Welcome to my new monthly blog series. This year I’m all about getting a literary agent, and this new interview series is really just an excuse to get some insider information from authors who have successfully pitched to an agent and had their book published! If you missed the first interview with Louise Allan, you can read it here.
I’m honoured to have Australian author Vanessa Carnevale on the blog this month. I first heard about Vanessa through social media about twelve months ago, just after the release of her debut novel The Florentine Bridge. Then I discovered her “Your Creative Life” Podcast series which i binge-listened to over a a couple of months. Vanessa is also the host of Your Beautiful Writing Life Retreats in Tuscany, Italy and Australia.
She is one busy lady, but she has taken the time to share her publication story and answer my number one question, how did you get an agent?
Q. Firstly, congratulations on the release of your second novel, The Memories That Make Us, which was released this month. Can you take us back in time and tell us about your first book, the one which landed you an agent?
A. I was very lucky in that I was able to secure representation (and a sale) for my first adult novel, The Florentine Bridge. It sold in a two-book deal to Harlequin Australia. I wrote that book in 2014, with no expectations of where it would take me, and I’m so glad I listened to that feeling inside me that told me I needed to write a book.
Q. That sounds like every writer’s dream! To get a publishing deal for the first book you wrote. Though, i must admit, I don’t plan on ever showing anyone my first completed manuscript… What steps did you take to refine the manuscript once you completed your first draft?
A. I wrote the first draft in six weeks. I had met another writer on Twitter, and we decided we’d swap manuscript pages for critique as we went along. It kept me accountable, and also gave me reassurance, because the feedback in that infant stage wasn’t all bad, and I knew I had potential to improve the writing and the story. It took some time to revise the manuscript before I felt it was ready to query agents with. In fact, I sent out an initial batch of queries and then had a huge moment of doubt as I wondered whether I had queried too soon. So I sent it out for a manuscript assessment, and then picked up querying again once I revised it again. Once I got an agent, the revision continued. I learnt a lot about storytelling and writing throughout that process.
I also had someone critique my query letter. There’s a certain skill required in writing a query letter, and I knew I needed a bit of help in that department so I enlisted the help of a literary agent intern to help me. I learnt a lot from that process, and those skills have definitely come in handy for future books.
Q. Ah yes, there’s still a lot of hard work to come following the completion of a novel. Query letters, synopses and blurbs… it can be very overwhelming. So once your manuscript was done, how did you approach writing the synopsis and blurb?
A. I always write a 1-2 paragraph pitch before I start writing. This gives me an idea of the direction of the story, the main characters and what the conflict and hook of the story is. Until I have those things in place I find it hard to begin as I don’t know what I’m writing towards, otherwise.
I actually never needed to write a synopsis for The Florentine Bridge, or for my second novel, The Memories That Make Us. Does that make me lucky? Instead, I had my first try at writing a synopsis for my third manuscript, Part of Loving You (which is a working title). I used to read a lot of writing blogs so I could learn what was involved in writing things like synopses and query letters, and that certainly helped me. I know there are courses out there, as well as craft books, so writers might find those resources handy, too.
Q. What is your elevator pitch for The Memories That Make Us?
A. When Gracie Ashcroft is left unable to recall the elements of her past, including her fiancé Blake, she must decide whether to live a life made up of people’s memories of who she was, or start a new life on her own.
It explores the question: if you had your time over, would you live the same life twice?
Q. Okay, i’m hooked! So, how did you initially get an offer of representation?
A. I queried agents in Australia and the USA via email or what is known as ‘the slush pile’, and I ultimately signed with a US agent based in New York. As soon as we were able to connect, I knew I was going to enjoy working with her. She was so passionate about The Florentine Bridge and could see in that story, what I couldn’t yet. She’s editorially hands-on and that’s been great for me, as I have welcomed the editorial feedback. I’ve learnt so much from it. Not all agents are editorially hands-on, so writers should research the agents they’re submitting to, to get an idea of how they work. Likewise, not all writers want or need an agent who will provide them with detailed notes and feedback.
Some of the passes I received for The Florentine Bridge were form rejections, but some agents provided complimentary feedback, inviting me to submit future work, but ultimately citing that the book, while they really liked it, wasn’t quite for them. I think it just goes to show that there is also an element of luck involved in publishing. Your work needs to not only be as polished as you can manage, but it needs to land on the desk of the right agent or editor at the right time.
Q. That’s a good point, and it’s that very element of the publishing industry that can leave writers feeling deflated. There are so many factors involved in an agent (or publisher) connecting with a story and much of it is out of the writer’s control. What did you do right?
A. I think seeking feedback and critique for my manuscript as well as my query letter served me well.
Q. What would you have liked to have done differently?
A. At the time, I felt that I had taken the manuscript as far as I could on my own, but perhaps I could have taken it through one more round of revision!
Q. What has been surprising about the negotiation or publishing process?
A. Things move slowly in publishing! I say that with total respect for the industry. It takes time to write a book, but it also takes people in the business time to read, assess, get a book through acquisitions and so on. I think another thing worth mentioning is that an editor can really enjoy and love your work, but still ultimately pass. There are many reasons for this. An editor might feel that they have a similar book on their list, or they might feel like that can’t break it out in a way they would like to, or while they love it, they may not love it enough. It’s important to not take the feedback personally or feel like you are a failure, even when there is a temptation to.
Q. As writers we are encouraged to build an author platform. You have done an amazing job at building yours, before you were even published. What did you consider when you were starting out?
A. I started out years ago, before I was calling myself a writer, and to be honest, at the time I didn’t give a lot of thought to it at all. When it comes to my presence online, I really just try to be myself. Growing your online platform takes time and consistency, and to succeed at it, I think you need to enjoy it, or find some aspect of it that you enjoy. I also try to respond to as many comments as I can, and think of my online space and the people in it as a community. I genuinely enjoy interacting with them and I hope that comes across.
Q. It certainly does 🙂 What is your advice for writers who seek an agent?
· Resist the urge to query too early.
· Ensure you have someone look over your query letter for you.
· Find a critique partner and have another set of eyes on your manuscript before you send it out.
· Research the agents you are submitting to and take a look at the kind of books they represent and how they work.
· Follow submission guidelines to the dot.
· Be patient.
· Believe in yourself, don’t give up, and try not to rejection personally.
Q. Great tips, Vanessa. So, what’s next for you?
A. My second novel, The Memories That Make Us has just been released and I’m about to tackle the third draft of my latest manuscript, another work of contemporary fiction! It’s also turning out to be a very busy year for me since I am hosting three writing retreats! One in Daylesford, Victoria, this April, and two in Florence, Italy, this September.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, Vanessa. It’s reassuring to hear that the path to publication doesn’t always have to be complex or fraught with 200 rejections. Hard work and patience pays off in the end.