They say getting a literary agent is tougher than getting a publisher.
And they are probably right.
My self-published books sell well when I promote them but die a sales death when I don’t. And the tricky bit is a publisher may look at a book that has stopped selling maybe temporarily and pass a cynical and short sighted judgement that poor sales means no one wants to read the book. The truth is, there are millions of self-published books out there. Some are brilliant and some are dross. Publishers should judge on the merits of the book itself (well, they do but they tend to look for a reason so say no).
But I have not self-published all of my books. I have been pitching agents for a long time, especially with my new thriller OR ELSE SHE DIES. Now I have signed with Futerman, Rose & Associates just for this one book and any spin-off books in a series featuring my safecracker with a heart protagonist, Harry Chance. I want to see how this agent performs before discussing representation of my other books and film/TV scripts.
I thought it would be fun to publish some of the rejections I’ve had. I won’t mention the agency or the title unless the agent does. So here goes.
“Dear David, I am fascinated. Sharp, concise writing style; just the right sort of tone; a TAKEN vibe. What’s not to like?! But I would very much like to see the rest before saying any more”
And after reading the whole book: “Dear David, I have read your work and while I think you really clearly have a big talent and a fantastic story, I don’t think I am the right agent for you. I didn’t feel a ‘connection’ in the end, and I am very strict with myself that I can’t represent something that does not resonate with me.”
Next: “Dear David, I do apologise that you did not receive our email about OR ELSE SHE DIES, but we unfortunately decided to pass on your manuscript. Although we felt that there was a lot to love with it we are unfortunately having to be extremely selective about the work that we choose to take on.”
And another: “Dear David, I do apologise that you did not receive our email about OR ELSE SHE DIES, but we unfortunately decided to pass on your manuscript. Although we felt that there was a lot to love with it we are unfortunately having to be extremely selective about the work that we choose to take on.”
And once again: “Dear David, Thank you for sending me ‘Or Else She Dies…’ and sorry you have had to chase me. I’ve had a read though the manuscript and particularly enjoyed your strong characterisations – the relationship between Chance and Annabel Black is both sparky and moving. Your writing is entertaining and of a high quality. However, I am afraid that the complexity of the plot means that the novel lacks a clear narrative arc. As such, I don’t really feel confident taking it on.”
Finally, here’s the email from Guy Rose.
“Thanks for your email today. Before I respond to your queries, please note that I have listed some pretty superficial comments about OR ELSE at the foot of this message. On a more profound level, there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that this works as an expertly crafted crime novel. I did what I only do to one in five hundred submissions: I read it through from beginning to end because I was enthralled and captivated. The reader finds himself rooting for a criminal. The end, while unusually drawn-out and unpredictable is deeply satisfying!
Chance is an absorbing character. Complex, paradoxical, volatile. He reminds me of my late client, the charming rogue Eddie Chapman (triple agent and safecracker) who always assured me when we met, that he had only ever burgled rich people! I see Harry (Robin Hood) Chance thinks of himself like this on p118!
The details in your email this morning are helpful. I am interested in several aspects of your work. I suppose the musical side may not be relevant to this specific project, but as I have strong connections here – my younger son is at a London conservatoire. I was a rather sub-standard singer-songwriter and my website man was Madeleine Bell (originally of Blue Mink)’s musical director and arranger for many years.
I would love to represent Or Else She Dies to mainstream houses and, as soon as you and I had agreed to accept a publisher’s offer, I would approach suitable film producers.”
So how did I do it? I just persisted and persisted. If my new book finds one of the big six publishers it could transform my other self-published work. I may even have to unpublish my books, change titles, who knows what.
Who knows if this agent will do the business. Only time will tell.
I’ll keep you posted.