Question One: How do you get an agent? That’s certainly in the top ten questions you get asked as a published writer, and it’s a fair one at that – most people trying to get a book published have heard that it’s impossible to get a book published without one, and only almost impossible with one. I exaggerate, but not much.
Question Two: How should you react when someone tells you something utterly unbelievable? That’s not a question I have ever been asked, but I have at times wished I knew the answer. There was the time someone told me in all seriousness that the wall of their bedroom became a swirling portal to somewhere else. There was the time someone told me they once teleported across a room. And the time someone told me they fell out of a tree but were caught by the Green Man. Yes. Ahem.
I’ll answer Question One first. In my case, I did what you’re supposed to do, namely contact likely-looking agents listed in the Artist and Writer’s Yearbook (this was the 1653 edition, obviously) and write to them all, and then I happily waited for a few weeks while not one of them replied to me. However, finally, one day I found a promotional copy of a book in the stockroom of the bookshop I worked in, and by chance it had an agent’s address label on it. Not being one of the people I had contacted so far, I wrote to her. She suggested I send her something. She liked it, and suggested we arrange a meeting to see if we would be able to work together.
Back to Question Two: well, this is one you’re going to have to work out for yourself, as I tell you a strange but yes, of course, true story about something odd that once happened to me. When I was still a skinny student, around 21 years old, I was idling away a hot summer morning in my student pad, when I suddenly noticed writing on my leg. I should specify that I was wearing shorts, and that the writing was not writing that I had put there. It was not in ink, but was, sort of, embossed in my skin. It was somewhat sideways, but it was very clearly a date, and the date was March 6. No year was specified, but for the next 5 or 6 years I assumed that I had been presented with the date of my death, and with each March 7th that rolled along, I would breathe a sigh of relief. As the years went by I finally began to wonder if perhaps it would be something good that happened on March 6th, and eventually, we come to March 6th 1998, when I met my soon-to-be agent for the first time; a date which my soon-to-be agent had chosen, not I. Cynics among you will suggest that something eventually had to happen on a date I had been looking out for. In fact, cynics among you will assert that I was off my face back in 1990, but I am a clean living gentleman and I assure you I was not. So how then should you react when someone tells you something utterly unbelievable? Who knows? If I were you, I’d make an excuse to leave and shuffle away. Yes. Ahem.
If there’s anyone left, I’ll just add one more thing; which is this: even more important than finding the right agent, with or without supernatural help, I would suggest, is that you write the right book. What’s the right book? Well, it’s the one that you most want to tell, even if you think people might look at it and shuffle off sideways muttering ahem to themselves. Copy what other people are doing at your peril. Write something truly original and every publisher in London will have your hand off at the elbow. Believe that, and it just might happen.
MS March 2015
Marcus Sedgwick is the author of many YA novels and has also written his first novel for adults A Love Like Blood and released a novella, Killing the Dead, for World Book Day. Marcus has won the Blue Peter Book Award, the Booktrust Teenage Prize and the Printz Award. In addition he has received numerous nominations, including the Carnegie Medal, the Edgar Allan Poe Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction prize.
To find out more about Marcus and his work, head to http://www.marcussedgwick.com/