What a difference an agent makes! A year in the life of a self-published author – Part V

Just a reminder to those coming to this series of posts for the first time, I am celebrating the fact that Only the Innocent was launched just one year ago, and I thought I would use the opportunity to describe the highs and lows of the last year. (And yes – the graphics are getting sillier!)

In my last post, I talked about the amazing amount of hard work that it took to market Only the Innocent to the number 1 spot on Amazon UK. It was relentless, but I was like a dog with a bone. Once I had decided that I wasn’t going to settle for just a few sales a day, I had to go for it.

The benefits of that success were far greater than just the financial ones and the amazing sense of achievement on the day that I got to number one. Mind you, that moment was something of an anti-climax. My husband is one of those people who has to get up at 5.30 am every morning. I can’t convince him otherwise, and he’s out walking the dogs in the dark come rain or shine. As a consequence, he’s usually asleep on the sofa by 9 pm. Understandable, but it can be frustrating.

Only the Innocent hit the number one spot at about 10 pm on 18th February… and he was asleep. Nothing I could do would wake him up in order to speak coherently, drink champagne, or generally get excited. I was not best pleased – but we made up for it the next day.

But getting to number one and staying there had several other significant advantages. I was invited by KDP Amazon to be on their stand at the London Book Fair, and they printed some copies of Only the Innocent for me to sign. I was also approached by several publishers, both in the UK and elsewhere, and even by a Hollywood producer (which came to nothing, of course).

And then a couple of the other authors who had been successful with their self-published books asked me if I was going to get an agent. I didn’t know. Did I need one? I certainly didn’t feel inclined to go back to those who had rejected me all those months ago – so did this mean that I had to start trawling round again with submission letters? Perish the thought. Fortunately for me, I was actually approached by one or two and that made me think that it might be something I should consider.

Author Kerry Wilkinson, who has been very successful with his writing and is one of those people who seems able to hold down a full time job and still churn out book after book, kindly gave me the name of an agent who he had been talking to, and who he said seemed incredibly helpful. So rather than go through the whole submission process, I decided to give it a go and I just dropped her an email. I outlined what I had done, where I was up to with sales of the book and so on, and asked if she would be interested. The brilliant coincidence was that she had that very day downloaded Only the Innocent onto her Kindle. She’d seen this strange independently published book at number one for a couple of weeks, and wanted to see what it was all about. She was one of three agents that I started talking to, and this definitely only happened because of the book’s high ranking in the charts.

In the end, for me the choice of agent came down to one thing. I chose the one who was brutally honest with me. She didn’t gush about Only the Innocent – she told me what she thought could be done to make it better. She wanted to know what I wanted out of it all, and it reminded me so much of a situation many years ago when I was running my interactive media company. I wanted to expand the business and started to talk to some venture capitalists about an investment. One of them said to me “You need to know what you want to get out of growing your business, because it’s going to be hard work. Is your ultimate aim fame, power or money?” It was an excellent question and one that I thought I needed to answer in relation to my writing, so that any agent I decided to work with could understand my motivation.

People say that they write because they have to. That’s fine, and I get that. But you don’t have to publish. You could just write for the pleasure of writing – so that wasn’t an answer. It’s more about what you want to achieve by publishing your book. I sat at my computer screen, and I wrote down how I feel about writing, publishing, making money. I wrote about what I want to achieve and in what timescale. And I sent this to the various agents. The one that I chose to go with is the only one who went through the list with me as if it mattered – which it does.

Even more important, this agent is somebody who not only reads my work, but she sends me page after page of notes for improvement – and I absolutely love that about her. With her input, Only the Innocent became a much better book than the one that was originally successful. She has taught me so much about how to ‘see’ a scene, and for that alone she is worth her weight in gold. Not all agents do this – so without really knowing what I was doing, it turns out I was once again very lucky.

The one thing that did concern me, though, was whether having an agent meant that I would have no choice but to go the traditional route for my next book. I don’t have a problem with this at all, if the deal is right. But I didn’t want to have to wait years to get that elusive deal, either. Of course, agents are paid on commission, so for me it was important that we have a business relationship that works for both of us, so that any publishing decision could be made based on what is actually best for the book and for my writing career.

In finding an agent, not only have I found somebody who is immensely supportive, who I can bounce ideas off, and who is happy to tell me that I am talking nonsense, but I have somebody who will help me to develop my writing and steer me towards the most appropriate future.

That in itself is plenty. But in addition, the agency guided me through the whole process of signing a contract with a US publisher, and has sold the rights to Only the Innocent into several countries – from Brazil to Russia.

Making the decision to go with an agent – and the right agent – has been the single most critical decision I have made this year. And once again, I don’t underestimate my good luck.

And as a reminder – the purpose of these daily posts is to celebrate Only the Innocent’s first anniversary and to pass on some of the lessons that I learned during my first year as an indie author. Only the Innocent is available from Amazon UK for just one week for £0.99 and I would love you to spread the word. For other formats, please visit the Rachel Abbott Website