Every single time I do a book signing or a reading at a cool cafe at nightime I get asked this fucking question. “Excuse me Jamiepbarker, can you tell me how to get a literary agent?”
Because I want to hide my contempt for these losers so they’ll buy my book I give it all the bullshit about not giving up, you know? How agents are just people and if one doesn’t like your work then try another. I tell them about famous authors I hang out with who had to try seventy different agents before finding one who would represent them.
It’s bollocks, of course. If you can’t find an agent then it means you’re rubbish. Give up writing. Agents know everything about books and writing.
Say you were a decorator and you painted a wall and somebody said you’d done a shit job. Would you ask seventy other people what they thought of the wall you’d painted? I mean, after ten didn’t like it wouldn’t you think, maybe I’m a useless painter?
Jesus, how deluded are some people? Hey, you can be whatever you want to be! Oh yeah? Be Batman then. Yeah, thought not.
What I should get asked is how I got an agent. Not how you won’t.
Well. First I wrote a book that shifted not just many copies but also paradigms. The paradigms were miles away from where they were by the time I finished.
With a tremendous body of work under my belt I was in the position of power. So instead of me asking an agent to represent me I decided to get them to ask me. I did this by bothering them.
It’s documented here.
I was tempted to accept Jo Unwin’s desire to be my agent but… I dunno. This happened.
“It’s fine, I don’t mind dogs!” I laughed as Jo Unwin’s badly behaved dog jumped up at me. It had a pink nose I didn’t much care for and I was in her hall. She’d invited me around to discuss representing me as my agent in the literary world. The dog continued to try to lick my face as I stroked it but really she should have called it off by now. The dog had been jumping up on me for too long. Just because I don’t mind dogs it didn’t mean I wanted this. It was a hairy dog and I could feel some of its hair coming off around my palms as Jo stood there with her hands clasped beneath her chin, staring at me as if I was Father Christmas. “That’s enough!” I laughed at the dog, trying to push it down. Get the fucking dog off me, I was thinking.
“It means he likes you, he’s a great judge of character!” Said Jo and I thought, uh-oh. It’ll be tarot cards next. Just as I was about to snap the dog grew bored and trotted off. “Come,” said Jo Unwin and I followed her into what can be best described as a kitchen/diner.
“This is lovely!” I said looking around and then I saw the man. The man was sitting at the round pine dining table. Jo hadn’t mentioned a man. “Hello,” I said. The man didn’t respond, he was reading a newspaper I’d only heard about on the TV. Private Eye. And so I smiled and looked around and nodded.
“This is my husband, Chris,” said Jo Unwin. I nodded and smiled. The man didn’t look up and so I looked back at Jo. “Morris,” she added with her eyebrows raised. And I looked around for Morris. I could only see Chris. I nodded again anyway but as Jo was pulling out a chair I pulled a face behind her back. When she smiled at me I sat on it. Chris sighed loudly and folded his paper and stood and walked out of the room. “Would you like a drink?”
“No thanks, I’m fine.”
“A coffee? Tea?”
“Really, I’m fine.”
“A… a coffee,” I said to shut her up. I sat there as she went behind the counter and made it. I was thinking about how she was going to ask me how I wanted it. Like I’d die if she got it wrong. Like I can only drink coffee if it’s exactly as I like it. Like I’ve never drunk coffee in a cafe. As if it even mattered. Jo isn’t the speediest at making coffee. This is nice, sitting here on my own in somebody’s house, I sarcastically thought to myself. I scrunched up the table cloth slightly and then spent a few seconds flattening it again. The creases I’d made were still visible. It would need an iron. Jo was singing to herself.
“How do you-“
“Black, no sugar thanks,” I lied. I like a tiny dash of milk but then I’d get all the, ‘this much? Or this much?’ A great big fucking saga. I wished I’d stuck to my guns and declined a drink altogether.
Eventually she returned and placed the cup in front of me. It would be too hot to drink for ages. What was the point?
“Would you li-“
Jo laughed and sat down opposite me. I watched as she tugged a string up and down. The string was attached to a teabag. The teabag was in a glass cup filled with boiling water. She did this for about 25 seconds. I was counting. I brought my cup up but my nose warned me I would burn my lips if I tried to drink from it. I put it back down. “You can get taps now that…” Fuck, I was going to tell Jo about the taps you can get now that dispense boiling water, so you don’t need to boil a kettle but dispense wasn’t the right word. A tap doesn’t dispense water. Well, it does but you wouldn’t say that. There’s a better word. What is it? Even now I don’t know and I didn’t know when I was sat opposite Jo Unwin, the person who I wanted to be my literary agent. The one person in the world I couldn’t say the wrong word to.
“Taps that?” Asked Jo.
“Boiling water comes out, so you don’t need to boil the kettle.” Comes out? Oh for fucks sake.
“That sounds a bit dangerous,” she said and she was right. Boiling water coming out of a tap, that’s the most dangerous thing I’ve ever heard of. Hadn’t sounded at all dangerous when Andy, my plumber friend, was telling me about them. They’d sounded awesome then.
“Yeah,” I said and picked up my cup and immediately put it back down. She could talk about dangerous. She’d superheated that somehow.
“So, I’ve read your stuff.”
“It’s just a first draft,” I said. It wasn’t. It was the best I could do.
“I love it, really, it’s the best stuff I’ve ever read.”
“Oh Jo, it’s not that good!” Another lie. I think it is that good.
“I think it is that good. I’ve shown it to a few pub… Well, first things first I’ve love to represent you.”
“I’d love you to.”
“Well that’s good, I’ve shown your work to a few publishers and they are falling over themselves to get you on board.”
“Really, this is a big deal. In all my time as a literary agent I’ve never seen a reaction like this.”
Jo was gazing at me as she had when her dog was jumping on me. Her head slightly tilted.
“Loads of money?”
“Oh yeah,” said Jo. She sipped her tea.
“Cool.” I nodded and smiled at Jo. Fucking steam was still coming off my coffee cup. How come hers wasn’t so hot? How had she done that? It probably wasn’t strong enough anyway. I have three teaspoons of coffee powder at home. “Do I sign something?” I asked.”Do you want to sign something?””…” I thought this was her job. She slurped her tea, always watching me over the rim of her cup. I looked at my coffee.”Of course you sign something,” Laughed Jo and I laughed too. Great joke, Jo! “There’s no hurry though. We can get to know each other first, before we get down to business.””Cool.” I didn’t look up at Jo but felt her gaze.”Will you stay for tea? We’re having lamb shanks from Waitrose.””Erm, I shouldn’t really.””Why not?””I… I don’t like lamb.” I looked up. I hate lamb. It’s the only mean I don’t like. It taste like a field.”Do you like SuperNoodles?””No.””What about-“”I’m going to shoot then. I think.”
“Oh really, you haven’t even touched your coffee,” said Jo with what looked like genuine dismay.
“It’s… It’s still boiling, and I wanna spread the good news. Tell my wife.”
“She’s a lucky woman,” said Jo and I thought I saw her eyes sparkle. Her tongue definitely made a momentary appearance at the corner of her mouth.
“Thanks,” I said with a nervous chuckle. “So are you.” I screwed my face up after saying that because it didn’t make any sense at all. So are you? I was nervous. I was doing nervous talk.
“You don’t keep any secrets?””From who? My wife? Yeah, loads. All of them.””Good to know.”
“I’ll tell her this though, I mean, the fact that you’re my agent.” I laughed, sure I was blushing. “Glad you liked my stories. Which one did you like best?” I asked to change the subject.
“This one,” said Jo, her eyes fixed on mine causing my heart to thwump.
“Really, this one? I can’t really think of an ending for this one,” I said, being honest about my work for the first time since I’d entered the room.
“I can think of an ending,” said Jo. I swallowed hard, almost making a cartoon gulp sound.
“That’s not going to happen, Jo.”
“Really?” She asked with a smirk.
“Really.” I walked to the door without looking back. I paused for a moment and then opened it and stepped into the dark hallway. Steve or Mark or whatever the fuck his name is was there, leaning with his back against the wall and his arms crossed. “Hey!” I said but he just sighed and pushed past me. As I walked down the hall I had a moment of panic when I thought I might not be able to operate the latch on their door but thankfully it was fairly straightforward.
It was just drama I didn’t need. So I went with Simon and so far – his backward text messages apart (he wants me to write a detective story because he watched True Detective) – I’m pretty happy.