When Hodder approached me last year about writing a book on creative writing, I was nervous about being on the other side of the fence for once, but fairly confident that the process would run smoothly. Having worked in publishing for seven years - at a publisher and as an agent - I thought that the experience of being published would be fairly straightforward. I ended up hugely enjoying being published - but also with a lot more empathy for authors!
The vast majority of authors cannot afford to write fulltime, and have to juggle their deadlines with jobs and families. On an intellectual level I knew that that must be tough - my most prolific author, James Oswald, writes two books a year alongside running a livestock farm - but I didn't realise fully the sacrifices involved. Agenting is a job that doesn't stop in the evenings, or on weekends, so I had to be incredibly disciplined in order to meet my deadline. I had no time to write during the week so my weekends consisted of shutting myself away with my computer and not emerging until I had written at least 6,000 words. Now when publishers ask about delivery deadlines for authors I find myself much more sympathetic to the sacrifice required for them to work fulltime jobs, raise children, and complete novels.
Experiencing the publishing process as an author rather than an agent made me realise how confusing it could be for the uninitiated. Prelims, page proofs, ARCs, copy-edits... all terms we throw around casually but I could suddenly see how to an author they would mean very little. There can be little explanation of what is normal - what is a typical print run, where can I expect my book to be on-sale, what level of sales would be acceptable - and I can see how an author could feel all at sea. I am going to make sure going forward that I break down each aspect of the process to my authors - rather than assuming they understand what can sometimes seem to be very foreign terminology.
'Don't read your reviews... or obsessively check your Amazon rankings...' is my mantra for authors, but it turns out that I am entirely unable to take my own advice. I had never realised just how vulnerable the author would feel, offering their work up for public consumption, and now I am right there with them. Every time someone tweets me that they have bought my book I want to tell them thank you and then ask them to never, ever read it. There are already hundreds of things I would change and I now appreciate how hard it must be for an author to sign off on their final page proofs. In the day of social media it is very easy for people to tell you they liked your work, but equally easy to inform you that they hated it (and that they think you are an awful person). This hasn't happened to me (yet) but it has to many of my writers. We ask a lot of authors in expecting them to confidently sell their wares online, whilst also ignoring the criticism their work will inevitably attract.
Now my book is launched, has had good reviews, and is selling steadily, I feel relieved and happy to be stepping back to being an agent again. I have finished the process with a lot more sympathy for authors, and a much deeper understanding of the frustrations and fears that can occur during publication. My job can involve sleepless nights and long hours, but putting my creative endeavours up for public consumption was much, much more stressful.
Juliet Mushens is an Agent in the UK Literary Division of The Agency Group. Juliet began her publishing career in 2008 at HarperCollins, after reading history at Cambridge, and became an agent in 2011.
Juliet represents a bestselling list of fiction and non-fiction writers including international bestseller THE MINIATURIST by Jessie Burton, Sunday Times bestselling crime writer James Oswald, and hugely successful brand VERY BRITISH PROBLEMS. She was highly commended in the Literary Agent of the Year category at the Bookseller Industry Awards in 2015, having also been shortlisted in 2014. She was picked as a Bookseller Rising Star in 2012 and shortlisted for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize for excellence in women in publishing in 2013.
Alongside her role as an agent, she supervises Creative Writing dissertations for Kingston University. Her first book, ‘Get Started in Creative Writing for Young Adults’, was published by Hodder in June.