In January this year, I sat on the top of the stairs, phone in one hand, red hot coffee in another. It had splashed across my wrist and scalded my pale winter skin. I hadn’t even noticed.
It was 6.02am and I had woken with the kids, done my mummy jobs, then checked my phone. And there it was. An email from a literary agent requesting my full manuscript.
I thought I was going to be sick.
Over the weekend I had sent out the first three chapters of my novel, How to be Hardy, along with my painstakingly, individually crafted covering letters and synopsis. I had approached 30 agents, with another 30 agents ready to hit once I was inevitably turned down by the first round.
Getting an agent, in fact, getting even a full MS request, had been my daily commute dream ever since I read Marian Keyes’ The Other Side of the Story and got a vague idea of how the whole process worked.
I would drive up the M1 every morning, not thinking about the book deal, the feel of the those bound pages in my hand, my name on the cover. Not thinking about getting an agent, the call from the publishers, the money…All I dreamed about was one day getting that email, requesting the full MS.
And it was here. I was shaking so much I could barely hit the reply and attach button.
On the rather splendid advice from my fellow scribbler Stuart White, I then contacted all the agents I had sent the first three chapters to, politely updating them that I had had a full request.
Later that afternoon three came back, not wanting someone else to bag a potential deal.
I couldn’t concentrate at work, I couldn’t eat…I told myself to get a grip of myself and that it would take ages for anyone to come back.
The next morning, I was shoving the kids in the car for the school run, slice of toast in one hand, five year old in the other when my mobile rang. I ignored it, assuming it was PPI nonsense, delivered my squawking offspring to school, then double checked my voicemail.
I still have it.
“Hi Lisa, it’s Jo here from Anthony Harwood. I’ve just finished How to be Hardy and I absolutely loved it. I’d love to talk to you more, if you could give me a ring back, that would be great.”
I screamed so loudly a man walking his dog past thought I’d been mugged.
The stuff fairytales are made of right? Wrong. Even better. By the end of the week I had SEVEN offers from agents. I was taken to the Groucho club (very fancy for a Yorkshire lass like me), two agents hot footed down to Sheffield to see little old ME…and even NOW, eight months later, I’m still getting full MS requests. I even got an offer from one of the biggest and most famous literary agents in the world.
I signed with Jo. She was the first to offer, and didn’t need someone to take the plunge and take the gamble first. She believed in me. And the book.
….Unfortunately, here’s where we hit a bump in that golden brick road to a book deal.
The feedback from publishers was incredible. But there was always a but. My re-telling of Tess of the D’ubervilles wasn’t dark enough, it was too dark, there wasn’t enough sex, there was too much sex, not enough swearing, too much bad language. It was impossible to work out what they wanted. So I gave up.
It was like turning up to my wedding day and being jilted at the altar. Where was my happily ever ? I moaned to everyone that I would rather have fallen at the first hurdle rather than get this far and fail at the end.
I was the sobbing X Factor contestant on the grass at judges houses.
But, Jo rallied me. My husband picked me up by the scruff of the neck and pretty much nailed me to my macbook.
And I’m so grateful. My first novel is still being read by publishers, and hey, you never know, right? It just takes one to love it like the agents did
But while all of that is going on…I’m now beasting my second novel.
I can’t tell my children to pick themselves up and dust themselves off if I’m not prepared to set that example.
Besides, 18 months ago I was on that grey, sallow motorway, inching along. Imagining that email. Fantasising what it must be like for someone like that to believe in you.
And I got it.
But what I learnt more – was to believe in myself. It’s not up to my agent to get me a book deal. It’s up to me to write something that they just can’t turn down. I don’t deserve a book deal just because I want one. I am going to earn one.
And I know, for a fact, that dreams do come true. Especially when you keeping working for them.