Two months ago I finished re-drafting Maternal Instinct – the working title of my first novel – and started to research publishers and agents in Australia. Last week I signed an agreement with FinePrint Literary Management – a literary agent in New York – to represent my novel to publishers worldwide.
It’s not been a particularly conventional journey. Here’s how it happened and what I’ve learned along the way about signing with a literary agent.
1. Scrolling through Twitter is time well spent
Sitting on the couch early one morning, watching cartoons with the kids and drinking coffee, I was scrolling through Twitter. As is my habit when I’m trying to unglue my eyelids after being woken at 5.30am by my offspring. Again.
I stumbled across the final hours of #SFFpit. I’d never heard of it before. It turns out it’s a twice-annual Twitter pitching contest. Writers looking for an agent or publisher pitch their completed science fiction or fantasy novel in 140 characters or less. Agents or publishers ‘like’ the tweets of pitches they’re interested in and request more information about the manuscript.
2. If you don’t put yourself out there you’ll get nothing in return
Well hey, I’d just finished writing a manuscript that fits broadly into the genre of science fiction. Maternal Instinct is what you might end up with if Liane Moriarty sat down and had a really good conversation with Margaret Atwood about the themes of the The Handmaid’s Tale.
I’m a big believer in taking a deep breath and just jumping (I’m also a huge fan of Drew Barrymore in Ever After, which is where that line comes from – yes, I take my philosophy on life from movies).
So I took a deep breath and I jumped.
“Just breathe” via GIPHY
3. You need to really understand your own book
This may sound like a no-brainer, but ask yourself this – could you explain an 80,000-word book in 140 characters?
Sitting on the couch in my dressing gown, with a Dinosaur King episode playing in the background, I crafted this tweet and sent it out into the world with thousands of other #SFFpit hopefuls:
Parenting is a profession and women must breed and surrender their babies, Alice must choose between helping her child or herself. #SFFpit
— Rebecca Bowyer (@RebeccaBowyerAU) 8 December 2016
4. Procrasti-preparation is also time well spent
I was nothing short of astonished when my tweet was ‘liked’. I momentarily panicked. I now needed to send the first 10 pages of my manuscript plus a query letter to the agent who’d ‘liked’ my tweet.
I’d never written a query letter before.
Fortunately, in a moment of grand procrastination about a year ago, I decided to take Natasha Lester’s online course, Pitch Your Novel. It includes such gems as how to summarise your book in just a few sentences and how to write a query letter.
I consulted my notes from the course, wrote a query letter and emailed it off that afternoon.
5. Make sure you’re prepared for success
I’d mentally steeled myself against the hard knocks of trying to get published. I’d prepared myself for thousands of rejections and ultimately consigning my book to a bottom drawer and moving on to write something else.
Five days later Lauren Bieker from FinePrint Literary Management emailed me back. She was ‘intrigued’ by the first 10 pages and asked me to send the full manuscript.
I was not prepared for that.
6. Life goes on as usual after you sign on with a literary agent
I always check my email on my smartphone as soon as I wake up. The morning I got the ‘yes’ email, I gently shook my husband awake and whispered: ‘It’s a yes! From New York; it’s a yes!’
Then I got out of bed, put my slippers on and went to clean up the backyard after the dog so the lawn could be mown before the day became too hot.
Because grass does not care about literary agents.
7. Kids also don’t care about literary agents
I showed my two boys my printed manuscript and explained that I was excited because someone was going to try to help me turn it into a book. I held up a handy copy of Harry Potter to illustrate my point. I explained that my book might be sold in bookshops some day.
They blinked politely.
Then Mr 4 burst into tears because he’d been given a plate of Vegemite toast for breakfast when he actually wanted a peanut butter sandwich.
So what happens next?
Signing on with a literary agent is neither the beginning nor the end of the publishing journey. It’s simply the next exciting step.
It does, however, mean that I’m no longer alone. I’ve got someone there to guide me through the process and work with me to make the book the best it can be before submitting to publishers. Lauren is as excited as I am about the project and had some excellent feedback for me on ways the manuscript can be improved.
Now I’m back to another round of edits on Maternal Instinct to make it the best it can be before it’s sent out to publishers.
Sent out from New York. By my literary agent. Somebody pinch me, please.