up-sleep-and-finish-writing-the-book-in-the-next-two-weeks-and-send-it-back-to-you, to which she responded – stop! Slow down! Write it, rest it, then edit it, then send it. Make sure it’s the best you can possibly make it. I’d given myself a deadline – totally self-imposed – of having this book finished and out on submission by the end of the year, so I was racing through the edits to meet a deadline that no one else even knew about. I’m now attempting to be patient – far better for it to go out next spring as a finished, polished book than rush through it now and have to re-edit yet again.

I had a couple of nice surprises on the short story and flash fiction front – my story A Life Lived in Colour made the top twenty shortlist out of a thousand entries in the inaugural Bath Flash Fiction Award and I got to attend a prize-giving event at Wells Festival of Literature when a story made their shortlist.

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I was also thrilled to make the shortlist for a flash fiction piece in the Hysteria competition, and my story will be in the anthology released at the end of November.

This all helped to remind me, when I get impatient and want to have a book published now now now, that although I don’t yet have a novel published, I’m building up a nice collection of magazines and anthologies with my stories in them.


I think sometimes, as writers, we’re so keen to progress, to move on – win the competition, win a prize, get an agent, get a book deal, get another, bigger, better book deal… – that we forget to congratulate ourselves on what we have achieved. It doesn’t matter whether that’s a shortlisting, a book deal or just finishing a story and being able to say I did it. We’re doing it, we’re writing, and that’s worth celebrating.

Pass the cake, someone, crack open the wine – let’s celebrate!



Life Cycle of a Writer – Debbie Fuller-White

As writers, there’s one thing we do almost as much as writing.

No, it isn’t eat cake.

We wait.

Think about it. First, we wait for ideas to strike. Next we wait for time to write. Then there are endless hours we spend waiting for the browser to load web history for research. We wait (sometimes a long, long time) for our brains to get into gear. Once we’ve gone through all this waiting and have a completed WIP then, provided your arthritic fingers and hunched back have held out, there is a perfect proof, fit to send to an agent, publisher or to enter into some competition. And thereafter comes the hardest waiting of all.

It can take weeks or months. Sometimes we never hear back after submission. Long, interminable periods of waiting. I’ll confess; patience isn’t one of my virtues. My novel went off to the NWS for critiquing at the end of July and it’s proving a long wait, although I’ve heard the poor organiser has an injury and so the manuscripts are delayed sending to readers. So, all I can do is wait … And wait … And wait.

If I have any fingernails left I need to muster some powers of concentration and keep busy to distract myself and help make the time go quicker. So here’s the plan:-

– Keep on going, keeping on going. It’s important to keep up momentum so I’m getting on with the next project. With the working title, ‘I Believe In Angels,’ I’ve entered the Love Story New Talent Award with my first chapter and I’ve just returned from a weekend trip to Glastonbury where the novel will be set. I spent much of the time secreted in cafes or on the High Street, eating, drinking, people watching and surreptitiously scribbling in my notebook, in the spirit of research. I’m also going to do a couple of short stories and enter them into competitions.

– Block out the crows. Sing in their faces. ‘Tralalalala!’ Try to ignore them and not let self-doubt creep in.

– Ignore the desire to email and check to see if the WIP has slipped off the organiser’s desk and into the waste paper basket, or to send it again.

– Stop reading and re-reading the submission guidelines, asking myself if I got it right, and counting how many weeks since I submitted.

– After months of being a hermit it will be good to catch up with friends and the people I love and who make me happy.

– Catch up on reading. In the words of Stephen King, ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.’

– Try and stay positive. Make a list of potential agents and editors to submit to.

– Keep it in perspective. Remember the NWS organisers (and Editors and Agents) have a mountain of manuscripts to work through. I’ve spent months and sent my work out there so it’s understandable to feel a little anxious and exposed but that’s all the more reason to keep busy and help pass the time.

So, what strategies do you have for getting through the big wait on any part of your writing?

Hopefully by the next update I’ll have news from my reader. Until then, you, like me, will just have to wait…

Bye for now,

Debbie xx

Life Cycle of a Writer – Jumping in and letting go

I made the decision at the start of the school summer holidays to lock my work-in-progress away and leave it alone for a couple of months. Complicated editing left my brain aching and I was no longer sure if I had something good or the worst thing ever written in the history of the written word. I couldn’t look at it objectively – all I could see was a big, tangled mess. Definitely time to let go and walk away before I deleted the whole thing. So I did think my turn on LCOAW would be a very short and not-so-sweet ‘I’ve done nothing in the last two months’… but sometimes the down times can be productive in other ways.

  1. Progress has been made on the next book – I have a sheet full of post-it notes, a notebook slowly filling with character and plot notes.
  1. My house is tidier. (Not tidy – but tidier…)
  1. My garden has real flowers in it, not just weeds.
  1. I’ve caught up on a lot of reading – all ready to top up the TBR pile with lots of lovely new releases.

And most importantly, I’ve had time to spend with my daughters – trips to the park, the beach, the cinema – picnics and playtime and fun. Sometimes that’s as important for grown-ups as it is for kids!

Last week, I went on holiday – first week away in the sun for many years – and it was total bliss. A wonderful week of relaxing and reading. Mostly there was a lot of this:


But I did also put the work-in-progress on my kindle to take with me. Having rested it, I was ready to read it through again – away from the computer so I couldn’t edit as I went along, but armed with a notebook so I could make brief notes.

The time away from it worked wonders – as did the lack of access to a computer. I read it through in one go and could see right away the problem that’s been bogging me down for ages, and I could see how to resolve it. And as soon as the children go back to school next week, I’m going to sit down, re-edit and finally call the book finished!

On the first day of our holiday, the first thing my daughters did was jump straight in the pool with all their clothes on. I was more cautious – one toe at a time… that’s how it’s been with this book. Changing genre is scary and I’ve been nervous about jumping straight in – it’s definitely been a one toe at a time kind of book, nudged and encouraged along by my agent. Maybe by the time I get stuck into the next one, I’ll be braver – maybe I’ll even jump straight in🙂



Life Cycle of a Writer – In the Waiting Room

It’s my turn to give an update for our Life Cycle Of A Writer series this week …

I was due to send a new edit of my work-in-progress off to my agent at the end of January – this has been delayed by a few weeks as I moved house and it’s taken me a while to find my way through the boxes to my desk!  Also delayed by the fact I keep thinking I’ve finished, then waking up in the night with new ideas so I go back to re-edit. But I think I’m nearly there and the latest edit will be going off to Juliet at the end of the week and I’ll be back in the waiting room refreshing my emails every five seconds and biting my nails waiting for feedback.

I think all writers spend time in that waiting room, whether unpublished or published, agented or not. We wait for responses to agent or publisher submissions, we wait for feedback, we wait for editorial notes, we wait for the day our books are finally published, we wait for reviews, we wait for sales figures. We wear out our computer keyboards refreshing that email in-box and we jump every time the post hits the mat.

waiting room

I often fill the waiting time by entering writing competitions – this is also good for my poor agent who, otherwise, would end up getting a squillion needy emails a day from me looking for updates/news/reassurance. Entering writing competitions also adds to that email checking excitement – the next email that comes through might not be spam, it could be news of a shortlisting or even a win!

Last year, I entered a lot of competitions (I’m not very good at waiting) but also had a lot of shortlist success which is another kind of reassurance – I found myself on shortlists of competitions I’ve come nowhere in in previous years: The Harry Bowling Prize, the Yeovil Literary Prize, the Mslexia Novel Competition, the Brighton Prize, the Caledonia Novel Award. For me, it’s a sign I’m heading in the right direction with my writing – a sign I need at the moment as I’ve changed direction and this book is a psychological thriller. Previously, I was writing women’s fiction, but with dark themes and ideas and I could see I was heading for a cliff edge where I needed to decide whether to step back and go lighter or make the commitment and jump. Talking through my ideas with lovely agent Juliet, I could see where this book wanted to go – it wanted me to jump, to fully embrace the dark side. The clue was in the title – my original working title was Hunting the Light, which is maybe what I was doing, nervously standing at the edge of that cliff, but it didn’t work for the book so I’ve re-named it The Murder House, taken a deep breath and jumped off the cliff.

standing on the cliff edge

I was thrilled last week to find The Murder House in the final four of the inaugural Caledonia Novel Award so I think taking that jump was the right move. And I’m also hoping that with The Murder House in its new edited form, this year will be the year the waiting ends.



Life Cycle of a Writer – Jan Brigden

My little update …

I’m excited to say that I’ve started submitting my first novel ‘As Weekends Go …’ to literary agents.

At last!

“Sound the *cheer & fear in equal measures* klaxon!”

It’s a multi POV tale – three interwoven stories – about two couples and the emotional havoc created during and beyond their eventful weekend clash of agendas, involving a ‘girls only’ trip to York, a Brighton sales conference and a Spanish stag do.





It took me ages to write, mainly due to my endless tweaking and re-tweaking, so I’m relieved and very proud to have reached this point. I just hope that someone believes in it as much as I do. I’ve had seven rejections so far, but all really nice ones, with some very positive and encouraging feedback.

I’m under no illusions about how hard it is to acquire agent representation, and would never rule out self-publishing, I simply want to try the traditional route first.

So … in the meantime, I’ve been studying publishers and writing competitions, and penning Book 2 – a standalone sequel to ‘As Weekends Go …’ which has involved plenty of eye-opening research. I’ve also been indulging and expanding my other literary passion – freelance proofreading.

I’m sure I’m not the only Romaniac who will express how invaluable the love, support and cheerleading from family and friends is. During the past five years (and then some …) my lovely husband Dave can certainly add to his CV: chief cuddler, co-editor, sounding board, morale booster, tantrum-dodger, counsellor extraordinaire … I could go on.

Believe me, every nugget of advice, encouragement and reassurance from everyone –  writerly or otherwise – has been very much appreciated.

Thank you.

Wish me luck, dear friends …



 Jan  x