Tag Archives: agents

Is This The End?


A wise writer once said that editing your manuscript is like putting and octopus to bed, no sooner do you get one tentacle all tucked up than another escapes. You’re checking your structure, your character development, plot, sub-text, dramatic action, theme, language, proof-reading and layout. However, you can also spend so long at the various tentacles that what you’re actually doing is delaying the send out. That’s fear. Don’t be a slave to fear. The following check list might help you decide if your cephalopod is properly tucked in and done:

1) Have you read through your piece a number of times, each revision focusing on different aspects (character, theme, structure, tone, language, punctuation, grammar etc…)?

2) Have you shown your piece to at least one person and received informed and HONEST feedback, and have you then addressed any issues that have been highlighted?

3) Are you now re-reading your work, doing nothing but shifting around commas (and back again)?

If the answer to the above is ‘Yes’, then you’re done and the only reason you’re hesitating sending it off to the agent/publisher/magazine/competition, is that you’re scared of rejection.

Get over that. If you’re going to be a published writer, you’re going to have to suck up a lot of rejection. Be brave. Take the leap. And good luck!




After the whirlwind of an Escalator Showcase reading in London – a launch platform to present us ten Escalatees to agents and publishers up in the big smoke –  I’ve retreated to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre at Annaghmakerrig, Co. Monaghan to breathe.  There’s a lot to take in, so much has happened over the past six months – not least that I’m now happy to say I’ve signed with Andrew Mann Literary Agency and am represented by the lovely Louise Burns.

I’ve been contacted by some good agents over the past few months and all were nice, interesting and helpful, but I felt that Louise and co. at Andrew Mann were the most excited about my work. This is the essential factor for me. And I really clicked with Louise.

So, I’m here lost amongst the undulating green hills of Co. Monaghan for two weeks, doing final revisions on the novel and trying to digest all that has transpired since last January.

It’s hard to believe that this year alone, I’ve served as artist-in-residence on Inis Oirr, been an Escalator Artist and had my debut radio drama ‘Cow’ broadcast (which I also produced). I’ve seen a staged reading of my play ‘Shellakybooky’ in a Festival of Contemporary Drama, in which I also acted. I wrote a radio drama series ‘The Daffodil’, for which I’ve also now received funding  – we hit the studio in Ireland next month. And, of course, I’ve written a novel, ‘The Hole in the Moon’, which will hopefully start doing the rounds of the publishers next month. Not forgetting that I concurrently wrote a screenplay of the same which has been now selected for the Script HotHouse scheme.  In December, my one act play ‘The Angel of Szepfalu’ will receive a rehearsed reading in Cornwall’s STERTS theatre as runner up in their annual playwriting prize and lastly my short story, ‘The Boot’ has been shortlisted for the HG Wells Prize and will be published in the anthology, to be launched in Folkestone in November. Yes, all of this has happened this year. But it took years and years of work to get a year like this.

It’s been a whirlwind, thankfully for the next two weeks, this is my view every morning. Ommmm…

The Agent Secret


There’s a crackle in the air this morning, kids are back at school, autumn is here and it’s time to take stock. I’ve had a high gear year so far. Having won the Escalator Award – a professional development scheme for writers – I was determined to use 2013 finish my novel with the encouragement and direction of my Escalator Mentor, the novelist Tobias Hill. And I have.  The time and investment the scheme afforded me has not only resulted in a completed MS of ‘The Hole in the Moon’, but also a screenplay of the same (and the screenplay has now been selected for further development with the Script Hot House scheme).

Next step for the novel is to find an agent. This is not the easiest step. As an Arts Council funded Escalator Prose Artist and a UEA Creative Writing MA graduate, who is also an award winning writer with a long list of short-stories published, plays broadcast and staged – you might think that I’ve automatically acquired the secret handshake that allows entry into the exclusive world of agented writers. This is not the case. My track record makes it likely that my submission will achieve some attention when submitted, ie I might make it to the top of the slush pile that week, but only the quality of my writing will result in an agent contacting me re representation. 

I’ve been researching the subject of agents over the past week and it makes for sobering reading. Most agencies in London will receive an average of 450 manuscripts a month. From this figure, they might contact 3 or 4 regarding representation. And from those, perhaps one will go on to be published. Yes, it’s that competitive so don’t approach an agent lightly and send them you work only when you feel it is perfect. Tips on approaching agents include the following:

1)      Finish your novel before you contact an agent.

2)      Buy the lastest Writers and Artists Yearbook (if in the UK or Ireland) or the US/Can/Aus equivalent and make a list of agencies/agents who might be interested in your work. Think of an author whose work yours resembles and find out who their agent is (usually mentioned in “acknowledgements” page in a novel.) Research – make sure the agent you contact is interested in the type of book you are proposing. Check the “Yearbook”, if the agency states ‘no Romance’ don’t send them your love story. If they say no email submissions, do not submit by email etc… Make a list of twenty suitable agents.

3)      Most agents (but do check first) should be approached with a cover letter of not more than a page in length, outlining your project and a brief bio. Also attach a one page synopsis and the first three chapters (or first fifty pages) – but as I said, do check with the submissions guidelines on their website.

4)      Be polite and business like. Don’t adopt a grovelling/humorous/aggressive or any sort of extreme tone in your cover letter. Don’t send pictures of your cat or try to be cute.

5)      It has now become acceptable to send out multiple submissions to various agents however, if you are doing so, it is only polite and respectful of agent time to let the agents know you are doing this. You might want to limit this send out to three agents at a time.

6)      Some agents will get back to you within three weeks, others might take up to six months. Some you’ll never hear from at all. I feel that if you’ve not heard back after three months, it’s unlikely they’re digging your manuscript. It is acceptable to send a nudge email at this point to clarify but don’t be terribly surprised if you don’t even get a reply then. This happens, don’t take it personally.

7)      If a number are interested in your work, make a list of your specific needs and choose the agent who might best meet them. However, your choice may all come down to chemistry in the end. Do meet them personally.

8)      If you’re turned down across the board (say 20 or 30 rejections) you might want to rethink your project, put it in a drawer and get started on another. Some agents may have been generous enough to give you feedback re why they didn’t feel the book was right for them. Take note and come back to their comments in a few months when the raw disappointment has eased. If it is any consolation, I don’t know a published author who hasn’t got at least one unpublished novel languishing in a drawer. Put it down as part of your training as a writer and get cracking on your sophomore MS.


Why this picture? Whywhywhy?

A fellow graduate of my MA in Creative Writing recently asked why I continued to write short stories, if I see myself as a ‘novelist’. The truth is I don’t see myself as a ‘novelist’ or a ‘short story writer’, ‘playwright’ or a ‘poet’. I see myself as a writer and believe that a writer should be able to (at least) try all written forms.

Truth be known, I write and enter short story competitions for the following reasons and it is good for me to have this list at hand – in case I ever question myself.

a) Being shortlisted encourages and motivates – when such stuff is difficult to come by in the writer’s life.

b) I can get published in literary magazines.

c) Money, if I win.

d) It keeps me on my toes and hones and polishes my craft.

e) By writing stories I build up a portfolio – ready to go in case I’m ever offered a collection.

f) It gives me an edge when applying for bursaries, residencies, funding etc..

g) It might bring  the attention of publishers.

h) Short stories are something I can work on when time is limited.

i) An agent once told me that it is important to build up your writing ‘credits’.

j) Agents are human and sometimes don’t trust their own judgement, so wins and commendations give you that ‘seal of approval’/credibility.

k) Short story writing is a better displacement activity than making a cup of tea.

M) Having good writing credits help when applying for writing jobs.

p) Writing short stories reminds me that I’m a writer.

Feeling Rejected?

Thank you so much, all of you lovely people who sent warm wishes regarding my short-listing. I ran a half marathon once and remember being carried forward by the cheering of the crowd and your comments yesterday were a reminder of that support. Muchísimas gracias, merci bien, nagyon szépen köszönöm, go raibh míle maith agaibh!

Posting this “success” also made me feel a bit of a fraud. Don’t worry, the short listing is genuine, I’m referring instead to the number of rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs I receive and never post because, well, one doesn’t make a big deal out of “failure”. A writer’s lot is pickled with rejection however, and learning how to handle it is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces. Therefore, I thought it might be an idea to look at dealing with letters that begin: “The standard this year was very high and unfortunately…”

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and there was no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no?

A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years. That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or intelligent enough to know that then. Ah, well.

During my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

I sent out more stuff, and then more stuff. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award this year (and received a tonne of rejections too).

My key coping tactic is multiple send outs. I like to have twelve “ships at sea” at any one time.  That way, if one ship sinks, I don’t notice it so much.

And don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again.

Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills.

The 2011 stats:

Ships sent out in 2011 so far: 50

Wins/acceptance/short-listings: 13

Ships sunk without trace: 26

Ships yet to report back: 11