On writing

The LINESMAN that got us our agent is not the same LINESMAN that got published

Overheard at a literary function, one writer talking to another.

And now that I’ve sold it and the book’s doing well, you know what, I’m going to go back to that agent who passed and I’m going to say to them, “This is the book you passed on. Look how it’s doing now.”

The writer who was speaking took years to sell her book, but the published book was very successful, especially for a first novel. She and another writer were discussing a literary agent who’d passed on the book, saying something along the lines of, “I enjoyed this story, but I don’t think it will sell.”

So what’s wrong with the comment above? Other than that it’s bad form on the writer’s behalf.

Answer.  The book that is doing well is most likely not the book the original agent passed on.

Let’s talk about our own experience. The LINESMAN that was doing the rounds trying to get us an agent was a vastly different book to the one that finally got published.

The agent who took us on, gave us feedback. Great feedback. Based on her feedback we re-wrote parts of the book. I can’t remember how many times it went back and forth before she was finally happy with it.

Then she started sending it out to editors. We saw some of the feedback.

“Ean is a fantastic character, but the second half of the book needs rework. I don’t think I’d have the time to work with the authors to fix it.”

It went around for twelve months like that. Our editor, Anne, who finally took it on, initially passed on it. She liked the story, but the second half didn’t work for her. But, she said, if we wanted to rework the second half, she’d take another look.

We rewrote the second half. It was a massive rewrite. Sent it back to our agent, who sent it to Anne, who finally accepted.

But the story changes didn’t stop there. We went through at least two more big rewrites with Anne.

By the time the story was ready for publication it was majorly different to the one that got us our agent. Sure, the basic story was the same—Ean was a linesman, the other linesmen thought he was crazy because he sang to the lines—but the rest of it was dramatically different.

It was also a much better book.

So in our experience, that agent the writer at the function was talking about was probably right to pass on the original book. It wasn’t right for her, and she didn’t love the book enough to help turn it into something she could sell.

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