People often ask me whether being an agent has helped with becoming/being an author, and my answer is usually a vague, unhelpful ‘yes and no,’ so I was really pleased when I was asked to write about this topic. Hopefully, I can give a little more insight here than I can when drunkenly garbling at a party, or in a 140 character tweet.
In terms of the submissions process, mine was exactly the same as most other authors. I googled agents that represent books for teenagers and selected about ten or so based mainly on Twitter-stalking and a gut feeling that I might get on with the person/that they might like the book. I avoided agents I already knew personally, because I’d rather keep my agent/author worlds as separate as possible, and I actually submitted under a pseudonym…just in case it was actually terrible and people thought, ‘she’s an agent, she should know better!!!’ Or in case I ran into people in a professional setting; I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable if they happened to meet me at a party the day after rejecting me.
At that stage I had a feeling that someone might like it, but unlike with other people’s work I think it’s incredibly difficult to judge your own. I find Emma funny… but of course I find Emma funny, it’s exactly my sense of humour! In one way, because I’m used to editing other people’s writing, that must have been helpful as I’m already used to thinking about structure/pace etc. So I think I knew that in terms of how the story played out, it was ok, but knowing whether or not someone else is actively going to enjoy it is another thing entirely. Also, no matter how much editing experience you may have, I really believe writing can always benefit from another perspective. (I also believe too many cooks can spoil the broth, so for me it was about finding the right extra pair of eyes). When I met my agent Lauren, all her ideas for the book really made sense to me and hadn’t even occurred to me before.
I suppose as well, there’s a lot of market knowledge you get from being an agent. I read a lot of new releases to keep up with what’s happening in the current YA market, I read the Bookseller and I have meetings with editors who will tell me about what they’re looking for. A lot of the time, though, editors don’t have a super specific vision of what they want… just something that blows them away. I feel other aspiring authors could gain a similar amount of knowledge from reading lots of new YA and checking the Bookseller to see what’s being commissioned. Lots of bloggers I know are definitely just as informed as I am about the current YA market, and they’re not technically ‘in the industry.’
Since getting my own agent and a book deal, there are times when working in publishing has been useful. A large part of agenting is, obviously, guiding authors through the process and a lot of debut writers (quite understandably) have no idea what to expect. For instance, I think a lot of authors don’t realise how much lower YA sales can be generally than in adult publishing. Although there can always be surprises, my own expectations were probably fairly realistic going in and I suppose, in that regard, I might have felt more business-like about it than other authors.
However, there are other aspects of being an author which I don’t feel ‘business-like’ about at all… I thought working in publishing might rub off some of the emotion, but thankfully being on the other side of it has, in so many ways, been just as wonderful as I hoped it would be. Not to mention totally surreal. Although I have a certain amount of knowledge of the process, and I see book deals going through all the time, I still can’t help but feel surprised every time I see my own name on a contract, or edits, and I haven’t stopped feeling that touch of magic about the whole thing. The feeling of someone else saying they like your writing enough to represent it, that they like it enough to publish it, of all the behind-the-scenes work that goes in for your book from fantastic, lovely staff at every single stage, I don’t think has been any different to how anyone else must feel. And then, obviously, holding the book in your hands… I don’t think any amount of experience in publishing can prepare you for that.
This guest blog was provided by Chloe Seager. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.