How I got an agent (and a book deal)📚
Redesigning worklife | #79
A friend asked me recently if I knew any agents who might be interested in her memoir. She did an online course with Gotham Writers' Workshop during the lockdown, which kept her sane, and she doesn't want to self-publish. It got me thinking about how I got my first agent in my 20s, so I thought it would be useful to share my strategy…(passion, persistence, writing lots of emails), which paid off eventually.
1. Writers' & Artists' Yearbook – the industry bible and the first place I look for inspiration, trends, advice, and finding agents, publishers, and new opportunities. I didn't have a detailed proposal, but I didn't let that hold me back. I was deep into my subject area: women's health & sexuality and working as a freelance journalist. I chose 10 agents and sent them an email offering my services. Some replied that they weren't taking on new authors at the time but would keep me on file. Then one got in touch to say she was looking for new authors and had a publisher I should meet, so a bit of luck and good timing.
2. Mslexia Magazine – an award-winning literary magazine focusing on the business and psychology of writing. This kept me sane, inspired and connected when writing in my bedroom (I'd got into debt freelancing in London and moved back in with my mum in the Midlands for a bit). I pitched articles, entered competitions, and used it to find local writers to meet up with. Serving writers since 1999 and still going strong.
3. Ghostwriting projects – an agent got in touch to say he had a Russian escort on his books who had written her memoir and he needed a ghostwriter in the industry to rework the copy (Sex & The City, Belle de Jour, Scarlet Magazine, lads' mags era). Not an easy job as she had a particular style and didn't want much changed, but good to get some ghostwriting experience under my belt and explore new ways of working with an agent.
4. I started a blog, which grew into an online magazine called Rude, covering arts, culture, entrepreneurship, sex & relationships. I applied for business support and mentoring via my local council and made some money via sponsorships and advertising, which meant I could commission writers. I loved doing it and kept building for four years, but I got burned out trying to do it all: editorial, marketing & PR, sponsorships, advertising, trade shows, horizon scanning. But it gave me a platform and led to copywriting work for companies and agencies in the sex tech space and a column in HuffPost.
5. Working with trade organisations – I started a monthly meetup in London for freelance members of Women in Journalism and looked for more associations I could help with, sourcing speakers for events, writing reports, social media etc. This made pitching to editors and collaborating with other writers easier as I'd met some of them at events, and it led to paid work and some good advice on agents and publishers.
6. London Book Fair – a huge book publishing trade fair held in April, bringing the industry together for three days of business, networking, and learning. I checked which agents were exhibiting and snuck upstairs to introduce myself to a couple who seemed like a good fit—I didn't have the right pass, but no one stopped me. One told me to email him afterwards with more info, which led to a meeting in Brighton and he said he’d be happy to take me on.
7. Social profiles – an agent in New York messaged me recently on LinkedIn to say she is looking for new writers and would love to hear my ideas when I'm ready. Serendipity! I've introduced her to my friend, who has sent her a proposal, so fingers crossed. It's worth adding keywords and hashtags to your profile, so you come up in searches. Follow agents and publishers you want to work with, and comment on their posts so you’re not pitching ‘cold’. Also, check out LinkedIn’s 'Creator' option, 'Services' page, and newsletters; it all helps with inbound marketing.
I went on to write 12 books over 10 years, some via agents and the publishers they worked with, and others were ideas I pitched directly to publishers (which I prefer). My first agent left the company after a year, so I was handed over to her replacement who then quit to set up her own agency. Eventually, I was dropped – the great midlist author cull of the noughties, so I carried on pitching to publishers and started writing more online.
So, it’s exciting to have a new opportunity, and I want to do it differently this time – more user research before I develop any product or service. It's easier to do now with Twitter, Quora, Reddit, Indie Hackers etc. See what people are asking for and struggling with, put your ideas out there, and see what bites. #Ship30for30 online writing course is a good testing ground for pitching a book – publish 30 atomic essays on Twitter on various topics or your niche(s) and see what comes back in terms of views, likes, and comments. So, you know what to go deeper on.
I see all these fantastic biz threads on Twitter – founders #learninginpublic, #buildinginpublic, sharing #bizadvice, so I’m also wondering if anyone reads business books anymore?! But then you still have to trawl through Twitter to find the nuggets, unless someone curates it for you or we have a collective hashtag.
I'm thinking about midlife, reinvention, upskilling, how to build a career with portfolio work, and work/travel with remote work. When Italy sorts out its Nomad Visa, I'll go and live there for a year and write about Smart Villages and rural regeneration. I'd also love to see more product testing happening outside the major cities, mini–Silicon Valleys across Europe and telling the story of that…
And as I get deeper into the Content + UX field, maybe I can write some biz books with publishers in that space.
What biz books have you enjoyed and found useful? What would you like to know more about or need help with now?
Hit reply and let me know.
I love the Do Book Co guides – inspirational, bitesize, and focused on the ‘doing’ rather than the theory – tiny books to inspire action with beautiful design.
New banner alert! I’ve been spring cleaning and made a new one. I had a 'design guru' badge pop up earlier on Canva congratulating me on my 200th design👏 I’ll happily spend hours in Canva messing with logos, fonts, colours, and elements – it’s meditative. I've gone for hot pink and grey, two colours I love, with exciting colour psychology.
Happy Easter! 🐰 🍫
See you soon, thanks for reading 👋
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