Client Ruby Speechley posts about her journey to landing an agent
“It’s been a long journey to find the right agent, but once we connected, it was a fairly swift process. I’m delighted to have signed with Jo Bell and the team at Bell Lomax Moreton Literary Agency. There are so many people to thank for helping me along the way, several of them are named here.
Sometimes looking in, seeing someone sign with an agent can come across as an easy process, that they’re one of the lucky ones. It wasn’t easy for me and I want to share how tricky it can be, but with hard work and dedication, anything is possible.
Giving up was never an option for me. Once I’d decided, I didn’t fear failure quite so much. As my eldest son always says, each rejection is another step towards success.
I first took my writing more seriously when a tutor at an Arvon Foundation course said I was ready to do an MA. I don’t remember this – I think because I didn’t really believe I could do it. I probably thought she was being kind. Fortunately, my good writing buddy, Susan Elliot Wright heard the comment and convinced me to apply for the then highly thought of MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. It was the only MA in the country where you had to complete a novel to graduate. I took my ‘portfolio’ of amateurish writing to the interview and didn’t think for a moment I would be offered a place. But I was. I found a good childminder for my three year old son and drove from Huntingdon to Sheffield once a week for the next two and a half years.
After I graduated in 2009, I was sick of my novel and didn’t feel confident enough to send it out. I applied to the Gold Dust mentoring scheme and was accepted by Jill Dawson. We met up every few weeks and over the next ten months I wrote the first draft of my next novel. By the final meeting, I’d given birth to my third child and had the foundations of a good story to work on.
I edited and polished it and two years later took it to The Festival of Writing in York. There was no agent interest. I decided to go back to my first novel and edit it again, with The Festival of Writing the following year as my deadline. This time agents were interested and a few asked to see the full manuscript. The rejections were a blow but I was finally getting somewhere. I polished it again and after another Festival, I had even stronger interest. But the rejections started coming in. I edited once more, with the help of Amanda Saint, but more rejections piled up.
I wasn’t sure what to do next. Then I met Richard Skinner from the Faber Academy Novel Writing Course at one of Amanda’s retreats. I was so impressed with his unique style of teaching, that I decided I had to apply to be on his next course. I worked on re-structuring my second novel but at the end of the six months, there were still no agents willing to take a chance on me.
One evening, while watching a York Festival friend on TV, I came up with a new novel idea. In the middle of my zero edit, I entered a Writing.ie competition to meet an agent at the International Literary Festival in Dublin, simply to test the water. To my astonishment, I won a place.
By this time, I’d met Fiona Mitchell with a like-minded group of Twitter writers. She recommended her editor to me, Sara Sarre at the Blue Pencil Agency. I decided to send her my first novel. I received a comprehensive report and although there was still a lot to do, she was excited by my work. I sent her my second novel, which she loved – it made her cry. She thought it was ready to go out, but wanted to hear more about my third novel, which I’d already teased her about. I pitched it to her over the phone and I think she gasped! I spent the next month frantically typing it up, even during my family summer holiday.
A month later, I won a pitch competition to meet author Amanda Reynolds and Kate Stephenson, senior commissioning editor at Wildfire Books. The team were excited about my novel.
A few weeks later, in September last year, I arrived at the Festival of Writing knowing I was on the shortlist for Best Opening Chapter. I could barely take it in when I won. I was also runner-up in the Perfect Pitch competition. I now had several agents asking to see my novel. I thought this could be it, but rejection after rejection came in. I wasn’t clear what was wrong.
In January this year, I was long listed for the Caledonia Novel Award. Again more agent interest, one asked to see a rewrite. From the generous feedback I received from the founder of the award, Wendy Bough, as well as from Fiona Mitchell, I decided to edit my novel again. In April, my novel was long listed for the Lucy Cavendish Novel Prize. I was astonished, partly because this was the ‘old’ version.
Once I was happier with the first few chapters, I sent them out to the agents who were considering my full manuscript. One came straight back to me – Jo Bell. She’d just finished reading the full and was about to get in touch with me because she’d really enjoyed it. She read the new chapters quickly and contacted me again asking to meet.
When I met Jo and her assistant Sophie in London, I felt comfortable with them straight away. I was impressed with how much detail they both knew about my story. We discussed the changes I was making, which they agreed would improve it. I told them my edits should be finished by the end of May. Jo had already read my first novel the year before and was now keen to hear about my second novel, which I hadn’t sent to anyone else since the final edit. Jo’s excitement about my novels was tangible. I’d finally met an agent who really understood my work.
Two weeks later, Jo emailed to say she loved my second novel, possibly more than the third! I had to read her words a few times to take them in. She asked if she could call me on Monday morning. My closest writing friends told me that ‘this was it’, but I couldn’t let myself fully believe that.
When Jo called and offered to represent me, I’d already made up my mind to accept. A week later and it’s still sinking in. I feel a bit sad not being able to enter the next batch of competitions because I’m not allowed to – I have an agent. It’s just hit me, writing those words! But I’m excited for this chance to get my books out into the world and for the next phase of my writing life to begin”