In 2009, I attended a book launch and found myself talking to an exotic, foreign woman (like you do), who introduced herself as Svetlana Pironko, a Russian living in Paris with a partner in Dublin – oh, and she was a literary agent too. Well now, here’s the thing, I said: I just happen to be a writer with a novel that I’ve tried but failed to get published. Would my new best friend be interested in taking a look at Dancing to the End of Love? Svetlana was flying out to Paris the following day but said she’d be happy to take a look at it over the coming weeks. She emailed me once she arrived in Paris to tell me she’d started the book during her flight, loved it and finished reading it that very evening; could she represent me as an agent?
Result, I hear you say. Well, yes and no. Svetlana did indeed become my agent and, in a sort of author/agent pre-nuptial agreement, we agreed in advance not to fall out if the book still wasn’t published at the end of a two year period. Svetlana tried, she tried really hard, but failed; she improved my chances and shortened the odds but was ultimately just one more step along the road to publication.
Not wishing to further dishearten any writer in search of an agent or that elusive book deal but, when it comes to opportunities to cut those odds, I come from privilege. I’ve spent a lifetime working as a bookseller with access to publishers, agents, authors, editors – just about everybody involved in the process of bringing a book to publication. On top of that, I have bookseller colleagues who are happy to promote my books once they are out there in the world. In 2004, I was given a two-book deal with Penguin because the M.D. of Penguin liked my work. She would never have read it unless we’d met professionally in my capacity as a bookseller. As such, I had no difficulty acquiring an agent to represent the book that would one day become Dancing to the End of Love.
Sickened yet? I should hope so, but this is where it stopped going to plan. That first agent loved and believed in my book but couldn’t place it with a publisher. He was astonished that Penguin turned it down and amassed a drawer full of rejection letters from other publishers – each with those familiar sentiments that yes, they loved the book and thought the writing was fantastic but it just wasn’t quite right for them at this time . . .
After an upsetting parting of the ways, I found myself another agent – again through my contacts in the book trade – who tried an alternative approach with different editors who loved the book and thought the writing was fantastic but it just . . . well, you get the picture.
While speaking as a bookseller at a self-publishing conference arranged by Writing.ie’s very own Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, it occurred to me that the emergence of digital and the rise of the Kindle was an opening to get my work seen by a larger reading public. Penguin kindly agreed to revert the rights of my first two novels and I was in a great position to ride the crest of the Kindle wave. These were good times and my books made it into the top ten of Literary Fiction on Amazon UK. I published Dancing to the End of Love myself, in the hope that its online presence would one day attract a publisher.
In 2012, I started doing some reading work for a publisher and it would have been positively rude of me not to mention Dancing to the End of Love. They suggested some major changes that definitely improved the quality of the book but – once again, ultimately – they decided to reject it. Armed with this now superior piece of work, I found another publisher but their contract offer was so demeaning that I preferred retaining my self-worth to selling my soul.
And so it went on until, yes, I found a publisher who loved my book, agreed to publish it and to treat me with respect. It is now 2016 and, for all my privilege and advantage, it has been a long road to publication – the journey of a decade. What I’ve detailed here is a tiny percentage of the bumps along that road. As writers, we know it’s worse than a long, uphill struggle; it’s more akin to a rigged game of snakes and ladders. We have to take whatever opportunity comes our way – manufacture opportunities to come our way – and do anything to shorten the odds of publication.
Whatever you have, use it, because nobody else is ever going to do it for you.
(c) Adrian White
About Dancing to the End of Love
It’s the start of a stormy, passionate affair when internationally successful singer Siobhan McGovern turns up at the launch of Robert Lanaghan’s latest book in Dublin. Though they both love the written word – and each other – they find they come from very different worlds: Robert lives a solitary, quiet life and Siobhan is in the media spotlight every day. And after their daughter Ciara is born, it becomes clear that their relationship is over. Bitter with the way things have turned out, Robert accepts a substantial financial settlement from Siobhan but also signs an agreement never to see his daughter again. He thinks, in the circumstances, it will be best for everyone. But after travelling aimlessly around Europe, spending the money as he goes, his life begins to spiral out of control as he struggles to come to terms with what he has done. Can Robert overcome the disappointments of his past to build a better future?
Dancing to the End of Love is published by Black & White Publishing of Edinburgh, is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!