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Collated Answers from WW interviews

How did you get your first agent/ commission/publication?
Al Hunter AshtonGot interviewed for a script editors job at Emmerdale by Gilly Schuster at Cecily Wares Literary Agent way, way back. Got offered the job but liked Gilly and Cecily both so much just asked if they’d take me on as a writer which they were mad enough to for about twenty years.
Beanie BabyWith sheer dogged determination, I think. I was sending out dozens of manuscripts a week from the age of about twelve and my first article was accepted by a mainstream magazine called Fate & Horoscope Magazine, who then commissioned a second article. I was sixteen at the time and thought I'd really made it.
Caroline RanceI'd been sending out submissions for a few months and had quite a few standard rejections, a couple of personalised rejections and one request for the full manuscript that ended in nothing. Then I was on WW and saw that someone had got a request for a full on her second submission! Argh! I was pleased for her but this also made me panic a bit, and I knew I had to get my act together. I'd been looking at the website of a new independent publisher called Picnic and was enjoying reading one of their other books, so I fired off a quick email thinking “What the hell... I'll just send it.” They replied the next day asking for chapters, then the full. Several months later, they said they would like to publish it. I did things the wrong way round – I got an agent as a result of the publication.
Gordon and WilliamsRG: Luck.

BW: Bribery and coercion.
JemMy first story was embarked on by hand when I was pregnant with my twins who are now 16. It was called Future Perfect, except My Weekly changed the title. It was one of two stories with a grammar point as the springboard. (The other one was about the subjunctive. Honestly, it was more readable than it sounds.)
Then, a year or so later, I submitted a novella – the first long thing I’d ever written to A.P.Watt and got representation from Sam Boyce who worked at that agency before moving to Sheil Land.
But by that time I’d already sold half a dozen or more short stories to various women’s mags as well as winning a short story competition and coming runner up in a Woman&Home short story comp. My first novel “After Harriet” didn’t get published but it led, indirectly, to me being asked to write a tie-in novel for the Channel 4 “Hollyoaks” series, “The Lives and Loves of Finn”.
Jill DawsonI first published a piece in Honey magazine when I was eighteen. I sent it and had it returned with a note that it ‘read like a school essay.’ Not surprising since I’d been writing a lot of essays at that point. But I re-wrote it, sent it off, and the next thing I knew a cheque arrived in the post for fifty pounds. I mention this story because of course the moral is: rewrite, rewrite, rewrite!

My first agent came when I asked Bridget O’Connor, a fabulous short story writer, and the only published writer I knew, who her agent was. Bridget told me and said ‘you should send something to her, she’s great.’ I did, and she sold my first novel, getting me a two-book deal on the basis of the first three chapters. She sold it to Carole Welch at Sceptre who has remained my editor on a further four books, although my agent has changed.
Julia CopusThis isn’t very interesting. I won an Eric Gregory Award – a big award for poets under 30. The prize is administrated by the Society of Authors (www.societyofauthors.org), and they give four or five awards each year. I’d strongly urge any promising young poets out there – whether published or unpublished (I was unpublished) – to enter. Not only does it offer a big financial boost, but many publishers keep an eye out for each year’s ‘class of Gregory winners’. And it’s astonishing how many well-known (as well as less well-known) poets have won one of these awards – Alice Oswald, Lavinia Greenlaw, Don Paterson, Jackie Kay, Kathleen Jamie, Medbh McGuckian, Sean O’Brien, Andrew Motion, Paul Muldoon, Brian Patten, Derek Mahon, Michael Longley, Seamus Heaney, Douglas Dunn... You get the idea!
Kate LongIn 1996 I submitted a short story to a literary magazine called Madam X and the editor, David Rees, said the piece had provoked some interest from a mainstream publisher. He advised me to write a full length novel for adults and said he’d help me place it. It was wonderful to meet someone so early on who believed in my writing. David couldn’t get that first novel accepted, but he got an offer for my second, The Bad Mother’s Handbook. His friend, agent Peter Straus, was invited in to help us get the best deal – I think David and I were both taken aback by the sudden interest from publishers - and so for that book I had two agents!

Kate TymI have never had an agent. I had a dabble with the idea a couple of years ago. I’d had my kids and was trying to get back into writing. I felt a bit isolated and had lost a bit of confidence and I thought maybe an agent would help push me forward. I was rejected by several (despite already being a published author!) but then found that one of the big London agencies was happy to take me on. I had a meeting with them and basically they advised me to become ‘brand Kate Tym’ and suggested that rhyming texts for children (the thing I love best and the thing children love best too) were not the way forward as they don’t sell well as co-editions (ie they don’t translate into different languages) and talked about how competitive the market was and how sales driven. I came away so depressed that I didn’t bother getting back in touch and shelved the idea of writing children’s books for the time being! Having been an editor, I know some agents can be great and really work hard for their clients but for me, the timing was all wrong.
A L BerridgeThrough being an idiot. Although I’d dutifully read The Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, the one crucial piece of information missing from its pages was the maximum length of a first novel. I assessed the length of equivalent historical epics on my bookshelves and happily submitted ‘Honour and the Sword’ at 520,000 words long...

Unsurprisingly, I had two speedy rejections – though neither gave any kind of reason. I think that’s a pity, actually. I quite understand that agents can’t waste time giving advice to writers they don’t plan to represent, but how many seconds of their time would it have taken to say ‘This is way too long for anyone’?

But they didn’t, so I ploughed on. I looked at the next agent on my list, consulted their website submission guidelines and saw a sentence that brought me up rigid with horror. ‘Manuscripts must be of acceptable novel length,’ it said. ‘Anywhere between 80,000 and 150,000 words’.

I won’t describe the sensations of the next few hours. I finally got a Google search result that gave me more information, and found it on the Free Advice section of the Writers’ Workshop Literary Consultancy. They also had a ‘contact us’ option – so I took it, subtly implying I was going to throw myself out of a window unless they agreed a novel of 500,000 words was perfectly acceptable. They didn’t, but they did talk me into sufficient calm for my ex script-editor self to kick in and say ‘Come on, it’s just another rewrite.’ So I rewrote it, all of it, and got it down to 220,000 words.

A cut that deep is likely to leave horrible cracks and fissures, so I scraped together my savings and sent the final MS to the Writers’ Workshop for an objective opinion. They gave me a fabulous report suggesting a few changes, passed it on to the head honcho for a further free read, then offered to get me a recommendation to an agent. It was one so eminent I’d never have dreamed of submitting to her on my own, but I croaked out a ‘yes’, and two hours later there was an e-mail from the agent wanting to see the full MS at once. My husband hand-delivered it next day and by the end of the week I had an agent. Victoria wanted a few changes herself, of course – all for the better – but two weeks after that I was out at auction and got my deal with Penguin.

I sometimes wonder about it all. If I’d done my research in the first place and written the book to the right length I might never have gone near the Writers’ Workshop. I might still be looking for that elusive agent. Maybe I’m not just the most idiotic but also the luckiest writer in the world.
Luisa PlajaAfter finishing my novel, I wrote query emails to two top UK children's literary agents, explaining the premise of my book. One of them wrote back the same day asking for the full manuscript. She phoned two weeks later, saying she loved my book and wanted to meet me. I signed with her at the meeting. After I followed her revision suggestions, she sold the book to Random House within three weeks of submitting it. It was a whirlwind of excitement and nothing like I ever expected the process could be, even in my wildest and most 'maybe-it's-not-all-rubbish-after-all' dreams.
Nick GriffithsMy first commission came from Shaun Phillips, then reviews editor of Sounds, who read a review of David Bowie's Tin Machine that I had sent in to his paper, which he enjoyed. And my first/only agent, I found by going through every agent in Writers' & Artists', crossing out everyone who charged 15%, crossing out anyone who sounded pompous or who lived in West London, which left, I seem to recall, two. I'm extremely glad to have plumped for the charming, unpretentious, brilliant Robin Wade at Wade & Doherty, who amazingly liked me back.
Nick StaffordSomehow, I was writing a screenplay for the BBC, with a script editor, Hilary Salmon, who’s now one of the heads of drama, before I had an agent, because I remember asking Hilary who a good agent for me would be? She mentioned Julia Kreitman, who was at Curtis Brown at the time.. The screenplay didn’t get made, but I still have a creative relationship with Hilary, and Julia’s still my agent.
Rosy BarnesMy name was pulled out of a hat to do a reading at something called The Unpublished Writers’ Jam at the Debut Authors’ Festival in Edinburgh.

It was a kind of Pop Idol for books and one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my life. I had to read a section of my book out in front of a live audience and a panel of judges. The prize was a bottle of whiskey. I couldn’t even read the pages, my hands were shaking so badly, but – to my surprise and relief - it went down uproariously well. I was then approached by an agent who had been sitting in the audience. I was very lucky.
Shahrukh HusainGosh, that was all a very long time ago. My first three books were commissioned before I had an agent. I came across the Eurobook series of myths, handsomely illustrated coffee-table books, read the others in the series and offered to do the Indian one. They asked for a sample which I wrote in a great rush between caring for my three year old son, editing a bunch of directories and coping with my new part-time job as a film censor. Luckily, I mentioned this in my covering letter and the editor came back with some sharp comments, saying if I hadn’t acknowledged that I’d rushed, she’d have rejected my proposal. So I paid attention to the revision and got the commission. A flat fee of a magnificent £5000 in 1984, no royalties. I wrote Demons, Gods and Holy Men from Indian Myth and Legend in three months and it was published in 1985. I’m delighted to say it’s still selling and is on a several educational resources all over the world. Two non-fiction children’s books followed – the first, Focus on India (written in two weeks over the Christmas break) was also published in 1985, received several commendations and went into five editions, one still on sale. It was not until two years later that I met my first agent, Xandra Hardie through a friend. She later merged with Toby Eadie. They agented my break-through book The Virago Book of Witches, an anthology of witch-tales from around the world which I compiled and edited. That sold out in hardback within three months. It taught me the might of good marketing. I wrote three more for Virago. The last one Erotic Myths and Legends is another compilation and between them, they’ve gone into more than 20 languages. I moved to Blake-Friedmann in 1995 because they cover all aspects of my work, movies and books, non-fiction and fiction for adults and children and Carole Blake who represents my books is reputed to be one of the best editors and agents in the business, specially for novels. Conrad Williams looks after my screenplays. I haven’t written an uncommissioned piece since 1985 – which is both good and bad.
Sion Scott-WilsonI sent my work to Macmillan.
Tania HershmanMy first publication was in an online 'zine called The Beat. It was of a story that I wrote at the Anam Cara writing retreat, a magical spot in the west of Ireland, in 1999. I went along with Sue, who runs the retreat, to Mass in the local church, a fascinating experience for a nice Jewish girl. Then I wrote a fairly irreverent and humorous piece about Adam and Eve, and was amazed that it was accepted. I didn't get anything else published for another 5 years, but as a direct result of my MA, a short story was accepted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4, produced by an independent production company, Sweet Talk. They have been incredibly supportive of new writers in general, and of me and my stories, selecting a further two stories for broadcast, one of which was commissioned for last year's week of stories commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Sputnik satellite launch.

Through them, I also found an agent, with whom I was in touch for two years. However, she didn't seem to know quite what to do with me and my short stories, and in the end I submitted my stories to Salt Publishing and negotiated the book deal myself. So right now I am agent-less, but not too concerned, because I have nothing for an agent to sell. When I do, I will start looking around.
William ColesI'd finished my first book in about 2002, and sent it off to at least a score of agents - and got turned down flat. And not surprising too, because it was atrocious. But there was one agent up in Edinburgh where I live, Jenny Brown. She'd just started out, and was collecting a stable of authors. I think I must have worn her down, because even though my second book was also a dud, she eventually took me on. And the third book was a dud ... and the fourth ... and ... believe you me, there is a quite considerable back-catalogue of stuff that is yearning to get into print.

Zoe WilliamsI think I was working as a secretary/ assistant at the Evening Standard, and they let me interview the actor James Frayn who, frankly, fed me a load of blarney (“You either grow into your dream or you grow out of them” “Work like you’re not getting paid, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like there’s no-one watching”) and made it impossible for me to write a halfway decent piece; it was purely because I only had 300 words to fill that they ran it at all. If I’d never got another piece, I would have blamed that entirely on him. I would have had to grow out of my dreams, and it would have been all his fault.