How it goes

Two and a half years ago, I posted this little piece on the oddness of life. That was the first time I met Juliet Mushens, agent extraordinaire at PFD. Despite what I wrote in that post, she wasn't an agent then, just an agent's assistant. And she hadn't been an editor at Harper Collins but something in marketing. These are just details though, and really unimportant.

As predicted, the manuscript I sent her came back with a polite 'it wasn't quite right for us' reply, but also a request to see another manuscript I'd mentioned - one that I was working on at the time. Perverse fellow that I am, I never sent the manuscript, even though I eventually finished it.

I missed Harrogate in 2011 because of the sad death of my uncle. By then I was deep in the mire of taking over the farm, fighting with the worse-than-useless solicitors who had been dealing with my late parents' estate and trying to persuade the Inland Revenue that they didn't really deserve an extra £100k of my father's money.* So I didn't get to meet up with Juliet again until this year. She immediately asked why I hadn't sent her the manuscript, to which I replied I'd lost all confidence in it, thought it was a crock of shit, and had put it in a drawer somewhere to be forgotten.

In the meantime, of course, Natural Causes, which her boss had turned down, had done rather well as an ebook, and The Book of Souls was beginning to earn me some serious money. Juliet was now a fully-fledged agent in her own right, and building something of a reputation for being a hard negotiator.

If I was being cruel, I might suggest that any agent would be interested in representing an author who'd managed to shift over 100,000 copies of his first self-published novel in a couple of months, even if they were free. I'm not cruel though, and Juliet still wanted to see the novel I'd not sent her two years earlier, so I sent it to her and waited.

In the meantime I was approached by another agent, a friend of a friend. This put me in something of a quandary, as he came highly recommended and has a very good reputation. It's considered bad form to query two agents simultaneously, or at least I consider it bad form. I explained to the new agent, let's call him Stan because that's what everyone calls him even though it's not actually his name, and he was OK with the idea I might not sign with him, still wanted a chance to make his pitch. I also let Juliet know other agents were circling like sharks, so not to keep me waiting too long.

I met Stan at Bloody Scotland, after a bit of faffing about trying to find each other. We had a long chat and he seemed a really nice bloke, someone I could work with and very much on top of his game. He'd read Natural Causes and even spent money buying a copy of The Book of Souls. Liked them both. He even liked the book I'd lost all faith in, let's call it One Good Deed, since that's its title.

Of course, when I got home from Bloody Scotland, there was an email from Juliet, apologising profusely for not getting back sooner and praising my books to the skies.

It's a bit like buses, I suspect. You wait years for an agent to come along, and suddenly there's two desperate to represent you (and a couple of others dropping heavy hints). 

So I did what any self-respecting person would do in the circumstances. I dithered. I am a world-class ditherer. I can make even the simplest decision making process into a tortured round of arguments, counter-arguments and self-loathing. This one really had me stumped. Both agents were good. I'd met them and got on well with them. They both had excellent plans about how to go about marketing me and my books. If I could have had both of them, I would have done. 

In the end, a well-timed email prod from Juliet clinched it, and I went with PFD just in time for the Frankfurt Book Fair. If this had been intentional, you'd say my timing was impeccable. As it is, I can only put it down to dumb luck, on my part at least.

She didn't waste any time, and the rest, as they say, is history. The UK and Commonwealth (excluding Canada) rights for three McLean books went to Penguin after a five-way auction, Goldmann-Verlag picked up the German translation rights for a very nice sum indeed. Italian rights are being auctioned, Brazil has offered, I've even sold Serbian translation rights, which is just mad. There doesn't seem to be a day goes past without an email from the foreign rights team at PFD telling me about another offer. My ghast is truly flabbered.

A year ago, I was ready to give up on DI McLean, pretty much ready to give up on writing altogether. I'm really quite glad I didn't.

*it wasn't just me doing this, I hasten to add. Nor was I doing the bulk of it - that fell to my sister and cousin as executors. It still weighed heavily and made a sad and stressful situation even worse than it had to be.


terlee said…
How absolutely totally amazingly incredibly wonderful!!!!!

I can now say "I knew you when"--though of course I only know you through your blog posts and books. Still. Such a great thing.

JamesO said…
Thanks Terlee!

I really hope I don't become one of those people who forget all their old friends and get swept away by the bright lights and fame. Feel free to slap me if I do.

You and the other regulars here are my friends, even if we've never actually met. You've all helped me through dark times with your encouragement and comments, and I won't forget that.
Ellen said…
Words just don't suffice at telling you how pleased/excited/elated I am for you! I remember reading "Pedaling uphill slowly" so many years ago, and thinking, he's really good! After reading "Natural Causes", I knew you'd really made it! It just took a bit for the rest to catch up! Congratulations on this adventure--I'll start looking for you on American talk shows (or listening on Public Radio)!
Eigon said…
I've been reading your blog for quite a while now - this is wonderful news! I'm so pleased for you!
highlandwriter said…
congrats, james. well deserved! :-)
Rick said…
Just read both Natural Causes and The Book Of Souls and thoroughly enjoyed both.
However, I did notice that in the Kindle editions that DC Stuart Macbride had been promoted to DS and then demoted back to DC on a couple of occassions.

Looking forward to the next installment...

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