I finished (or thought I had finished) my novel in August 2009 and stuck it away in a drawer for a month or so before giving it one final edit and then began sending it out to about 15 agents, garnering only one partial request before realising it was far from ready. I went back to the drawing board, pulling it apart and putting it together again, all the while learning more and more about writing, editing, agents, the query process, and publishing in general.
For the next round of queries, in early 2010, I cast the net a little wider, this time getting several partial requests, a handful of which turned into fulls. I had a couple of back-and-forth conversations with agents by email too, but ultimately they all passed, mostly with very helpful comments on the way forward with the manuscript, often complimenting my writing and encouraging me to keep going. Quite a few agents told me that I had something special on my hands but that they didn't have the requisite contacts to sell my book, but that I was sure to find an agent soon.
Over the summer I took all that feedback and took the novel apart one more time, piece-by-piece, pretty clear in what needed to change and how I was going to get there. It was long, difficult, painful process but by September 2010, I felt I had done it, that I really had taken onboard all the advice from beta readers, agents, and editors who had seen my work informally, and resolved any issues with the manuscript.
After wrestling with my query for some time, I was finally ready to start sending out again. The reaction was far, far better this time. I was getting partial requests, but also a lot of full requests, straight off the query. I think I had eight or nine fulls out at the same time, and was starting to feel confident.
While I was waiting, I had a couple of short stories published, one of them also selected for an anthology, and I really started to think it was beginning to happen for me.
Then the rejections started coming in, one after the other, mostly form rejections this time, even though I knew the manuscript was far stronger, and as Christmas approached, I began to think it was never going to happen with this novel. I was kicking around some ideas for a second, and getting ready to start on that, so I just put the first novel out of my mind.
Just after Christmas I got the email that I thought was going to change my life. It was from an established, well-regarded NY agent with a solid record, who loved my book, asking if I had an agent yet, and if not that we should talk. I had just come in from the pub, and I had to read the email several times to make sure it wasn't a prank, then woke my girlfriend so that she could confirm what I was reading.
I tried not to get too excited, after all, there was no mention of an offer of representation, just an invitation to talk, but I also knew the agent didn't want to talk to tell me they didn't like my book. I sent a response with my contact details and so on, then began preparing for the call, drawing up a list of questions, writing queries for future projects so I could 'pitch' them effectively if the conversation progressed to that point.
A couple of weeks passed with no response from the agent, so I emailed again. Another week passed and I decided to call the office. The agent's assistant was lovely, and as soon as I mentioned my name she told me she had read my book and loved it. She informed me that the agent was on vacation and that I should phone back the following week. When I did, the agent told me that I had written "an amazing novel, big, sweeping, really great" and that everyone in the office had read it, and loved it. The agent said that they had sent it out for external readers' reports, and cautioned that before they could offer representation, the readers' reactions would have to be equally positive. He apologised for asking me to wait a little further, and asked me to give him a week.
Just over a week later I phoned the agent, and something seemed to have shifted. The agent seem annoyed that I had called, saying that they hadn't gotten back to me because they had nothing to report. Then the agent pulled back a little, saying they appreciated that the wait must be excruciating, and that they would try and hurry up the readers' reports. I told the agent not to worry, saying that I understood how slow the business moved and that this would not be the first time in the publishing process where I would be required to show patience. The agent signed off by asking me to give them another week.
A few weeks later, I got an email from a UK agent who apologised for the delay in reading my full and that she was going on vacation and would read it then. As the UK agent had rejected a previous draft of my novel (and invited me to resubmit with helpful editorial suggestions), I wanted to appraise her of the situation. I explained that I may have an offer forthcoming, but that I wasn't sure. She phoned me and asked me not to accept any offer without talking to her first and that she would read my novel ASAP. The next day she called again, saying that she was part way through the manuscript and loving it, and would read the rest on vacation. However, she also intimated that if she made an offer, she would expect for it to be accepted on the spot.
This put me in a little of a quandary, so I emailed the NY agent (who I hadn't heard from going on a month now), saying that there was other interest in the novel from a UK agent, and that an offer may be forthcoming. I also said that I would give him the opportunity to make a counter-offer, if he so wishes. I know this was getting a little ahead of myself, but I felt I was just being fair to the NY agent who had already invested a lot of time and resources into my novel.
When the UK agent returned from vacation, she told me she felt the manuscript was very close, but not quite there yet, and asked me to do a chapter-by-chapter synopsis for her. She then replied with a short email suggesting I cut the cast of characters in half and focus on the love story that was only a minor part of the novel. It was not a direction I really wanted to take the novel in, but I thanked her for all the time she had put in helping me.
I never heard back from the NY agent, despite emailing him again one month after my last email, advising that the UK agent was out of the race. It's now three months since the NY agent first emailed me saying they loved my book, asking if I had an agent, two months since we spoke on the phone when they told me I had written "an amazing novel, big, sweeping, really great", and asked for "one more week". In those two months I have only attempted to contact the NY agent twice, both times by email. Both attempts have been met with silence.
At this stage, I am ready to give up.