“I sometimes get a mini-shock when I remember I have an agent.” Shortlistee Scott Bain on signing with Lauren Clarke

DSC_0060Former advertising agency art director Scott Bain was shortlisted for his first novel The God Bullet and is newly represented by literary agent Lauren Clarke (nee Gardner) at Bell Lomax Moreton. Scott talks to Bath Novel Award founder Caroline Ambrose about how it all came about.

Congratulations, Scott on signing with Lauren. How does it feel to be agented?

It feels fantastic although I sometimes get a mini-shock when I remember I have an agent. It’s similar to the feeling I had when my first son was born and I’d forget I was a father for a fleeting second but then remember.

We drew up a shortlist of carefully targeted agents to contact on your behalf, a service The Bath Novel Award offers to shortlisted writers. Did you have any reservations about getting us involved in such a personal decision?

Not in the slightest. Your emails to agents were so good, and with your name and the Bath Novel Award behind it, the requests for the full came pretty quickly. I think it would have been a much slower process if I had tried alone. Agents do take notice when they see the Bath Novel Award on an email and so many of your previous authors have gone on to great things.

Lauren was one of the first agents we contacted for you. What was it about her that made you think she might be The One?

She understood so well what I was trying to do and where I wanted to be. We had a long phone conversation where we talked about The God Bullet and other books that we liked. I immediately loved where she was coming from. We have almost identical taste in books and her suggestions for improving mine were fantastic. She has a superb and sharp sense of story dynamics and the characters’ places within that. I was so impressed with the details and elements she suggested. Some of it involves broadening the backstory and the world, and this has unlocked some fascinating areas that I’m really excited about. 

Did you feel at any point like you weren’t in control of the process?

You were so good at keeping me up to date and I always felt I was involved. It was humbling to see how much you work for authors. Your enthusiasm and love for your job is incredible, and I know I’m not the only person to think that. The Bath Novel Award has been a brilliant experience. There is so much support and encouragement from you and the current and previous years’ writers. For me, the Bath Novel Award has been like The Mystic Portal  in Toy Story 2 that leads to the publishing world. 

Six agents requested your full manuscript and it took around seven weeks from the first query going out to you receiving a contract. Was this a stressful time? How did you keep yourself distracted?

The full requests were great, but I realised that there was a huge gap between requesting the full manuscript and offering representation. Luckily I was on holiday for two weeks on but when I was back I spent the time as a personal chauffeur to my sons who were off school, outlining and researching two story ideas, and reading. I tried to stay away from my email account, but I failed miserably. The nearest Wi-Fi signal always pulled me towards it like a tractor beam. 

I remember you emailing to say you felt you were flitting between feeling happy it was going in the right direction, but at the same time also a little insane that it wasn’t happening yet. Why do you think querying makes so many writers feel a bit unhinged?

I think it’s because writers create their own universe on the page where we have complete control. Then suddenly it’s out in the world and we just have to step back and watch it all happen. I didn’t think it would be so hard to wait. And the longer the wait, the stronger my internal negative voice became, but I just had to remind myself that it was normal and that the majority of writers go through it. JK Rowling has a great take on this. She said that the even when while she was getting rejected she was happy, because it had happened to all her favourite authors.

Along with the compliments, your passes included some contradictory feedback and suggestions. How did you process this?

I’d heard from other writers to expect this and it does mess with your head, but I think it’s normal. I just absorbed it all as priceless information from agents, and I will certainly utilise it. It was a crash course in how agents think. Most agents said that I wrote well, it was an original idea, had great pace, and they liked the mix of near future urban setting and oriental mysticism.

We never doubted it was going to happen for you. Did you?

Many times, but the passes were so kind and supportive, so I felt I was getting closer all the time. The experience has been so overwhelmingly positive and it was fantastic to be in touch with so many incredible people.

One agent with an already full list called you and gave you thirty minutes of suggestions and industry advice…

That was so great and again massively encouraging. They focused on what was good about The God Bullet which gave me a real boost, for now, and for future work. 

By early August, Lauren had requested the full. A couple of weeks later she got back in touch saying she’d loved it and wanted to meet in person. Nerve-wracking moment?

It was a bit, but it was great to meet her and talk more. I calmed myself by down by browsing the books in Forbidden Planet beforehand.

Your contract arrived on the day of Chris Whitaker’s Tall Oaks book launch party, so we got to toast you in person…

It was so great to meet you, Chris and Laura Marshall, but it was like stepping into another dimension. I was at my first book launch, I had an agent, and I was surrounded by other writers. It was like Night at the Museum, but instead of statues coming to life, it was the people I recognised from Twitter. But it was great to see Chris doing so well and his speech was hilarious.

Looking back on the past few months, any advice for anyone about to start querying?

I’m so new to this so I don’t really know for sure, but I think it must always come down to the work, and how much conviction and passion you can see the page. Also, if you’re unsure about any aspect of your manuscript, get in touch with Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, who understand exactly what readers, agents and publishers are looking for. They give excellent advice and they’ll help you to get your book into shape. Helen Bryant from Cornerstones was the one who told me about the Bath Novel Award and encouraged me to enter. 

Any suggestions for handling the passes?

Apart from sending you thousands of emails, be in contact with other writers. Only they know how it feels. I would also read ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday and ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. They both talk about creative battles in different ways. Both are brilliant.

I remember you saying you felt so wired with all the excitement that your wife had to catch you with a butterfly net. Do you think querying writers can be tricky to live with?

I think that was after the shortlist announcement, but I know what you mean. I’ve found that even good news is an imposition on family dynamics, and of course rejections are, but the waiting is certainly the worst of all. 

Looking back, how did you decide the time was right to stop editing and get your manuscript in front of agents?

Mainly from being shortlisted. Agents receive so many submissions that anything that makes your manuscript stand out is a good thing. I realised that The God Bullet could be improved, but I was worried that I might disappear down the rabbit hole of my own perpetual revisions, so I thought it was a good idea to get it out into the world.

The day the winner’s announcement came out, you sent us a lovely email congratulating Kim [Sherwood, 2016 winner with Testament] and Laura [Marshall, 2016 runner up with Friend Request saying getting onto the shortlist felt like winning…

I just couldn’t believe how many entries there were, so reaching the final four was incredible. To anyone thinking of entering next year’s award, I’d say don’t trust yourself if you think that it may not be good enough. You’re probably too close to it. Make it is as good as you can, then just send it off! All that has happened since I did has been fantastic.

Read the opening pages of The God Bullet by Scott Bain here

Follow Scott on Twitter @Sc0ttBain

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