There is a lot out there about whether or not a debut writer needs a literary agent, or if signing with one is even something that can happen without a published book to your name. I can’t give a definitive answer about that, but I can say that signing with Danielle Binks and Jacinta Di Mase has been one of the best parts of my path to publication thus far. So I’d love to share a little bit about how that came to be and what it’s done for me.
As I mentioned in my ‘motherhood and writing’ post, I gave myself a year away from writing to focus on the new addition to our lives, Aggie. Her first birthday was a line in the sand, and I made 2017 the year I would actually do something about that manuscript sitting in my bottom drawer/ a forgotten folder on my laptop.
Twitter has by far been the best tool for finding out about writing events and opportunities, as much as I am loath to admit. I only signed up when I left my newspaper job and I only got the hang of it recently. (I’m still not really witty or concise enough, but that’s OK.) I started by following writers, publishers, agents, writing centres, writing festivals, and competitions. That meant my feed was full of information about publishing that I would previously have had to go looking for. I got such a good feel for the industry and what kinds of books are out there (and not out there) by checking in on Twitter a couple of times a week. I definitely recommend it. I know that probably sounds super obvious, but it wasn’t to me. So Twitter is a good place to start, and particularly #loveOzYA if that’s what you’re writing, like I am. And you can’t really go down the #loveOzYA rabbit hole without stumbling across Danielle Binks can you? So Danielle was on my radar, and I knew my ‘own voices’, neurodiverse contemporary YA was the kind of thing that would be a good fit with her just by seeing what kinds of stories she was excited about.
I also made a spreadsheet of potential publishers and agents I hoped to pitch to once my manuscript was at a pitch-able level. I’m not sure whether that was super productive, or a way to procrastinate instead of, you know, trying to get that manuscript to a pitch-able level, but that’s what I did. I also read a lot of blog posts and articles from other writers about agents and publishing and whether or not a debut writer can get an agent without an already established profile. It left me feeling pretty certain that I’d have better luck of being seen and read by a publisher with something like an emerging writers prize or one of the open slush pile days like Walker Wednesday, at least initially. Not that those things are easy, obviously a slush pile is an incredibly hard thing to stand out from, but they were entry points that I could see and aim for. I thought there would be a better chance for an unknown writer like myself there than with a literary agent.
I saw Danielle’s tweet about agent sessions at the CYA Conference in Brisbane and decided it would be worth the $100 or so to gain some valuable feedback from someone who reads a lot of what I’d been trying to write. I imagined a literary agent to be an intimidating person, but Danielle was warm and complimentary and full of wonderful reading recommendations and ideas. I think it’s worth at least trying for an agent, especially if you’ve got some published work you can show them like articles or short stories. The worst that could happen is they say no. Obviously I got very lucky with the right manuscript finding the right agent at the right time, but since that point I’ve learnt just how valuable having an agent can be.
Danielle got my manuscript in front of some of the brightest and best editors in the country and landed me a deal at a dream publisher. She gave advice before I talked with my editor so I could be prepared with the changes that might be made to my story. She gave encouragement when I needed it and dampened expectations when I needed it, so I didn’t carry myself completely away before my offer came. Danielle and Jacinta helped with contract negotiations, which was huge because I wouldn’t have had much of an idea of where to start, or felt like I could make additional requests past the first offer I received. Danielle now keeps me up-to-date on the state of play without overloading me with information, as well as recommending upcoming events and ways I can get further involved with the Oz YA community before my book is published. I feel completely confident and supported and that’s a really good place to be in as I start my edits. Agent/no agent? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Note: I’m only talking from my (limited) experience with traditional publishing; I know things don’t work like this with self-pub.