Post from Louise:
I had lunch yesterday with my old (as in, ex, not age) literary agent, the wonderful Jo Frank. She will always be up there as one of my most favourite people in the world, not just because she is lovely, but because she was the first person to have absolute faith in my writing, and the one who made it all happen for me. We’ve not seen each other for a few years and were reminiscing about those heady exciting days.
At that time, in the late ‘90s, I’d had so many rejections from agents for my first novel To Be Someone that I was on the verge of jacking it all in. Then I had the closest call of all – I’d bravely sent the ms to the hottest agent in town who read the first 100 pages then rang me, raving about it and saying how he was going to auction it; which editors he was going to pitch it to, etc. etc. I was giddy with excitement and certain a publishing deal was finally on the cards for me….
….until he sent me a curt email a week later along the lines of ‘I’m sorry. This book wasn’t quite what I expected. I’m going to have to pass on it.’
To say that I was devastated is an understatement. That’s IT, I thought. I can’t take this rejection any more! I was all for burning the manuscript and taking up pottery instead when I decided I would give it one final go. The hot agent had done me one favour – in his PS, he said ‘You might try Jo Frank at AP Watt.’
So I did. And she rang me too, after she’d read the first 100 pages, raving about it. Instead of being excited though, my heart sank. ‘Ring me back if you still like it when you’ve finished it,’ I think I said, convinced that my ms would go down in history as having the Best First Hundred Pages ever and yet still manage to be entirely unpublishable. To my joy and astonishment, Jo did ring me back, a day or so later. She’d finished it – and she still loved it! She auctioned it, and won me a six -figure pre-emptive offer for two books from Transworld, and so began my long and chequered career as an author.
That story is relevant to the fact that I have a new solo novel out today, my first in ten years, and my first psychological thriller. I’ve had to overcome a lot of nerves about putting myself out there again without the comfort blanket of being 50% of the Voss Edwards partnership! My last solo attempt, ten years ago, was a women’s fiction novel called An Army of Lovers that had failed to find a publisher and lost me an agent to boot – Jo had by then, sadly, left AP Watt and moved back to Oxford so I had a new agent. I’d been very impressed by this new agent’s roster of world-famous authors, and very chuffed to be counted amongst their number, but I soon discovered the downside: she worked with me a lot on the novel, editorially, but when it came time to send it out to publishers, she did an abrupt about-face. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘but I need to devote all my time to my star clients’ (or words to that effect).
Transworld had dropped me, and so had my agent. Back to square one. I managed to secure a meeting with another agent, and I will never forget her verdict on Army: ‘I’m sorry,’ (they do a lot of apologizing, agents, don’t they?) ‘I can’t take you on. This book just isn’t good enough.’
I remained agentless until 2011 when Sam Copeland took Mark and I on together for our thrillers. I had lost confidence in the idea of doing more solo novels, but our joint success at that point made me start to reconsider, and eventually The Venus Trap was born. I even took a bit of the story from Army and recycled it – the character’s teenage diaries, mostly.
I’d originally intended to self-publish The Venus Trap but my editor from Thomas & Mercer, publisher of our joint books, asked to see it. I sent it off to her, bracing myself for what I thought would be the inevitable rejection – but she loved it, and immediately offered me a deal for it. Since then, the response to it from everyone who’s commented on it has been great, and I’m hugely relieved.
It just goes to show – you have to be brave. Speculate to accumulate, and all that. I’m so glad I managed to overcome my fear of rejection and that the lessons learned from the early ‘misfortunes’ with To Be Someone and then Army had stayed with me. I’ll go as far as to say that I’m very proud of The Venus Trap, and the fact that its path to publication comes after so much rejection makes every positive comment I’ve had all the more precious. Talk about a ‘long and winding road’ – the one thing I’ve learned about publishing in the past fifteen years is that, like life, everything can change in a heartbeat.
Wonder what’s going to happen next?