Diary of a Booker Winner (in waiting) – 19

How to Land a Literary Agent Part 1

(Angst-avoiding Advice)

July 2nd 2020

Gazing whimsically out the window

Whilst perched precariously on the shoulders of a Giant

Now I’m not normally one for offering advice and if I were it would probably be along the lines of do as I dream don’t do as I do. But I’m hoping that perhaps sharing what I have learned and experienced on my literary journey will make it feel less arduous and perhaps provide some solace for others similarly engaged in the strenuous struggle for super-scribe stardom.

I’ve also just pondered that it might prove cathartic to acknowledge, revisit, recognise and confront the pain that paves such path.

Okay, so here goes – H. B. O’Neill offers advice for the first time ever…

Tip Number 1. The first thing you shouldn’t do (but inevitably will do if you’re anything like me) is spend weeks, months, years and perhaps even decades musing on the traditional publishing process and cursing its obvious cruelty.

Instead, at times of doubt and disillusion, we must turn to our literary giants for reassurance. We must politely ask permission then clamber onto their (often curved courtesy of too much time bent at the quill) shoulders and whisper reverently unto their ear – “I think you were right mate.”

Today we must turn to Kurt Vonnegut, be buoyed by his broad blades and devoutly praise the cosmic wisdom of Billy Pilgrim.

“So it goes.”

No finer truth. The system is as it is. Life is as it is. We have to play the game. We have to psyche ourselves up for the battle. We must face the challenge strengthened by the knowledge that others understand. The traditional publishing process is a cruel game. The rules are complex. The playing field is not guaranteed to be level. But so what? So it goes.

With that in mind, here’s one Eureka-Flashbulb-Splash of Genius that careened across my Meandering Thought Highway the other day – a snippet of insight so profound that it stopped me in my tracks. (I was in aisle 5 at Asda). I immediately put down the half price tube of Salt n Vinegar Pringles. I no longer needed them. I had new nourishment on which to feed – an extraordinary thought to sustain and energise.

I’ll share it with you:

Getting a novel published is akin to the (dreadfully hallowed) 3 Act Structure.

“You what?” I hear you ask. Well, allow me to explain:

Act 1You Write a Novel

This is the exciting part. The enthusiastic part. The stimulating and honourable and artistic part.

Act 2You try and land a Literary Agent

This is the saggy middle. The laborious unexciting flabby bloated dreadfully uninspiring part.

Act 3The Literary Agent Lands You a Publishing Deal

This is the denouement, the payoff, the joyous climax in which all loose ends are tied up. The point at which a jubilant sigh triggers a happy fart signalling a deep satisfaction as we watch the heroic protagonist disappearing into the sunset.

Carrying a big bag of cash.

So, how to go about surviving the challenge of successfully completing Act 2? How do you switch from the euphoria of imagination and creation to the mundanity of admin and application?  

And to be clear let’s assume you do not already know a literary agent, or went to Uni with one, or have a neighbour who is one, or are dating one, or have a sibling married to one, or your friend or mum or helpful local vicar has a contact who can contact one on your behalf. Let’s assume you have no hefty nepotism to propel you, no familiar foot to jam in the door, no toadying toe already tapping on the terrace, no FastTrack path to being read, considered and signed.

What then?

 Well, the first thing such a writer searching for an agent must overcome is the urge to scream when faced with what appears the only other option – the need to tackle that weightiest of venerable tomes – The Writers and Artists Yearbook.

NB for those of you unaware of the publication, it is published each year, has a red cover, weighs 144kg and almost every one of its 215,000 pages is a torturous torrent of helpful detail. 

And now I find I’m exhausted from even mentioning it. Saddened too. Shuddering even. Sweaty of palm and creased of forehead. I need solace snacks and duvet. I’ll have to sign off. I’ll attempt to toughen up and discuss the text and the process further in Part 2.

Farewell for now.


Post-posting thoughts now…

I hope my honest advice helped…

And I wonder who Kurt’s agent is…

And how he happened to snare them…

Mostly though I really wish I’d bought those Pringles…

H. B. O'Neill

H. B. O’Neill is a London born writer inspired by the City and its myriad opportunity for comedy, pain, drama and adventure. He is a prize-winning poet and short story writer, a screenwriter, playwright and author. His much-anticipated novel According to Mark is due to be published soon.

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