Get an agent, they say

“The first step is to get an agent,” the Writers & Artists Handbook said. The blog posts said it, too. Everybody who wants to be a writer knows you should get an agent.

Get literary agent I wrote on a piece of paper. It was my 2014 New Year’s resolution.

I wondered what literary agents might be like. Perhaps they would be like Estelle from Friends. They’d wear outlandish clothes and chain smoke cigarettes and say, “Gillian, I can make you a superstar.”

My literary agent, when I first met her at Bill’s in Hammersmith, was only slightly older than me. She wore a striped jumper and a cool necklace and I wanted to ask her where her eyeliner was from (I did, subsequently; it is the Lancome Art Liner and it is perfection).

Her emails were always professional (All best, Clare) and her edits were incisive (this just doesn’t work). She had a way of knowing and telling me what was best for me before I even knew it myself (I’ll tell you when there’s news – distract yourself).

Things changed after time. Things changed after a deal was done, both because we both knew I was sellable, but also because of the heads-together nature of it. Those emails, those calls, where we discussed my future writing career, what I’m doing next, how long I need to do it.

“What of this piece in the Bookseller?” I would say, and she would always respond with her view. We have played maybe two hundred games of Words With Friends, and once, when we were on submission, I wrote the word “W A I T” and thought I seemed very smart.

We Whatsapp, these days, in these established days of our relationship. I send her gifs of me drumming my fingers, sometimes. I screenshot my reviews. She sends me photos of her daughter. She tells me to relax more.

Get an agent, the guidebooks said. They were right, of course. But I didn’t know it could be this way. A hand to hold, a counsellor, an advisor, a friend.

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