It was a list. Just a list, written on an A4 sheet of lined paper torn from a notebook. Names and addresses, with neatly ruled lines in between them.
A list that could change everything, or nothing.
I’d just completed my third YA novel, and with two previous attempts consigned to a bottom drawer, I’d decided it was time to take the plunge and start querying agents. As I like to be organised about these things, I’d gone through the Writers’ and Artists’ yearbook and made my list, picking out agents who represented YA authors I loved.
I sent my chapters and synopsis off to the first agent – by snail mail, as I didn’t have the internet or email at home at this time – and got a rejection back a couple of weeks later. The same happened with the second. I crossed them off the list and moved on to the next agent: Carolyn Whitaker at London Independent Books. Off my words went, and I tried to prepare myself, mentally, for another rejection.
But I was also hoping against hope that maybe this time, it would be third time lucky. Because Carolyn represented two authors I hero-worshipped: Chris Wooding and, at that time, Keith Gray. Imagine having the same agent as Chris Wooding and Keith Gray.
Just the thought of it sent shivers down my spine.
Luckily, I had plenty of other stuff going on to keep me occupied: I was getting married soon, and was busy making the final preparations. By the time the day arrived, I’d more or less forgotten about my query. I got married, and hubby and I went off on our honeymoon. It wasn’t until we got back home that I thought about my query again, when I found an envelope from London Independent Books lying on the front doormat. A thin envelope, containing a single sheet of paper. Another rejection, I thought as I unfolded it, bracing myself for the inevitable rush of disappointment.
But it wasn’t a rejection. It was a letter from Carolyn, saying she’d like to see the next 10,000 words of my novel.
I sent them off (with another SAE). Waited. Prepared myself for rejection. Instead, Carolyn wrote back to say she’d like to see the rest. Oh my god. I spent the next day or so reading and re-reading the end of my manuscript frantically, checking one last time for typos and awkward sentences before packaging it up and sending it off, using recorded delivery just to be on the safe side (and enclosing yet another SAE, because you always include SAEs when you send stuff to agents, right? Even if they have two other SAEs from you already that, if you weren’t so excited you could hardly think straight, you’d remember sending them).
Cue more waiting. And obsessive checking of the Royal Mail website to track my manuscript and see if it had arrived.
I rang Royal Mail to see if there was any record of the manuscript being delivered, but no-one could tell me anything. In despair, I realised what must have happened: it had got lost in the post.
Probably the most important parcel I’d ever sent, and it had gone into a black hole.
|This isn't me, but this IS what I looked like when I thought my manuscripts had been lost.|
But that one didn’t arrive either. This could only happen to me, I thought as, in despair, I scraped together the courage to phone London Independent Books and leave a message on the answerphone, explaining what had happened. Then I posted my manuscript for a third time, convinced I’d really blown it now.
A few days later, hubby and I were driving to the supermarket when my mobile rang. It was a withheld number. Work?
It was Carolyn.
Somehow, I managed to signal to hubby to pull over. Somehow I managed to keep my voice from going up about two octaves while Carolyn explained she had actually received my manuscripts (all three of them). Somehow I managed not to burst into tears when she said she really liked the story and had some suggestions for revision. Frantically, I scrabbled in the glove box and, by some miracle, found both a notebook and a pen in there. I think I may have interspersed my scribbled notes with OMG several times as hubby frowned at me, wondering, quite rightly, what on earth was going on. After we got home I started work on the revisions right away. When they were done, I sent the manuscript back to Carolyn, and after some more revisions it was ready to send out (although, ultimately, it didn’t sell; it would be another book and another four years before Random House Children's Books bought ACID).
So that’s how I got my agent. In the car, on the way to the supermarket.
And we were only going for milk!