Here on Daily (w)rite, as part of the ongoing guest post series, it is my absolute pleasure today to welcome to this site author Jo Furniss, who speaks about her writing journey — how she found an agent, and publication success, with her fantastic debut, an amazon-bestselling apocalyptic thriller, All the Little Children.
Take it away, Jo!
Once upon a time, if you’d asked me about Fate, I would have scoffed. Destiny, Luck, Serendipity: opiate of the masses. But when I met my literary agent—in an extraordinary moment of Twitter-based chance—it felt like Providence herself had intervened.
Back in 2012, when I was at home with my two young children, I decided to take my flailing career in hand and study a Masters in Professional Writing. As a former BBC journalist, I planned to write non-fiction books, but during the narrative modules two things happened: I discovered that I really love writing fiction, and I wrote a short piece that had the potential to be more. My recently-published novel, All the Little Children, emerged from that early exercise.
As well as the nuts and bolts of writing, I learned one pragmatic lesson during the course: writing is work. If you wait around for the Muse or the perfect writing desk or for the kids to graduate, you’ll never get it done. If there’s one piece of advice I have to offer fellow writers on getting the first draft done it’s this: don’t be precious, just write something and worry later about what happens next.
Scroll ahead to 2015. With lots of baby steps – interrupted by one big leap during which I relocated the family from Switzerland to Singapore – the novel was finished. By which, I mean, it had been workshopped, critiqued and edited. It wasn’t finished finished, but it was as good as I could make it and ready to go out.
I’m British and the novel is set in England. So I drew up a shortlist of literary agencies in London. I made my submissions personal to each agent. Where possible, I got an introduction – tapping up former tutors, workshop leaders, people I’d chatted to in the coffee queue at conferences. I got creative in bigging up those slim connections…
After a few rejections, I stopped to re-edit my opening chapters in response to feedback. And then I went back to submitting and waiting. I also went for regular coffee and counselling sessions with an American writer friend who was submitting her novel in the US.
One day she sent me an urgent message: Have you seen this #mswl on Twitter? (I had to look up mswl: it means Manuscript Wish List.) The tweet was from an agent in Chicago looking for a novel exactly like mine. I mean exactly like mine. Her tweet could be my elevator pitch. It was weird… almost, a less cynical person than myself might claim, Fated.
I sent my manuscript to Danielle Egan-Miller and within a few days I was represented by her agency. Her #mswl had been inspired by a conversion with an editor at a publishing house: that editor later gave me a two-book deal.
Over the years, I’ve read a lot about getting an agent, but less about what happens next. Agents have different approaches, of course. My agent was hands-on and, even though she felt the novel was in relatively good shape, we did two rounds of edits, plus a copy edit before it went out.
Danielle also started taking an interest in my second novel at this stage, requesting a synopsis in order to pitch it alongside All the Little Children. A two-book deal is attractive to publishers, so if you have a well-developed second project, emphasise this fact to a prospective agent. Bear in mind, though, that it’s quite a pressure to finish the second novel to deadline – a very different experience to writing the first with all the time in the world! My agent emphasised that the two-book deal is not every writer’s preference.
After we signed with Lake Union Publishing, there were further developmental edits, a copy edit and a line edit. Because the book would be published across Amazon’s platforms in the US and Australia as well as the UK, we had to give the title more international resonance. ‘All the Little Children’ was top of my shortlist, so I was pleased that the publisher – and their marketing team – came out in favour.
For the cover design, I sent notes on everything from significant imagery to preferred colour schemes, and the designer came up with cover concepts. The final choice was one that the publisher knew would work well on their online platform; a bold image, not too much detail that would be lost in a thumbnail-size image.
Finally, I got an early morning call one day from my agent: All the Little Children had been selected for Kindle First, a major promotion on Amazon. After such a long journey to publication – and that intervention from Fate – it was a special feeling to know my book was in the hands of a team who would champion it.
Jo’s tips on finding an agent:
- make sure your manuscript is ready before it goes out: competition is fierce and it has to be in the best shape possible
- make a shortlist of agents: research in the Writers and Artists Yearbook
- personalise your submission: many agents give interviews to blogs about their reading preferences
- use your network: don’t be shy at asking tutors or other writers for agent recommendations
- get on Twitter: #mswl!
- speak to a prospective agent before you sign: check out the personal factor, can you communicate easily, do they get you as well as the book? You will work closely with this person and turn to them for advice for years to come!
Jo Furniss is the author of the Amazon Best-seller All the Little Children (Lake Union Publishing, September 2017). Originally from the UK, Jo is a former BBC journalist who has lived in Cameroon and Switzerland, and now resides with her family in Singapore. You can visit Jo Furniss on her Facebook page.
Have you gone the indie or trad route? Would you consider submitting to one of Amazon Publishing’s fifteen imprints? Do you prefer the independence of self-publishing? Or maybe publication by the Big Five or a small press is the only way for you? Share your thoughts and if you have questions on writing or publication for Jo Furniss, ask them in the comments! She’s giving away a copy of her bestselling book to one of the commenters!