Finding my Agent: It’s All About Timing! (or Path to Publication, Part 2)

At the end of part one, life was getting in the way of my publication dream, and it was a good thing!

2010 was a big year for me: I changed jobs from working in non-fiction to SF/F (basically my dream publishing role), and I published my first non-fiction book for teens. But making all these big changes was throwing another fact into sharp relief: I still wanted to be an author, and that dream could still be realized alongside my full-time job (luckily I have a great role model in the inimitable Jane Johnson).

I’d revised and rewritten Oathbreaker until it was almost an entirely different book from the one that was first finished in 2007. Even the central idea (of the promise knots) had changed completely. That’s when I decided that it was OK to give querying it another go, before I would devote time over to a new idea that I had brewing. The work seemed to pay off, and the first two people I queried, I got full requests from – no partials this time.

I sent off the manuscripts with baited breath, and then I did what most writers in the modern age do now… I turned to Twitter for solace:

That was when I got a direct message from one of my former colleagues, Juliet Mushens, asking me to submit to her boss who represented YA. At the time she was working as an assistant for two literary agents at one of the biggest agencies in London: PFD Literary.

Suddenly I was extremely nervous. This wasn’t some agent in the far away land of New York City… this was someone in London, who I was likely to meet at some point. Now that I had a job as an editor for a big house, I was submitting under a pseudonym – but Juliet already knew me so I had to drop the front. I was also entirely unsure whether her boss would like my book, which sits quite firmly on the action/adventure epic fantasy side of the market, and I couldn’t see anything similar on her list.

I ‘queried’ with probably the most apologetic e-mail you’ve ever seen. I didn’t want Juliet to feel bad about rejecting me because she knew me (in retrospect she is a professional, so I doubt she’d have had a problem with doing that if it had been necessary!), and I felt certain that it was just a shot in the dark. So I was surprised when a couple of weeks later she asked for three chapters and a synopsis (my first thought when I received her e-mail requesting Oathbreaker was ‘There’s no Voyager book called The Oathbreaker’s Shadow’… and then I remembered!), and even more shocked when, about a month after that, she asked for the whole thing.

Three full manuscripts were out in the big wide world. Ahhh! I did the literary equivalent of sticking-fingers-in-my-ears and pretending like it wasn’t happening, and in the meantime I worked away furiously on another novel.

“The call” came to my desk at work, when I was swamped with all things work-related. As dazed as I was, the basic message went through: Would I be willing to come and meet Juliet and an editor at PFD, Nelle, for a coffee to discuss my work? We arranged a date and I quietly freaked out to my friends, family, coworkers – basically anyone who would listen!

When that cup of coffee at Cafe Nero Covent Garden finally came around, it was like an out-of-body experience: was I really sitting there with two people who not only had read my book but were raving about it? We chatted about my plans and dreams and future books and then Juliet dropped her big news: she had been promoted to fully-fledged PFD literary agent… and would I like to be her first client?   

Umm… hell yes!!!!

Meeting your agent in person is an amazing experience, and one I know is not possible for every potential author. But talking in person with Juliet about my book made me feel so comfortable with her passion for the story and her drive to make not only this book work but my entire writing career, that in the end the decision was a complete no-brainer. I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

I contacted those NYC agents who had my full manuscript to inform them of Juliet’s offer, but in my mind the decision was already made.

I had an agent!

Juliet Mushens works at PFD literary agency and represents a list of both fiction and non-fiction writers. On the fiction side she likes YA, historical fiction, crime/thrillers and commercial/literary crossover. E-mail a punchy cover letter and the first 3 chapters (approx. 50 pages) to jmushens[at]


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