Three-quarters of the way through my first draft of Winter’s Shadow, I decided to find a literary agent. This was a mistake. No-one sends out their first draft. Especially, an unfinished first draft. What can I say? I was naive.
With no contacts in the publishing world, I turned to Google and typed in literary agents. A list of names appeared and I started making phone calls.
Out of the twenty names I called, two were interested in reading the first 50 pages of my manuscript. The rest politely declined. I didn’t blame them. My stuttering spiel on why they should consider reading my unfinished book wasn’t particularly compelling.
Nevertheless, I had two bites. Encouraged, I sent the interested agents my first 50 pages and continued writing. I figured it would be weeks until they got back to me. By then, I would have finished my book and had time to polish it. There was little chance they’d contact me sooner. I was nobody. Surely, these agents had stacks of manuscripts from legitimate authors to sift through first.
A few days later, I had a phone call. It was the very first agent I’d called. She’d read the first 50 pages and wanted to read the rest of the book. The book I hadn’t finished it yet.
I said no problem, mumbled something about getting it to them the following Monday, hung up the phone and had a heart attack. It was Thursday. I’d given myself three days to deliver a completed manuscript. An impossible task. There was plenty of writing left to do. I couldn’t finish the book in three days.
I had to finish the book in three days.
I told my girlfriend she wasn’t going to see me for the weekend, bought a six pack of red bull and began to write. There was no time to second guess myself, no time for nuance. I wrote in a white-hot caffeine fuelled heat. Crude sentences remained crude, descriptive paragraphs were glossed over or skipped entirely. I wrote to push the story over the finishing line. Word after word, line after line, page after page.
Three days later the book was finished. More or less. I’d typed The end with only the vaguest sense of the story as a whole. Did it work? Did it make sense? I was too close to the story to answer these questions. I hadn’t had the benefit of perspective yet – of that necessary distance writers require to be accurately self-critical.
Not having an editor or literary minded friend, I sent the manuscript to my parents to check the grammar and make sure there weren’t any glaring story inconsistencies. Surprisingly, their feedback was positive. Of course, I’d missed the odd full stop and comma – I was operating in a state of near total physical collapse for the final day – but the story worked for them. Even better, they liked it.
I took their praise with a grain of salt, after all they are my parents. Nevertheless, their enthusiasm surprised me. I think it surprised them too. Few parents would be excited to hear they’re 30-year-old son is going to write a paranormal romance novel. It must be something of a relief if he writes it well.
The completed manuscript went to the agent and I waited anxiously for her response. It came a month later. It wasn’t great.
According to the agent, the book had lots of problems that would need to be addressed in the next draft. The fact that she wanted to see the next draft was promising. I actioned her notes (which were all perfectly sound) and sent her the revised draft. Again, I waited anxiously, and again the response came back that the manuscript needed more work. A few drafts later she was ready to sign me. A few months later I had a publishing deal with Pan Macmillan.
There are worse things for an author to be than naive.