Getting Published - 7. Blind Date with a Literary Agent (Part 2)

Following on from my post Blind Date with a Literary Agent (Part 1), I had made dates to meet three literary agents.

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On the appointed day, I went to see Agent No. 1 in her office in Central London. It was a bright spring morning and I felt like I was in a dream. Sitting in her booklined office, I realised I was “on the inside” now. I had got beyond the door that was closed to so many would-be writers and I was actually in a literary agent’s office meeting face to face.

She took out my manuscript and said, “Well, it’s not Wild Swans, is it?”

This did not sound good. “Ummm, no.”

“I was expecting another Wild Swans. That’s what’s hot at the moment.”

“Oh.”

How was I going to explain that the whole point was that this was the anti-Wild Swans. No bound feet, no sob stories: just a feisty, modern Chinese heroine in a battle of wits against gangsters in a John Grisham-esque plot.

“It would be hard to sell,” she went on. “But if you want me to represent you, I can do that. You’ll need to do some work to this draft, though.”

She thought Jasmine was unsympathetic and I needed to make some changes to soften her hard edges.

I left somewhat deflated. Could an agent who didn’t “get” what I was trying to do really represent me properly?

Agent No. 2 was more enthusiastic. She loved it, it was marvellous, I wrote well. etc. But Jasmine needed softening again.

“OK, what needs changing?” I was too close to Jasmine and the settings I had placed her in to see clearly what I needed to do. I needed someone to give me clear guidance - someone to say: here, in this scene, do this; over here, when she says that, show her emotions behind it…

I took out my notebook and paper, poised to take some notes. Agent No. 2 talked around the first few chapters in what seemed like a cloud of sensibility but there was nothing specific I could write down. I left with a blank notebook.

I had a couple of hours before I was due to see Agent No. 3. I went home and lay down on the sofa with one arm over my eyes. This was not turning out how I had imagined. I felt vague and befuddled by Agent No. 2’s suggestions - I had no idea what she wanted me to change. I felt depressed by Agent No. 1 who had been hoping to sell another Chinese hard luck story.

“It all hangs on Agent No. 3 now, ” I said to Angie as I left for Westbourne Park. The sky had turned grey. Spring had shrunk away.

Agent No. 3 had a clear, clipped voice and no-nonsense manner. She reminded me of a lawyer. She asked me precise questions about who I was, where I’d come from and where I was planning to go with my writing. She set out clearly what she was going to do for me and what she wanted from me. She told me I had to rewrite the whole of the first chapter and put Jasmine in context. We needed to see her feelings and her conflict about her past in contrast to her apparently gilded present. I took notes.

This was my kind of agent. A lawyer-type agent. It turned out she came from a long line of lawyers, including some judges. I left her office that evening with a jaunty swagger and a spring in my heart. This blind date was the one for me!

It was going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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If you take away one thing from this tale of blind dates:

Give yourself the chance to find the literary agent that clicks with you and your style.

2 Responses to “Getting Published - 7. Blind Date with a Literary Agent (Part 2)”

  1. Hisham Says:

    Thank you Yang-May for publishing your experience with UK agents. I’m from Bahrain, and would be looking to the UK when I’m done with my manuscripts.

  2. Yang-May Ooi Says:

    Hisham, I’m glad that this has been helpful for you. Good luck with your manuscript submission. Let me know how you get on.

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