I printed out my submission packages for agents 4,5 and 6, old-timers who wanted hard copies (cover letter, synopsis, first chapters). I liked my cover letter blurb and had by now manufactured what felt like an intriguing logline, several years late for my speed date with the honcho, but never mind:
A woman discovers her childhood games taught her dangerous secrets she must now keep from her ex love – and his doubles.
My book wasn't yet called TWICE and I wasn't sure about its then-title. It wasn't bad, just a bit bland for a rip-roarer. And you could sell a book on a great title alone, my friend the Celtic detective novelist told me – it had happened to him. But this wasn't the sort of issue to make an agent turn down my book, these discussions would take place down the line with marketing departments and other members of my professional retinue, who I felt in no doubt I would shortly acquire.
It was a Saturday, I ventured into town with my heavy backpack, Soho my first stop. I stood outside the modern office block that was the workplace of
Agent 4): an upmarket agent with an interest in speculative and feminist fiction.
This agent represented an author whose recent prize-winning book had some similarities with my own, a quick bookstore browse had confirmed. There was a strand of recent novels that represented what I thought of as trendy acceptable dissent, in contrast to my own hurtle. Perhaps the upmarket agent was now ready to be bowled over by the real deal?
Perhaps. But unfortunately there was no postbox through which to push my groundbreaker. Deliveries should ring the buzzer for Reception, a notice told me, but since the doors were glass and the receptionist's desk clearly visible and empty, it being a Saturday, there was no point.
I stood outside there for a while, feeling vaguely lemonish.
I'd have to deliver it during the week or post it to her, which was a bummer, because she wanted fifty pages, instead of the first three chapters stipulated by the others, which made her package the heaviest and most expensive to post.
I went round the corner to the offices of
Agent 5): an old-school gentleman agent who'd recently split from a big agency to set up his own boutique concern and enjoyed books set in foreign locations.
This was more like it: a Soho backstreet, grimy ramshackle houses and front doors, a discreet brass sign engraved with the agency name. And a letterbox.
Unfortunately it was a small letterbox, too small to force my envelope through.
There was a doorbell, but I didn't feel like ringing it, even on a Saturday.
They had their ways, these agents.
Agent 6): A mysterious and reserved grande dame.
She'd been recommended to me by the Celtic detective novelist as someone who might enjoy my project and she indeed looked promising, representing amongst others an absolute and influential babbler of alternative history whose gigantic tomes sold by the bucketload. My book played with alternative history and deep historical anomaly, which I understood was not to everyone's taste, no matter how stylishly done. But for her this wouldn't be a horror, and there were other big points in her favour, most importantly her very limited internet presence. No honking on Twitter for this keeper of the flame. And since my book was about the giant con of digital technology and the internet, she was perhaps the very person to champion it. I've been waiting for a book like this, I saw her say over steely rims.
However, her office was in Bloomsbury, a bus ride away and lord knew the condition of her letterboxes. Did I really want to risk it?
It didn't feel wise. I went home. During the week I posted the gentleman agent his package, and hand-delivered to the offices of the grande dame (ringing the doorbell since the letterbox was indeed minuscule, handing over to a posh rosy-cheeked teenage intern), mainly because I was keen to get the vibes of her Bloomsbury townhouse frontage. And very grand and imposing it was.
I didn't send anything to the upmarket feminist speculator. The stampage was sky-high and something about the antiseptic modern of her office block had put me off. Instead I decided – goddam it! – to send it to my much-loved sassy agent, who was so fun on Twitter but happened to be the co-director of the agency that was representing my celebrity ex for his forthcoming memoir. Who dares wins and all. I loved her and her cat pics.
There was of course the sticky issue. I saw three possible strategies:
I could send it to her under a fake name, knowing from her Twitter confidential that she googled anyone whose submission she was interested in. My past romance accounted for the first two pages of my search results. Then when she begged to represent pseudonymous me I'd strip off my mask and she'd have a thorny dilemma to grapple with. I'd explain that although my ex and I weren't in contact we could be perfectly civil I was sure, and being something of a homebody it would be no sacrifice for me not to attend office Christmas parties, etc, to smooth any hint of ick. I was planning to be an aloof and reclusive sort of author, anyway. Which seemed sensible for many reasons, not the least of which being the type of theorists I might attract with my conspiracies and alternative histories. "We'll make it work, I have to have your book!" she'd say. Except maybe she'd feel duped. A better strategy might be:
Let her decide for herself before she fell in love with my material. Tell her upfront who I was, say that sense told me she therefore wouldn't be interested but explain my overriding passion for her postings. This would draw attention to my submission, make her read it sooner – I couldn't bear the waiting around for my targets to get back to me. Except my work didn't need odd extras to get attention and this felt like a stunt I'd regret. So I went for option 3:
A straight email submission under my real name, no mention of exes. If she liked me she'd look me up, let her decide.
She won't be able to turn it down.
Next: Part 7: The Skanks
Previous: Part 5: Tear-Jerking Love Stories
Read my rejection odyssey from the start here.