Wednesday, November 30, 2011

oh yes, she did!

today, i give my blog over to my crit partner and friend, Gemma Cooper, for two huge announcements that will knock your socks off! take it away, Gem!

I've announced two big/massive/gigantic bits of news this month.

Gigantic news 1:
I am now a literary agent at The Bright Literary Agency, representing children’s books - picture books, chapter books, MG and YA. Further info here and here.

Gigantic news 2:
I have accepted an offer of representation from the amazing Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary for my scary MG book, 'The Sinister Mr. Smythe.'

I did consider making these announcements a few weeks apart or not making one at all about my wonderful agent. I thought it might be better to keep my writing life separate from my work life....but then I realised the two have never been separate.

These strands of my publishing career are intertwined. As I’ve learnt and developed skills in one, I’ve polished and honed skills in the other. So this isn't a typical 'how I got my agent story'. It's a ‘how I got into publishing story’ or more correctly, ‘how I achieved my dreams.’ (Warning, as Erin will tell you, I don’t do short stories, so settle down with a cuppa for this one!)

The story begins in a rather lovely drinking establishment in a magical land far far away (read this as an Irish pub in New York City, my home at the time). I was drinking with my bestest friend and we were having one of those conversations you only have after the second bottle of wine. Those conversations where you share your secret hopes and dreams.

“I've always wanted to write a book,” I said.
“Why don't you?” awesome BFF said.
And in the harsh light of day, after a coffee and my hangover cure of chips and ice cream, I thought, “Why don’t I?”
So I did.

Time passed, as it does. I wrote, researched, critiqued and booked a place at a writer’s conference. The name of one particular agent at the conference stood out, that of Joanna Volpe. This was because I’d followed the exciting, ‘how I got my agent and book deal story’ from her client, the talented Kody Keplinger.
“Brilliant,” I thought. “Kody is the perfect conversation starter.” Talking to Joanna became my main goal of the conference.
So I did.

I told her how excited I was to read THE DUFF (by the aforementioned amazing Kody) and then pitched my first novel - a YA UF. Joanna said, “Sure, send me a query,” and then we said goodbye, and walked away probably both thinking we’d never meet again.

(and this would be a rubbish story if that'd happened!)

I sent Joanna my first ever query letter. She did request a partial, but ultimately passed. But it was okay as that same week, I got a revise and resubmit from a renowned UK agent.

The conference was amazing as I met my first critique partner and now friend for life. And l learnt more about publishing, including more about the role of a literary agent. I'd worked in sales for eight years by this point, and I loved books. So how did I not know that there were people who got to sell books? And why was I not doing this job?!

Cue epiphany.

I had to become an agent! So I researched how I could make that happen. I stalked writers online and offered to beta books to hone my editorial skills - which lead to me finding the incredibly talented Erin (and we would need a blog post double this size for all the gushing I could do about her editing skills and amazing friendship over the years).

My research showed I could get into publishing by doing an internship.

Cue heaps of coincidence with a dash of fate.

The first and only internship I found and applied to was a joint one with FinePrint Literary and Nancy Coffey Literary. The application said to write a cover letter to Joanna Volpe.
So I did.

And after talking Suzie and Joanna's ears off about books during my interview, I got the internship. My first day, I heard back from the UK agent who was considering my R+R.

It was a no.

I threw myself into my work, reading sometimes until the sun came up. If I couldn't be a writer, then damn it, I'd learn to be the best agent there ever was!

The internship was awesome, but eventually I had to move back to the UK. Fortunately, fate played its hand again. I'd happened to mention to the wonderful UK agent who'd rejected my R+R that I was interning, and she suggested I contact her when I moved back.
So I did.

And two weeks later I was back in publishing again, learning from some of the best agents in the country. The long commute to work also gave me time to start writing a new book based on an idea I’d had after finding a black and white photo my dad. The book was very different from anything I'd written before. And it felt like THE book.

Time passed, as it does. I moved again and started doing some freelance editorial work. I finally finished THE book and mentioned it to Joanna. She read it and liked it, and along with Sara (assistant extraordinaire), gave me some amazing editorial notes.

Cue light bulb moment.

It took a while, but I finished the revision and sent it back to Joanna. That week I attended a SCBWI event and ended up catching the train home with the lovely Assistant Regional Co-ordinator. I talked his ear off about books the whole journey and he recommended me for a job at The Bright Literary Agency.

I interviewed at Bright. They offered me the job. My first week, Joanna offered me representation.

So this is me. Literary Agent. Writer. Lover of wine and chocolate.

I’ve lucked out joining the experienced team at Bright and will be working closely with Vicki the MD and the other agents in the office. Our key focus is to develop new talent and as a new agent, I have more time to spend with my clients and can offer my editorial experience to make your manuscript polished and ready for submission.

We are currently renovating the literary website, but please check out the link to Bright Group International. I only accept email submissions, so please send the first 3 chapters plus a synopsis or the full text if your submission is a picture book to

To pre-empt one question, ‘why does an agent need an agent’?
An agent is your advocate. They fight for you. They stay rational when helping you make the tough choices. They give you honest feedback. They empathise, sympathise and encourage. I know I can do this for my authors, but it would be impossible to do for myself. Luckily I've signed with a person who I've seen do all these things.
Yes I did!

I'll answer any and all questions in the comments.


Bee said...

CONGRATS. That's amazing. I remember I won a query crit from Gemma on this blog, and her input was invaluable. So, so glad she bagged two of the best jobs in the world at one go :)

Jeannette Towey said...

Brilliant story, Gemma, and many congrats on all your recent successes.

It's been quite a year for you. And then, to top it all, you come to the SCBWI conference and are so helpful and friendly to so many aspiring writers, (myself included).

Thanks for that phone call, Gemma. You're a star.

Xandra James said...

Loved hearing about your double success! I wish you every success with both being an agent - and having an agent :)

Anonymous said...

Happened upon this link on twitter and I'm so glad I clicked it! I'm also glad you achieved both; not only because it's wonderful for you, but it's great to know it can be done! So thanks for sharing :D

I'd wish you luck, but you either already have it or don't need it ;)

Karen Collum] said...

Wow, what a wonderful story! Thanks so much for sharing and good luck on both fronts. (I got an agent too this week, so I totally get the excitement that goes with that.) Can't wait to hear good news for you while wearing your writer hat and agent hat.

Nicky Schmidt said...

What a great story, Gemma! Here's wishing you all the very best in the onward adventure of writer, author and agent!

Liz said...

Oh my gods, Gemma - this is the most awesomest ever blogpost. Isn't it amazing how fate plays her hand, that classy dame.

Good luck to you in both your new career as agent AND as a writer. What a journey. You are a true inspiration. <>

Deserae McGlothen said...

So The Bright Agency has agents for both sides of the pond. Do you represent American authors or UK authors or both?

Congratulations on making your dreams come true! I love happy endings and good news. It makes me all sorts of smiley. :)

MC Rogerson said...

Congrats! Loved reading about your double agent dream-come-true. Best of luck with the careers!

Monica B.W. said...

So exciting!
And you were right, Erin! IT was HUGE news!
Congrats, Gemma! :D

Kristy Shen said...

Wow! That. Is. Incredible. Congrats!

I agree with you on assistant extraordinaire Sarah Goldberg. She is one in a million. I won a bid for her to review my first 50 pages in the Read for Relief auction and her notes were invaluable. Love her.

Alex said...

Congrats! This is a great story proving that hard work and loving what you do gets you great things!

Loretta Nyhan said...

This is a wonderful story! Congrats on the job, and the offer of rep from Joanna. She's the greatest.

And best of luck with your book!

Cassie Mae said...

Congratulations! I'm guessing you're going to be a very busy woman! And that's totally a good thing :)

Gemma Cooper said...

Thanks so much for the congrats and good luck wishes!!

To answer Deserea's quesion - Do you represent American authors or UK authors or both?

We have offices in London and NYC and agents covering Australia and Asia, so we can take on authors from all over the world. Different projects will work better in different markets, so we will pitch your book where we see the best fit.