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Collated Answers from WW interviews

How did you get your first agent/ commission?
Alan WilliamsI forwarded two stories to an Australian magazine in May 2012 and couldn’t believe it when one was commissioned a month later. I still have the e-mail and memories of my elation from that initial sale. It was the first submission I’d made since deciding to be serious about writing. Although I’d won various comps this was the first time I realised that I had the skills to write seriously. If someone thinks enough of your work to pay you then that is the best endorsement I could hope for.

Eight months after my first submission of a children’s story, it was accepted and I was paid immediately. Those two early successes have given me the confidence to continue writing and submitting.

I’m now a regular contributor to that Australian magazine despite two changes of editor.
Andrew BlackmanPrizes have been good to me. I got my first essay published by winning the Daniel Singer Millennium Prize in 2004, my first short story published by being commended in the Leaf Books Short Story Competition in 2007, and my first novel published by winning the Luke Bitmead Writer’s Bursary in 2008.
Bill SpenceI have had two agents. The first by recommendation – he has since died.
The second through a phone call after a policy change by a publishing company after my accepted non-fiction book had been taken off their schedule. He got me better compensation and sold the book elsewhere. I am now without an agent and deal direct with my publisher myself.
Cally TaylorIn September 2007, when I’d finished the umpteenth edit of “Heaven Can Wait” I decided to look for an agent. I bought the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook and looked for agents who represented chicklit and women’s fiction. Any that represented an author I knew and/or loved got a big star next to their name. I shortlisted six and sent off my cover letter, synopsis and first three chapters.

The first agent I approached sent me a personalised rejection telling me that, while she liked the idea for the premise, she didn’t like stories written in the first person. The second agent I approached – Darley Anderson – rang me within hours of receiving my submission and asked to see the whole thing.

While I waited to hear back I received two more rejections (one personalised, one form) until finally, in January 2008, Darley delivered his verdict on my book. It needed a lot more work, he told me, before he could even begin to consider representing me or approaching a publisher. I was gutted - I thought it was a thinly veiled no - but Darley reassured me that if he didn’t think my book had potential he would have stuck it in the stamped addressed envelope I’d included and sent it back to me.

I worked my arse off for the next few months as I edited my book again and attempted to fix all the things Darley thought was wrong with it. During that time I received a request for the full from the fifth agent on my list but she eventually rejected it saying that she liked my style but not the supernatural premise. (I never heard back from the sixth agent).

In June 2008 I sent the revised version of “Heaven Can Wait” back to Darley. Three agonising months followed while I waited for his opinion. Finally, in September 2008, just as I’d given up and re-opened the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook and drawn up another list of agents to approach, I received a phone call. It was Madeleine Buston, Head of Foreign Rights at the Darley Anderson Agency. She told me Darley had given her my novel to read on the train up to Scotland from London. She said it had made her laugh and cry and she absolutely LOVED it, so much so that she’d asked Darley if she could represent me! The next few minutes were a blur as Maddie told me about her plans for my book and which publishers she was planning on approaching. I couldn’t take it all in. I kept wait for a ‘but...’! When the call drew to a close I couldn’t bear it any longer and asked, “So...er...are you my agent then?” to which Maddie replied “Yes!” I put the phone down, buzzing with excitement and incredulity, then promptly burst into tears!

A month later Maddie rang me to tell me that four UK publishers had shown interest in publishing “Heaven Can Wait” and Orion had won the auction.

Over the last year Maddie has constantly surprised and delighted me with news of foreign deals and I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that my novel’s going to be published in Germany, Russia, Hungary, Spain, Brazil, Taiwan and China. I feel like I’m living in a bizarre, but wonderful dream.

Cassandra ClareI met my agent at a reading in Manhattan. He had been reading my blog,
actually, since one of his clients was a friend of mine. I managed to
buttonhole him and tell him about my book idea (which was "City of
Bones") and he asked if I'd send it along to him, which I did.
Fortunately, he liked it!

Catherine RichardsI think I must be living proof of the old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’ On hearing of Luke’s death via the Legend Press website, I got in contact with Tom Chalmers to ask that he pass my condolences on to Luke’s family. I also wanted to let them know that I had some odd bits of writing of Luke and I had been working on together in case they wanted me to pass them on.
Tom then got back to me to say that Luke had previously given him a copy of ‘Heading South’ and that he’d like to talk about publishing it.
I think I must be one of a very small minority of author’s that has got a publishing deal without making a single submission. I count myself as very lucky indeed.
Cathy GlassFor many years I didn’t need an agent as I wrote largely for magazines, periodicals and newspapers where one submits direct. However, I knew I would need an agent for Damaged and Hidden, and the second agent I approached accepted me. The first did too eventually but took so long in responding I had already signed up with the first – Andrew Lownie, the best thing I ever did!
Claire AllenI was exceptionally lucky. In May I submitted the first three chapters of 'Rainy Days...' to Ger Nichol of the Book Bureau. It wasn't even finished then and it definitely wasn't all that polished. I sent a few other submissions out in late June but it was Ger who eventually made me the offer to represent me in August- showing remarkable faith in what I had done. By December she had negotiated my four book deal with Poolbeg (where Marian Keyes started!) and I was over the moon. I grew up reading Poolbeg books.
Courttia NewlandI had a mentor, who introduced me to an agent’s assistant at William Morris. She passed the book on and I’m still with WM now. They got me my first deal
with Abacus.
Craig BaxterNepotism is the way I have got work. Most of the commissions I have had have been from people I knew (not necessarily very well) beforehand. I have found that you don’t have to be particularly charming or brilliant at networking (my interpersonal skills are well below average) but it does help to have a face to which people can put your name. I didn’t get paid for the first three or four plays I had produced but they got my work and face out there. I made sure I was a good collaborator and someone people would be prepared to work with again... so when later they did have some funds available to generate a new project and this time pay a writer, they were happy to consider me. One job has tended to lead to the next. In addition I entered some competitions and schemes. This approach got me a production at the London New Play Festival, and on another occasion, a set of miniature spirits (still undrunk) as a shortlisted writer for the Allied Domecq Playwright Award. It is only relatively recently I have had an agent (the excellent Giles Smart at pfd). It is great having someone apart from yourself who is interested in your career and who can encourage and support and sort out contractual niggles for you, but it was perfectly possible to find playwriting work previously without one. I had regular periods when I used to worry about not having an agent but I should have channelled the energy I spent worrying into writing more or better plays. There’s no point fretting that no-one appreciates your genius before you’ve actually got solid double-spaced-on-A4 (or whatever) evidence of it. There are a lot more potentially good writers out there than there are actually good plays. Write write write and, if it’s good, the agents will come.
Danny RhodesMy first success was getting on the shortlist of a BBC Get Writing Competition. Unfortunately the BBC closed that website down but it got me started. My first publication was in Openwide Magazine, a lit magazine I still submit to from time to time. I struggled to get an agent until I found a publisher for Asboville and then an agent approached me! I’m now represented by ICM.
Diane SamuelsWhen I was working as edcation officer at the Unicorn Theatre for children there was a book by Vivien Alcock called “The Monster Garden” floating around which the artistic director was considering for adaptation for the stage. I had just written a radio play which had won a prize in the Radio Times Awards and I showed that play to him and asked if I could adapt it. He did commission me at the same time that Radio 4 commissioned the radio play. I found my first agent to negotiate both those contracts.
Domenica De RosaAfter I had written The Italian Quarter I put it away and forgot about it. Then, four years later, my father (who was the inspiration for much of the story) died and I found myself reading the manuscript again. I showed it to a friend at HarperCollins and he recommended an agent. I am all too aware that it is not normally this easy and that I was tremendously lucky in knowing so many people in publishing.
Elizabeth BuchanI was introduced to an agent who was interested in publishing fiction and she was immensely supportive and took me on. She auctioned my first novel and I was lucky enough to be sold to Macmillan. It began from there.
Eva SalzmanMy first poem published was in something called Yellow Silk. Boy, was I proud of my rich description of the natural world, of my archetypal Long Island landscape about which I’m writing now. When the package containing my first published poem arrived in the post, I excitedly tore it open. It was literary magazine….of the erotic kind. Re-reading my poem in this context – about an inlet where the ocean and the bay crash into each other - I blushed at my naivety. Poetry Review first published me in the UK.

Most poets are agent-less. The sums of money involved don’t warrant it usually. This reminds me of an Amis (?) essay which turns the world ass-backwards, so a screenwriter is rewarded for her efforts with a lousy five dollars, which makes her ecstatic, while a sonnet earns the poet a million-buck contract and movie-deal.
Fiona RobynI was very lucky and found an agent through a friend five years ago for my first novel, but we couldn’t find a publisher for it and so eventually we parted ways. Five years later (five years of unsuccessful looking-for-an-agent), I submitted my work directly to Snowbooks.
Gary DavisonI sent my MS off to a literary consultancy (writing.co.uk) last year. They suggested a few changes, which I agreed to. They’re also scouts for an independent publisher. They asked to look at my novel, and within a few months, after I gave them four chapters of my next novel, they offered me a three-book deal.
Gillian McClureMy first book was published in 1974 after a School’s Inspector spotted it in my classroom: a small homemade book, written out in the Initial Teaching Alphabet. He sent it off to Andre Deutsch who were just starting a children’s list and they published it. As easy as that! After nineteen secure years with the same publisher and the same editor, the Deutsch children’s list was sold on to Scholastic and I discovered nothing was going to be easy ever again.
Helen BlackI’d love to tell some anguished tale of seven unpublished books sitting in an attic but that’s not the way it happened.
I finished Damaged Goods and sent it off to a few agents, starting at ‘A’ in The Writers Handbook. One wrote back saying my spelling was crap, my punctuation worse, but he had fallen in love with Lilly Valentine.
From there I left it to him and he sold it to HC.
I’m sure that much of my lack of confidence in my work is due to the fact that it all happened very quickly.
Helen CastorMy sister Harriet (Castor Jeffery – a hugely talented writer, and much more of a ‘writer’ than me) had already been represented by Patrick Walsh of Conville & Walsh, so when I had the idea for Blood & Roses I wrote to him on spec. He gave me a lot of encouragement and some phenomenally good advice about how to put together a proposal, which took me six months, and then he did a phenomenally good job of selling it. That was the point at which I was able to give up my job. Now Patrick and Walter Donohue, my brilliant editor at Faber, seem to know exactly when to leave me alone, when to give me a push and when to hold my hand.

Jae WatsonAfter several failed attempts to entice agents with the first three chapters of my novel, I was extremely fortunate to read about Legend Press in a local magazine. I approached Tom Chalmers, the Managing Director, with a sample of my work and, yippee, he liked it.
Jane RogersI sent my first novel to 2 agents, one returned it and said it was nicely written but not commercial. The second sent it to Robert McCrum at Faber, who published it. It got great reviews but sadly, in the end, I have to admit the first agent was right: it was not commercial. My novels have not made anyone rich so far.
Jenn AshworthI did an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University - after that, I entered a little bit of A Kind of Intimacy into a national competition. It didn't win, but one of the judges of the competition liked it to much she asked to see the whole novel, and then asked if she could send it to her agent. I'd never submitted to an agent before, so I was lucky that he took me on, and still represents me and my work.
Jim YoungerFinding my agent was a real fluke, an unlikely example of the ‘shotgun’ method actually coming good. After about a zillion rejections, I sent the partials to Rogers, Coleridge and White, and the book was picked up by an intern there, a very sharp guy (ahem) called Mark Richards. Mark passed it up the line, and Gill Coleridge got in touch. RCW offered a critique and I spent a month reworking the book. I put 10,000 words on it then. Gill sold it to Dan Franklin at Cape and I got the news on Christmas Eve (“oh look everyone, it’s snowing!”) There is no doubt in my mind that without Gill’s expertise and reputation it would never have sold at all. Gill told me on the phone it was the craziest book she’d ever read, which I take as a compliment. I’m very lucky to have Gill on my side, and only too aware that I can’t offer her any old rubbish to sell either! I sometimes think that tyro writers don’t quite get this aspect of the business - agents are not our servants, but an integral part of the industry. The relationship is much more one of equals, with different skills and jobs to do. Well, that’s the way I see it, and it helps keep me sharp and ruthless about my own work.
John MurrayI wrote solidly for 5 years(1977-1982)before I had a story taken by the London Review of Books. That was my first proper publication. It was so long(12,000 words) they had to print it across two issues! In the meantime I was trying to get my first novel (Samarkand)taken, but to no avail. In the end it was accepted unagented by Aidan Ellis after 25 rejections. Aidan Ellis then got me an agent who I stayed with for 4 years.. Samarkand was published in 1985 and was immediately taken by Radio 3 for the old interval readings slot.

Jon HaylettI always knew my first novel would be difficult to place because it was written for the age-group I taught, 16 to 18-year olds, a readership which I still believe is neglected, yet I found my first agent very quickly. I sent her the novel explaining the problem and she was enthusiastic – yet, in the end, she failed to find a publisher.
Jonathan WolfmanWhen I started writing scripts and sending them off, people kept saying I needed an agent so I sent them off to one who took me on.
Julia BellPrecociously, when I was 15 I got published in a Virago anthology of stories by readers of Just 17 magazine . . . but I had to wait till I was 30 to publish my first novel. . .
Kia AbdullahI approached about eight agents that specialised in ethnic/multicultural writing. I received eight rejection letters. Two were very personalised and encouraging and picked up on specific things in my manuscript so I knew that they had paid attention to it. I decided to get my manuscript proofread, which turned out to be a fantastic decision as it was my Proofreader who sent my manuscript to a contact at Adlibbed and it all snowballed from there.
Lee JacksonI just sent my book to some agents. I think I got a list of ones interested in historical fiction, from something online by the Historical Novels Society. As for the journey, I’m currently without a UK publisher but doing much better in France. This means, bizarrely, that my current book, The Diary of a Murder, will be translated into French in a year or so, but not available to buy anywhere in English. This is one of the reasons I’ve just made it available on the web. See http://www.victorianlondon.org/diary.htm Of course, the conventional wisdom is that an unpublished book should be shelved, perhaps to resurface in print when (hopefully) one gets another deal. But I remain proud of this book, and I don’t want it to languish in complete obscurity. Time will tell whether I’m brave or foolhardy to do such a thing. To be honest, my impression is that it’s just a bad time to get ahead in publishing at present – all the authors I know have lost deals or accepted serious reductions in their advances. Perhaps I don’t know the right authors …

Lola JayeAfter years of rejection by agents, I finally got Judith Murdoch to take me on after meeting her at the Winchester Writers Conference. I was already ‘known’ to her through a constructive rejection letter she’d sent some time before (I think it’s only in publishing that a rejection letter can be described as constructive!). Anyway, she asked to see the remainder of my manuscript and the rest is history… In fact, I advise all Write Words members to book onto the next Winchester Writers Conference in June 2009. There are no guarantees, but just being around ‘the industry’ can be a great motivator.

Anyway, finally got an agent after around four years of trying. Again I thought the rejections would finally be over.
The rejections merely reappeared via a second party – my agent, as publishers turned down my manuscript. It was another three years and a couple of books later that I actually got a publisher. So, I suppose the moral of the story here is; getting an agent doesn’t automatically mean you will get a publisher straight away, but it does give you a much better chance. Oh and WELL DONE for getting an agent. It isn’t easy.
Malcolm BurgessMy first published piece was in the women’s magazine Over 21 and, boy, was I excited – especially as the edition included Margaret Atwood. I got my first agent last year.
Maria McCarthyI went to a talk by an agent who said that it was common for agents to leave large agencies and set up on their own – and that this was a good time to approach them as they’d be less likely to have a full client list at that point. I’d read in the Bookseller that Luigi Bonomi had left Sheil Lands to set up on his own, approached the agency with the first three chapters and synopsis of The Girls’ Guide to Losing Your L Plates and got an email the next day inviting me to come in for a meeting.
Time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted!
Mark BoothI’ve been commissioned several times to write scientific articles, but as I write creatively mainly for fun I’m still waiting for the right email to come along.
Mark Liam PiggottHad commissions from the nationals at 20, got my first literary agent at 25, then a second at 32, but neither really helped me a great deal. Both wanted me to write thrillers, which I didn’t – I just didn’t know what I DID want to write. In the end I did my MA in novel writing at Manchester and saw the light...
Matt LynnI started out as a journalist, working at a few trade publications, and then I worked at The Sunday Times for ten years. So I was already doing pretty well as a writer and I had an agent for some business books I’d written.

It doesn’t count for much when you want to write fiction, however. I sat down and wrote a book, and then asked my agent to see if he could sell it, and fortunately he did. It was a big help to already have an agent, though. That is half the battle.

Michael RidpathHow did you get your first agent/ commission/publication? Can you tell us about the process/journey?

I wrote and rewrote my first novel, Free To Trade, over a three year period before finally deciding it was good enough to send out to agents. I drew up a list and sent off the first two chapters, two by two. The second on the list, Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann asked for the rest of the book. A couple of weeks later she rang me at work and asked me round for a cup of tea. She and her partner Julian Friedmann asked if they could represent me. I thought it over for a second and said yes.

Carole sent the manuscript out immediately with an enthusiastic letter to all the top publishers about how she had discovered an original first novel. A bidding war ensued and after another couple of weeks, Heinemann had bought the novel for a record advance for a first-time novelist.

It’s a cliché, but it’s true so I will write it: the whole thing was like a dream happening to someone else. In fact in the following year I thought I would wake up and discover that everyone would realise they had made a mistake and the book wasn’t any good at all.
Michelene WandorMy first radio commission came about after I had written a radio play and sent it in on spec; it was bought, went well, and after that everything has been commissioned. Apart from poetry and the occasional short story, everything I write is commissioned.
Michelle HarrisonWith a lot of perseverance! I had quite a few rejection letters, which resulted in me doing three major re-writes, the last of which got me my agent. As I finished that re-write I felt confident that I’d finally got it right. The other thing was that I spent an entire evening working on my covering letter, something I’d never done before that point. I re-formatted it totally to make it as appealing and attention-grabbing as possible, and it worked.
Neil ForsythI wrote a rambling email, attached the few articles I’d written that had something about them, and suggested I wrote Castro’s biography. That went to perhaps 100 literary agents. I think I had three positive replies and the first was from my agent, David Riding at MBA.
Nicky SingerMy first publication was a libretto for an operetta I wrote when I was 16 year old. This was organised by the composer of the piece (my godfather) and I got paid £19.15. A fortune in those long-ago days…. I imagined that that was how all publishing worked, you wrote stuff, they published it. Hahahahahaha. Later, a very prestigious agent said my work wasn’t great (see below) but I persisted……
Nik PerringAfter a lot of rejection for previous novels and with a lot of hard work and luck! My first published piece was an article for a local magazine, Cheshire Life, which I sent in on-spec. The editor phoned me up, said he loved it and a few months later I got to see my words in print for the first time, which is a feeling, I think, one only gets once but never forgets.
Patrick DillonI’m represented by Andrew Lownie, whom I first met when I was writing fiction. When I moved to history I was then lucky to discover that I was already signed to the best history agent in town. He found me great contracts for Madam Geneva and The Last Revolution. When I announced I wanted to write a history for children, he didn’t bat an eyelid but went out and found a children’s publisher, Walker Books.

I’ve also been lucky in my editors. I strongly believe that books are better for an editor’s eye. By the time I’m finished, I’m longing for someone to bring fresh judgment to the text. For each of my books I’ve had brilliant editing, perhaps most of all for The Story of Britain. Children’s books are all about getting details right. In writing for young children every word has to count, and that discipline and attention to detail runs though everything Walker Books does. The Story of Britain benefited from that, and I learned a huge amount from it.

Peter RobertsonI don’t have an agent at the moment. I am currently advised by the Society of Authors, of which I am a member, and happy with the advice they give me. Soon I will start negotiating with a publisher in order to seal a deal, but in this particular case I will probably dispense with an agent. However, at some point in the future I will probably need a good agent.. To answer your other question, my first publication was a review I wrote some years ago for Andrew Graham-Yooll, the Editor of “The Buenos Aires Herald”.
Preethi NairI just couldn’t get one and got rejected by every publisher so I took the deposit I had saved for my flat and set up my own publishing and PR company. I then hyped my novel under an alias, got it into the book charts and then sold it as part of a 3 book deal to HarperCollins.
Rebecca ConnellI put off submitting my work to agents for a long time, due to fear of failure – I didn’t want to lose the dream. Eventually I girded my loins and sent off an early, somewhat premature batch of submissions to agents I had researched poorly. Following this, I took myself in hand, edited the manuscript and looked more carefully at the agents I was targeting. I was lucky enough to get a fair bit of interest, and ended up having to choose between several potential agencies. I signed with Rogers, Coleridge & White because their client list seriously impressed me, not to mention their passion and commitment to their books. My agent, Hannah Westland, has done a great job for me and I’m confident I made the right choice!
Rebecca StrongI first got to know Tom Chalmers, MD of Legend Press, in 2005 when he wrote an article for the Society of Young Publishers’ magazine, InPrint, which I was editing at the time. Having dabbled in writing in the past, I showed Tom some of the short stories I’d written, and received some positive feedback. After I expressed an interest in writing a novel, Tom and I devised the challenge for me to write one within a year, and agreed on deadlines. Not only did this motivate me to write Here or There, but I also received invaluable feedback from Tom along the way, and I was thrilled when he eventually confirmed he’d like to publish it this summer.
Ron MorgansI’m daily paper trained and I couldn’t stand the slowness of the publishing system. Waving goodbye to a Jiffy bagged MS for six months then receiving a scribbled “NO” written across my own query letter.

In frustration I self published Kill Chase on Lulu. A wonderful blogger named GrumpyOldBookman wrote me a great review! Within days Clare Christian of publisher The Friday Project gave me a two book contract to launch their intended imprint, FridayCrime. We edited, copy edited and proof read them. Covers were designed. The launch was intended for April 2008. Piers Morgan liked The Deadline Murders so much he gave me a cover blurb. I joined the SOA. I was a writer!

In March 2008, four weeks before the launch of my first title, The Friday Project went bankrupt. My books went unpublished. HarperCollins bought TFP but they wanted the blog based books like 'an A-Z of Harry Potter.' I wished good luck to all those authors taken on. HarperCollins didn’t want my mainstream crime titles. I guess HC had enough already.

I got drunk for a week. The rights reverted to me but I found it impossible to find an agent. I got to ‘D’ in the Writers & Artists Yearbook. (23 at 3 months each!) Some didn’t bother to reply.

I’ve never known if it was the books they didn’t like or the connection to the failed publisher or my age.

I wasn’t getting any younger. I decided to self publish them all. I knew they were good enough. I was a picture editor, wasn’t I? All that graphics background. I’d do it myself with my own independent company I called Riverheron. I registered with the Spanish Ministry of Culture for ISBN numbers (which come free!) and designed my own covers. I also made them into e-books for Sony Readers, iPhones, etc.

I contracted with Lightning Source to distribute them paperback through Ingrams at £6.99 each. I also download them as e-books through Mobipocket for Kindles in the USA. I believe the future is in choice.
Rosy ThorntonThe agent who was trying to sell my North and South sequel didn’t like More Than Love Letters so I had to find another. I started off doing it the way they tell you, targeting agents who handle similar work, or who had said nice things about the earlier book. They all said no, so I thought, sod this, and wrote to every fiction agent in the universe, and they all said no, too. Then by mistake, I wrote to the lovely man who is now my agent. I say ‘by mistake’ because in the listings at the time he was down as only doing non-fiction (oops!) but it turned out he was looking to get into fiction, and he took me on. Serendipity, or what? This was the summer of 2005. He was extremely patient, and worked with me through two more drafts, turning the shambles I had sent him into something approaching a novel. Then he sent it off to a few places, and Headline bought it in March 2006.
Sally NichollsThe literary agency PFD offer a prize of £500 and a meal with an agent for the most promising children’s writing on my MA, which I won. The agent was initially doubtful as to whether anyone would buy a children’s novel about a dying child, but she agreed to read the manuscript anyway. Three days later she rang me up saying she wanted to represent me. I put down the phone, shrieked, rang all my friends at work and then spent an hour telling a family friend (who was painting our door) exactly why having an agent was so exciting.

When she sent the manuscript out, I had five offers from five different children’s publishers. It just goes to show that you should always write the book you want to write …
Sally ZigmondI haven’t got an agent—yet. As to how I found a publisher for my novel, it took a long time—about ten years, a lot of hard work, rewriting and submitting.
Sarah StovellI went the standard route of buying the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook and then sitting around on slush piles for a few months. I sent my first three chapters and synopsis to about fifteen agents. Although I had quite a good response – about 8 full ms requests – only one took me on.
Shelley WeinerThe agent who took me on with my first book (that initial attempt to tell my family’s story) was very encouraging about my second novel, A Sisters’ Tale, which was sold almost immediately to the first publisher she approached, Constable. I didn’t realise at the time how lucky I was – on the other hand, the advance was tiny and, although the book got very good reviews, it never went into paperback. I still think it’s one of the best things I’ve done and hope that someone will pick it up one day and think it’s worth republishing.
Sol B RiverMy first commission came after many cups of tea at my local theatre. I had sent them all of my first three scripts and as a result we had an open dialogue. An opportunity arose to write a play that would form part of a season of work. I wrote the play and fortunately it was performed. My first agent came after many years or trying, it involved many bits of work being sent here and there, many meetings and the inevitable rejections. My first publication came about via Oberon Books, I think that was just a case of sending the work and launching the book in London at the premier of 'Unbroken' which was a piece of dialogue written for Phoenix dance company. My second collection of plays was launched on the back of my last play 'Two Tracks & Text Me.'
Steve FeaseyI was blissfully naïve about the whole ‘road to publishing’ process. I’d written what I thought was a pretty good story, and I roughly knew how the series would work out (I’d always planned it as a five-book series). So I got a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and sent out my ms to every agency that accepted children’s fiction. The rejections rolled in thick and fast. So thick and fast that it was soul destroying. So when my 48th reply suggested I might like to send in a full, I did a little dance (later to become my Happy Author Dance). Strangely, after so many rejections, I had two other agents also request fulls at about the same time, and all of them were interested in meeting me. But those 47 rejections taught me an awful lot about the industry, and how difficult it can be at times.

Sue MoorcroftI’ve written in so many areas that I could write a novel-length answer to this question! Instead, I’ll tell you what happened when my first novel sold.

I was having a bad day. My computer had been malicious and I’d spent hours trying to access its better nature (ie my files.) One of my sons sent me a text to say that a college assignment, due in the following day, was on the hard drive, but he had not printed it out.

Eventually, I gave up and unplugged the CPU, belted it into the car beside me and drove it to the computer workshop. The technician sucked his teeth and said that it would take a few days. I asked him to access the hard drive and get my son’s assignment off, which he agreed to do. But I didn’t know the filename.

I discovered my mobile phone was at home and I couldn’t remember my son’s number. So I got back in the car and drove to my husband’s office – only to find he had left his phone somewhere, too! So, hissing and steaming at the incredible pointlessness of my day, I rang my youngest son at home, to see if he had my eldest son’s number, which he did.

And then he said, ‘Oh, and Laura rang. She said can you ring her back?’ Laura was my agent. So I forgot the phone number, the file and the computer and rang Laura back. She said some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever heard: ‘I have an offer for you.’ I was told later that my only contribution was to say, ‘You’re joking!’ in various tones and volumes.

I was much more cheerful after that! My husband took me out to dinner because, I told him, ‘Novelists don’t cook dinner’, which I have since discovered to be untrue. I got home and my new editor phoned to congratulate me and I was the happiest, beamingest person in the world.

In the morning, I rang my agent at 9am to check that I hadn’t dreamt it.

Tim LottI wrote a novel which everyone rejected, but one agent remembered a piece I had written in a magazine about the death of my mother. This became ‘The Scent of Dried Roses’
Tony McGowanFor me the journey was immensely complex and fortuitous. I sent Hellbent off to ten or so agents, picked more or less at random. They all sent rejections right back, often impersonal to the point of beginning, Dear Sir/Madam. That was discouraging. Then my wife, who works in the fashion industry, had an idea for a book. I helped her write it. She got an agent and a big deal quite quickly. Her agent agreed to look after me as well, in a pitying sort of way. Quite quickly thereafter, I got deals for Hellbent and Stag Hunt. But without the sheer luck of my wife getting an agent, it would never have happened for me.
Vanessa CurtisI started churning out articles in my lunch-break when I was in my early twenties and stuck in a succession of dull office jobs. It seemed easy, enjoyable and I was surprised that magazines were prepared to pay Actual Money for the articles. At that stage they were all frothy pieces about sex, blind dates, being single and what not to wear. Later on as life became more complex they became serious pieces on subjects like divorce, harassment and bereavement. In 1998 I became involved with a literary society and began to co-edit their literary magazine. Inspired by this I submitted a proposal for a non-fiction book to an independent publisher and got lucky – they issued me a contract and also agreed to publish the follow-up. On the strength of this I managed to get freelance work as a book reviewer for national broadsheets and I still do this today. In 2004 I wrote another non-fiction proposal and was invited to meet a very reputable agent, but publishers rejected it. I picked myself up off the floor and once I’d stopped howling, decided to write an adult novel – it was an ambition to at least complete a first draft. As soon as I’d finished it I realised it wasn’t the right book for me to be working on – it had that typical first-time-novelist’s angst, the horrid self-importance, the self-conscious literary seriousness that puts me off when I read it in other people’s books. I missed writing with the humour I’d used in my early articles, and so mainly for my own amusement I wrote a children’s book about a feisty girl-detective. I sent it off to some agents and got the usual rejection slips although there were one or two personal letters with helpful advice. Another children’s novel followed, this time with some more personalised, encouraging rejections and a request for full manuscript from one agent that I submitted to. But, he rejected it with a kind and positive letter. I had a few weeks of abject misery where I wanted to give up writing and do virtually anything else instead. But I plunged into writing a third book in March. I sent it back to the same agent in August, he requested the whole thing, made some excellent suggestions for changes and signed me in September this year. Phew!
Vanessa GebbieAgents? I don’t think agents are interested in short story writers, are they? I’ve had a few say ‘Come to me when you’ve written a novel’… and I’m afraid they may have a long wait. I have TRIED to write a novel. Seriously. I think my website probably says I still am trying. It’s in the bottom drawer of my desk. I LOVE what I do. With short fiction you can create a whole world in ten minutes.

My first publication was early 2004 in a literary ezine called BuzzWords. The editors saw a story of mine on a critiquing site I belonged to, and made the right noises. I’ll never forget what that first one feels like. Magic!
William SuttonMy first radio play won the London Radio Playwrights’ Competition, which I think no longer exists.
My novel was accepted after a long search. Several agents liked it, but wouldn’t take a chance on it.
I was just lucky to find the right publisher; someone told me about Mercat’s books when I did a speculative reading in an Edinburgh pub two years ago. I’ve still not got an agent, but it doesn’t seem so important now.
Zoe LambertAfter my MA I was working on a novel, but I couldn’t finish it. I was really struggling. Looking back, my writing, my ideas, my stories didn’t fit its parameters. When I returned to Manchester, I was put in touch with Comma’s editor Ra Page and later submitted stories to the Comma anthology Bracket and other Manchester based magazines, and then Comma asked for submissions for Ellipsis 2.