It didn’t used to be, but that’s how many agents I submitted to before Harry Illingworth of DHH Literary Agency decided to take a chance on a debut author. That doesn’t include the unpublished novel competitions I entered or the open door submissions periods I threw Godblind at. That takes it closer to 50 submissions.
Not all of those submissions were of Godblind in the format that Harry first saw it. This was over a period of at least three years, and before that a couple of really early submissions of a draft I blush to even think about now. Back then it had a different title and a different premise. And my writing was different, too. By different, I mean bad. Or as I prefer to think of it, unpolished. I remember being so excited to have finished writing it that I sent it straight out, convinced I was going to wow the literary world.
I learned a very valuable lesson in the plethora of rejections – edit. Looking back on it now, I know that what I’d written was pompous, flowery, overblown twaddle. Back then, I knew it was genius. But in the years since, in all the rewrites, the main characters stayed true to themselves, and I think that’s why I didn’t give up. Circumstances and plots changed, characters’ histories and stations in society were altered, but the characters themselves – their basic personalities – were always there, begging me to write them better. It wasn’t so much a labour of love as a desire to get them to shut up that I kept on working on what was to become Godblind.
Because about a year ago, they stopped complaining. (I sound nuts, I know. Just go with it.) The characters started settling into the world and the roles I’d assigned them. Things were slotting into place and I started to get, for the first time, a really, really good feeling about where the novel was going and how it was getting there. It was as good as I could make it without professional input. I considered sending it to a freelance editor. I couldn’t really afford it, but if it would make my work better, make it more likely to get picked up… But I decided to go for one more round of submissions first, and see where that led.
All my previous submissions to agents had been in chunks with at least a year off in between. Submit – get rejected – take a good look at the plot and rewrite – let it sit – reread and tweak – submit – get rejected…
I did a chunk of submissions over the summer of 2015, and got nowhere. The thought of getting a professional editor loomed again. And then Harry posted on Twitter what he was looking for in a submission. Something about “the next Joe Abercrombie”. And I thought, hey, I’m not in the same league as Lord Grimdark, but I at least play the same sport, so I gave it a go. The submission to Harry is the only stand-alone submission I made, the only one that wasn’t part of a deluge to agents across the UK.
And it was weird, because right away I had a good feeling. Then Harry emailed me to say he wanted to see the full manuscript, and my good feeling got even stronger, to the extent that I put DHH’s phone number in my mobile, reasoning that if I got a random phone call from a London number I wouldn’t answer it, but if I got a call from DHH, I’d pick it up in a heartbeat.
And then Harry phoned and when that number, saying “DHH Lit Agency” above it, came up on my phone, I almost didn’t pick it up. I was terrified. But I took a deep breath and answered, and Harry introduced himself, said he loved Godblind, and he wanted to represent me. I’m not quite sure how the rest of that conversation went, it’s a bit of a blur. I do remember phoning my husband, Mark, afterwards and bursting into tears. It was such a huge moment for me, validation of years of hard work and self-belief, even when it seemed it would never happen.
Harry and I met for lunch in London and I knew within about five minutes we’d work well together. I signed the agency agreement, I did the raft of edits Harry suggested, I bit my lip when he cut chunks I liked, and together we made Godblind something to be proud of.
Then Natasha Bardon of Harper Voyager got her hands on it and the rest, as they say, is history. Or in my case, the future. A future I spent years daydreaming about is becoming reality.
Spring 2017 – keep your eyes peeled. Godblind is coming to a bookshop near you.
Godblind will be published by HarperVoyager in Spring 2017. You can find more information here.
Follow Anna on Twitter: @Annasmithwrites