Agent Hunter and other stories

So, where were we? Ah yes, we had finished the Barbara Pym part of the narrative concerning Mr Litlove and we were moving onto the Stephen King part of the narrative that involves me.

But first! Let me tell you about Agent Hunter. You may recall before Christmas I mentioned a novel I was thinking of selling, and I probably grumbled about the selling part because it’s so not fun. Any of my blog friends who’ve been around since I started blogging may remember that we’ve been here before. Back in 2008 I started working with an agent on non-fiction ideas. Now she was a lovely agent and I very much liked her; the problem was a cultural one. I was still theoretically teaching French (though on sick leave) and undoubtedly my mindset was very academic. I just could not put a proposal together that sounded the way the agent wanted it to sound. She even sent me a proposal under cover of darkness that she thought was a good one and between you and me, I didn’t think much of it. It was very vague, very unstructured and by this point I was beginning to feel as if I really ought to write something rather than plan endlessly to write something. We drifted our separate ways, with no hard feelings but I didn’t feel much the wiser about the commercial world.

The thing about working with an agent is that it’s a very, very strange relationship. When you start to write commercially an agent is presented as the Holy Grail. Find an agent, we are told, and then you have someone who believes in your work and who will sell it tirelessly to big name publishers like Penguin and Bloomsbury. And because the ratio of literary agents to people who have written a book is atrocious, the odds of getting an agent are slim. So, even more frenzy is whipped up. It’s impossible! But you must do it! And when you do you will be validated forever!

Ah well, life is never like the movies. I had a very nice agent. She liked my writing well enough and I liked her, but we couldn’t make it work. This is because having an agent is a lot like marrying a virtual stranger with whom you’ve shared a couple of internet dates.ย  The splicing together of agent and writer is such a high pressure, hardscrabble affair that you never get to know the really important things about one another until it’s too late. Then of course the commercial publishing world is such a viper’s nest that every new book becomes another hurdle in the agent/writer alliance. Most of the authors I know seem to spend their time switching agents.

Anyhow, I digress. When I began looking for an agent again, I have to admit that my heart wasn’t much in it, my confidence was low and my desire to trawl through the internet even lower. So when I saw that a site called Agent Hunter was offering a trial period for an honest review, I gratefully signed up. And thank goodness I did. This site is fab. You can search it for agents who are actively looking to build up their client list; you can search for publishers who don’t require an agent at all. When you find an agent there are often a lot of helpful interviews included that tell you what the agent is looking for. I’ll pass on the information right now that the vast majority want a chilling psychological thriller with a great twist. This makes my heart sink, but never mind, we’ve established that I’m jaded. The point is that in half an hour of my time I had a list of seven possible candidates with notes about their specific requirements in terms of submission materials. Sorted!

And then, not quite. Oh dear friends, I have been up and down the streets and around the houses with this question of an agent. As good as the Agent Hunter site is, it does not have a search criteria for agents who are willing to take on the medically challenged. And I keep imagining scenarios in which I have to explain that no, I cannot charge up and down the country giving author events, and no, I cannot turn my galley proofs around in 24 hours after six months of waiting for them because the editorial department has mysteriously got behindhand. In the wild dating world of the agent, I am not at all an enticing proposition as a go anywhere, do anything kind o’ gal. I’m more your refuse everything kind o’ gal.

I had an okay January, and it was definitely a busy one. Part of it involved doing interviews for an articleย  with friends of mine, one a poet, one a painter, about their different kinds of creativity. This was a lovely experience with two incredibly talented women. And then we were more booked up socially than usual. Towards the end of the month I saw my eye specialist and he was pleased with me; he decided I should try to come off the medication. I skipped out of the surgery… and then found myself straight back in it a week later, with keratitis back in one eye and a stye in the other. I’d never had a stye before but it didn’t bother me. The second one that came up did. And when I developed a third, all in the same eye, I was distinctly unhappy about it. I sort of had this feeling that CFS would form an unholy alliance with the perimenopause and February was all about that. I asked my eye specialist if hormonal imbalance could be at the root of the problem and he said, for sure. Apparently changes in hormones can completely alter the chemical composition of your tear film – hence the ongoing mayhem. By this point I also had a mouthful of ulcers, sciatica and a lovely new symptom involving muscle spasms and twitches up my diaphragm and esophagus. Think that’s nothing to do with perimenopause? I found this very interesting article that did make me feel better, in a dispirited kind of way. There was much in it that made sense to me, not least because I’ve always felt that my own brand of CFS has a lot to do with my hormones.

When I hit menopause I can go get myself some lovely HRT and feel better. But until that point, which may be a couple of years off… Well, extreme forms of dating are not very appealing. When I laid this problem out to my friend the painter, she was wonderfully clear sighted about it. She reminded me that I was selling the book, not myself, and that if anyone wanted the book, then they’d have to take its owner no matter what state she was in. ‘Litlove,’ she said, ‘we are just too old to be anything other than totally honest about the people we are.’ Which I absolutely agreed with. I think a lot of my problem here is that I did SO MUCH hoop-jumping in the Cambridge University years that my spring is sprung. I do believe we all have a hoop-jumping quota in our internal systems and once it’s exhausted, there’s no going back. And then she said that maybe the book deserved a chance to have its own life as an artwork. Oh, she is one clever woman.

So I am still just about in the game, though I promise faithfully that this is the last time I will mention this book as it’s a tedious topic. But I did promise Agent Hunter their review and it really is an extremely helpful site that I would like to recommend. Next time, I’ll talk about the books I’ve been listening to.



23 thoughts on “Agent Hunter and other stories

  1. You’ve had some fascinating experiences. Do mention the book again, I’d love to hear about its adventures.
    Such a shame this site couldn’t work for you, and for the reasons it didn’t ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    • Are you sure it’s not too… oh I don’t know, self-indulgent, I suppose. I worry about sounding that way! In all fairness the site has given me seven agents to try and I’ll have to take my chances with my own lack of appeal! ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ll let you know how it goes one way or another, for sure.

  2. Oh goodness – you have been through the hoop! I have had all sort of odd symptoms for ages to do with the menopause (itching skin is a hideous one – my work colleague is suffering with it too). Who’d be a woman?? I hope things improve – it sounds hideous. And good luck with the agent hunting – the site sounds like a good one!

    • Ha, I can so imagine how itching would be a symptom. It’s all that irritating stuff that travels around your body and for which there are no properly helpful cures. I’m having fun with irritated nerves of one kind or another at the moment. Irritation seems to be the key! On that note, I often growl at Mr L. ‘You have NO IDEA how lucky you are.’ I cannot but think that if doctors weren’t predominantly male, this would be sorted by now! And thank you for the luck – I will need it. ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. How frustrating – in every sense. Your poor eyes Victoria, I so hope they get better soon. Those agents are rather short-sighted if they can’t see beyond the next ‘Girl on the train.’!

    • Oh Annabel, I do so hope they will! I feel there is every chance they might – one week out of four they are almost like normal! Alas, there are still three other weeks. And thank you for the solidarity. There seems to still be much love for TGOTT clones… that also can’t last forever, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. For some reason when I saw your post’s title I got it into my head that it might have a spy thread starring FBI Agent Hunter running through it, then all became clear. Literary agents do seem to be the holy grail, having taken over from publishers’ editors to a large extent. I hope you manage to find one that suits, but even more so that your eyes begin to calm down. Hormones can play havoc, for sure.

    • I would honestly take calm eyes over an agent any day! I think editors are the people you ultimately want to get to, because working with a skilled one is an amazing experience. But hey, we’ll see how it goes. A spy post would have been fun, wouldn’t it? Maybe another time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I too am enamoured of Agent Hunter, and I agree with your wise friend: when an agent takes on your book they will take you however you are: Anita Brookner never gave interviews and there are still many (Elena Ferrante?) who don’t. I wish you the very best and also that your eyes and the rest clear up / stop troubling you so much now that spring is (almost) here.

    • Bless you, Angela. I do appreciate all the support you’ve given me lately. I also think just about everything would be better if my eyes weren’t still so unsettled. It’s nothing serious, thank goodness, but it IS a nuisance and does restrict my computer/reading/writing time. And it makes me feel limited. But anyhow, as you say, spring is coming and that usually does make life seem easier! You know I’ve got my fingers crossed for you too, though I am quite sure in your case it’s only a matter of time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. May I suggest Bodyshop body butter (at least 2 sorts for dry skin, mango and cocoa or sheabutter) slathered on for itchy skin? Or Palmer’s moisturiser. I found both helpful. And a very hot flannel gently applied for the styes.

    • Thank you for your kind advice, Carol! I have indeed spent the past 6 weeks with a warm flannel clamped to the side of my face. It hasn’t done much yet but I keep going and live in hope!

  7. For me, beginning of CFS and menopause coincided. You have opened my eyes. Never before have I made this connection. Unfortunately the CFS has proved resistant to everything including time, unlike the menopause
    Do hope your poor eyes improve, only so many audiobooks out there. Must confess I do so enjoy your reviews of these.

    • Oh Queen, I am so sorry to hear that and yet not at all surprised. What infuriates me is the lack of medical help or advice over this huge and destructive period of women’s lives. So many illnesses and issues are entirely attributable to hormonal imbalance but doctors never even suggest it! Anyway, that makes me too mad. I’m glad at least to think that the menopause will eventually come and go, even if I fear what will be left of me in its wake! And yes, definitely time for some reviews in my next post. Thank you for the lovely compliment!

  8. Like Susan when I saw your blog title I thought you either a) had read a book with a character named Agent Hunter or b) had written a book with a character called Agent Hunter! Have you ever considered writing a smart thriller? I’m not a thriller fan in general but I do enjoy a smart one on occasion and I would read yours! Good luck with your hunt and your book. So sorry to hear you are still having eye and other troubles.

    • The next novel I’m writing is about art theft and will have thriller-ish bits in it. I can see I will have to use the Agent Hunter moniker in a more literary way – it definitely seems to chime with readerly desires! I’m entirely with you – I only like smart thrillers, and a really good one is a pleasure.

  9. I agree with all of those who’ve said that your writing about trying to get your book published is interesting, and hope you’ll do more of it, Victoria. And good luck!

  10. It would be a very narrow-minded publishing company that would reject a darn good book just because the writer couldn’t travel here there and everywhere. We have so much technology at our disposal that doing physical events isn’t the be-all and end- all it used to be. Go for it Victoria (once your current issues settle down that is)

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