When we last left our temping actress she was waiting to hear from the lovely Julia from the Darley Anderson agency after having sent her the full MS of her novel.
How long was the wait . . ?
Well I let it go 8 weeks. I counted every one, like a prisoner scratching marks on a wall. Hmm . . . that's a bit melodramatic. Then on the advice of a friend of a friend, a published children's book author, I called to give a gentle nudge, or really just to find out what was going on.
It was possibly one of the most terrifying phone calls I've ever had to make. It actually wound up being pretty civilized. Once I recited my prepared speech (courtesy of the friend of a friend), I was told that Julia would get back to me. That was good enough for me. It wasn't a no, and that's all that mattered. Later that day I got a very friendly email where it turned out that Julia had been quite busy and hadn't finished reading the MS yet, and she would let me know once she had. Thus the waiting began again.
I didn't know it then, but I had only to wait a few days before she called. I could be mistaken, but I believe one of my housemates answered the phone in a silly voice that time. Ah, well. Whatcha gonna do?
Anyway, she liked the book. But? No but. She liked the characters, and the story. But? No, seriously, no but. And wasn't such and such bit really funny. But? But? Oh okay but. But could you cut it by like 10 000 words. Sure, sure, no problem that's only like . . . 26 pages!!! She also asked to shorten the chapters and to create more momentum for the second section. And I in my, Adrienne is an actress and therefore never sounds worried about such requests, replied coolly that that would be more than easy to do.
Hang up phone. It's okay. It's okay. I can do this. I can.
So I decided to give myself a deadline of two weeks. I told mom and dad about the challenge, and we chatted about it. I was pretty determined not to cut any scenes, simply words within scenes. Enter: the focus group.
The Focus Group
A family of three, friends of my parents with a daughter aged 10, the perfect age for my book. They had been given my MS to read, so that I could have the opinion of a real-live kid. This was far more terrifying than even having it in the hands of an agent. I was worried that the book worked for adults, but would its target audience approve? However they proved far more helpful than I had any right to expect. Not only did the daughter enjoy the book (mom read it aloud to her before bed), but both mom and daughter had some absolutely brilliant suggestions, some just general editing comments and others specifically for cutting down the word count. With that help, plus mom and dad, plus me sitting at my computer in front of random reality shows on TV, we cut the piece down.
At first it was easy. A paragraph here, a paragraph there. Then it began to get tricky. I'm not sure if you've noticed, what with my penchant for brackets, but I like to digress in my narrative. At times it's pointless, but it is also a stylistic choice, something that makes the story what it is, and it got tricky determining which asides should go, and which should stay. I fought valiantly for many of them. And many of them stayed. And some were sacrificed to the gods of the delete key. By the end of the two weeks I was cutting single words within sentences. But I did it. I cut 10 000 words. And the funny thing was, upon re-reading the novel (and my parents whole-heartedly agreed with this), you couldn't actually tell what had been cut. Yes. I am just that long-winded.
So the week before the Easter holiday, in a downpour, I walked the new MS over to the agency again. What the girl who answered the door must have thought of this sad looking person presenting her MS protected from the rain by a plastic bag, is her story to tell. But she took it, and I turned around and returned to whence I'd come.
That Friday Julia called. Again a housemate answered, but this time a much more civilized one, and no silly voices were invoked. She wanted to meet with me.
Sure (begin silent screaming and flailing arms in the direction of housemates [and one housemate's friend]), when?
How about Saturday?
Hang up phone.
Begin real screaming.
So I met with Julia around 6pm on the Saturday. And wound up hanging out with the girl for 5 HOURS. We chatted about the book, about some more edits she wanted done. About our families. And about one topic I have been obsessing over lately, the job of an agent and all the wacky stuff that happens. I love talking about that stuff. After much chatting I finally had to ask: "After I do all these edits and stuff, I mean . . . um . . . well what happens next?" It was then that she finally told me she wanted to represent me. It was then that she also told me she liked to wait to see when the author would ask that question. Oh those wacky agents.
At 11pm we parted ways and I immediately called mom and dad. I was taking the tube but fortunately my route was above ground. I talked to them the whole journey home (my dad has recently become obsessed with google maps where you can see the satellite view of the world, so he followed my route online - in case you forgot, they were in Canada, I was in London). We were very excited. They, possibly, were slightly more excited. That isn't to diminish my excitement, but merely to try to express just how excited my parents get about these sorts of things.
I still had to complete some edits, but I did it and finally, FINALLY, I signed the contract. I visited the agency for a third time, and this time, this time, I was let through the door. And I have to say, I love Julia's office. It's this cozy room with poorly constructed shelving that sag under the weight of all the books of the authors they represent.
So I signed the paper and was given as a gift a book by one of their clients. Of course I needed to be difficult about it, one was too scary, one wasn't really my genre. . . finally I was given a Lee Child (Killing Floor - his first). It was very good by the way.
I had one or two more little edits to make that I said I'd do that night and send them to her then. And that's just what I did.
Then . . . oh then . . . as the wonderful team that we were . . . we started The Great Publisher Hunt!!