Hi everyone, and today on my blog, I’m delighted to feature crime writer Adam Simcox. Adam has written The Dying Squad and discusses his journey to getting a literary agent.
Over to you, Adam…
Getting a literary agent
Trying to land a literary agent – an act which seems to me part job interview, part online dating trauma, part launching your hopes into the void — can seem like an unobtainable dream. It’s not impossible to get published without an agent, but it’s a damn sight harder; it took over 150 rejections before I found mine. Here’s how it happened.
It’s a long, winding tale, filled with pitfalls, pratfalls and shortfalls, and it begins three books before my debut novel, The Dying Squad, was published. I’m a filmmaker by trade and had shot a documentary about three regular people who were hoping to be chosen to go on a one way mission to Mars. I thought it would make a great novel. Luckily, one of the agents I wrote to agreed, and I worked with her on it for a couple of months. The working relationship fizzled out though, and we agreed to go our separate ways.
Book number two was polished while I studied at Curtis Brown Creative. During the six-month course you critique the work of fellow students and have your work critiqued in return. For me, one of the most rewarding aspects of the course was being inside an agency for six months. Getting an agent (and ultimately a book deal) can often seem like an intangible, enormous thing, particularly if you don’t know anyone else who’s been published. The Curtis Brown Creative course showed it be a living, breathing, achievable 3-D goal.
I got a few full manuscript requests from the agents there but ultimately no offers of representation. It was a massive blow. I thought that book was the real deal (I still do!), and really believed in it. So, it was onwards with book three which felt throughout like going for a tinder date after you’d been jilted at the altar on your wedding day. Unfortunately, it was a strike out once again – I got one full manuscript request out of fifty or so submissions.
I believe to succeed in pretty much anything, you need a combination of self-belief, blind delusion, and a smidgen of unhinged arrogance. Never fear reader – when it comes to writing, I have all three things in spades. So, when the opening chapter of The Dying Squad came to me in a dream (I know – the cliché of it offends me too), I knew I had no choice but to press on and write it.
The Dying Squad was a bit of a genre-hopper: part crime, part urban fantasy, part horror, so I knew it would take a special sort of agent to sell it. Harry Illingworth was top of my hit list from the start. I’d loved The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, one of the writers he represented, and knew Harry specialised in genre-bending, high concept titles. In theory, The Dying Squad should have been just the sort of thing he was looking for. He was young too, which was just what I was after – give me a hungry fighter with something to prove any day. Harry was the one.
Then, when the book was almost finished, a stroke of luck; I learnt that Harry was taking part in a how to get an agent/pitch session, run by a writing group. You got the chance to pitch your synopsis to him, and this was one of the ways the CBC course came into play; I’d learnt to craft a mean synopsis during the six months I’d studied there. I even learnt it off by heart.
I don’t mind admitting I was nervous as hell on the day of the pitch. I knew there was no guarantee of anything — there’d be plenty of other people there with strong material. I just knew deep down that this pitch was important. It was the sort of gut feeling I’ve learned to trust. There’s an enormous amount of luck that goes into getting an agent — anyone that tells you differently is lying — and I knew this was an opportunity to stand out from the pack, so that when it came to submitting, there’d be a degree of familiarity to it for Harry.
The night went well. Like the irritating swot at school, I was the first to stick my hand up when it was time to pitch, and I delivered it fairly well. I’m one of those distrustful freaks that enjoys public speaking. Harry seemed to like the ‘Line of Duty meets Ghost’ comparison. It took me several hours to come down from it, but I’d done it.
A few weeks later, it was time to submit. The accepted practice is to not put all your eggs in one basket and submit to several agents at once, so I sent The Dying Squad out to five, including Harry. Whereas the other submissions had been a long wait for generic rejections, it was apparent pretty much straight away that this was going to be different; within twenty-four hours, I’d had five full manuscript requests.
Then, on the Thursday, I got the momentous call. Harry loved the book and wanted to meet the next day. This coincided with a night out I’d already planned, which was fortunate in terms of celebrating, but unfortunate for my hangover the next morning. We met at a coffee shop, Harry outlined what he thought the book could do and offered me representation. I thanked him and accepted the next day.
It was very tough getting to that point. I had to swim through a sea of rejection. For a good while afterwards, I almost didn’t trust that it had happened, especially when Harry sold the book to Gollancz, a mere five weeks afterwards signing with him. I was happy, of course, but I was also a little wary. It was something I’d wanted for so long and I almost couldn’t believe that I’d got it. But I had, and The Dying Squad was released on July 22nd. Going into Goldsboro Books to sign 250 limited edition copies (and discovering they’d all sold out) was one of the greatest moments of my life. That moment wouldn’t have happened without the help of Harry.
Thank you for your time today, Adam. It has been a pleasure to find out all about your journey to getting your literary agent!
Bio: Adam is a London-based filmmaker who’s shot commercials for brands such as McLaren, Primark and Vice, and music videos for Britpop veterans as well as fresh on the scene alt-country stars. He began his film career by writing and directing three features: the first sold to Netflix; the second and third won awards and critical acclaim at festivals worldwide. A graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course, The Dying Squad is Adam’s debut novel.