From self-published to Dagger shortlisted author: but still no agent! Fiona tells her story.
By Fiona Veitch Smith
You could have knocked me down with a feather when my friend Ruth Downie, author of the Medicus Roman mystery series, texted me in April to say my novel The Jazz Files had been selected for the longlist of the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger Award. Well, you could have, if I hadn’t been curled up on the sofa with a glass of wine and a bar of choccie watching The Tunnel on the telly.
You see, I wasn’t at Crimefest in Bristol for the announcement of the longlists. As I had recently lost my university lecturing contract and I’m unemployed, I couldn’t really afford to go. And my publisher, Lion Fiction, who is relatively new on the crime scene, had not submitted anything to the Dagger awards before. Yet here I was, with my debut published crime novel on the list with household names such as Philip Kerr and William Shaw.
I say debut, but actually, The Jazz Files was not my first book. I had previously self-published a literary thriller and a series of children’s picture books. Like many of you, I should imagine, I had been trying for years to get a publishing deal, or an agent, or anything that would help me get the stories in my head into real people’s hands. And like many of you, I had a file of rejections spanning 10 years before I decided to try it alone and self-publish.
Three years later, in 2014, I still had no agent, but I did have two publishing deals – one for my children’s books (SPCK) and another for a series of 1920s crime novels called Poppy Denby Investigates. The deal was with a new imprint of the Christian publisher Lion Hudson; although these books were aimed at the general market. There were a number of reasons I approached Lion Fiction, but the main two were a) they were aiming to publish quality fiction for all readers, not just Christians, and b) they didn’t require me to have an agent to submit to them.
Now here we are in September 2016, 15 years after I first started trying to get published, with my first book now on the shortlist for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger Award, and my second book coming out in a few weeks’ time.
I still don’t have an agent. But I almost did – I think – for about three weeks. I was contacted by someone from a leading agency in New York who also has offices in the UK. He had seen that I’d been shortlisted for the Historical Dagger, checked out my website, checked out my book, detected that I didn’t have an agent, and said he was interested in representing me.
And I thought: ‘Finally, it’s going to happen. I’ll be a real author. I’ll have an agent – like everyone else on the shortlist – and I won’t feel like an imposter at the awards dinner.’ Pathetic, I know, but there you go. We swapped some initial emails about what it was he thought he could do for me and my career, what I wanted from him, and then set up a mutually beneficial time to have a telephone conversation. Oh, but would I first send him details of the print run of The Jazz Files and where it’s available? Well, that’s when he began to cool. As I’ve said, Lion is a small imprint with a relatively small print run and distribution. It’s new in this field and, although it’s definitely making inroads into the market, it is not on the scale of the big players. So for this agent, neither me nor my book were big enough for him and he told me he was no longer interested.
So here I am, like most of you, still agent-less. Yet I’m proud of where I am. I’m proud of my publisher who is not ‘big enough’ and yet does a stirling job fostering new talent. And I’m proud that my little book has been judged on the quality of writing, not its marketing budget. This time, my publisher and I will be at the CWA Gala dinner, and I know exactly what I’m going to wear…
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