It’s one hell of an apprenticeship, a life changing experience, which should come with a health warning. You might opt for the lucky fast-track option and get an agent straight away, but you’ll probably end up on the most expensive course: the one that comes with additional training and usually lasts a lifetime. Only the most dedicated will survive. All students are expected to study seven days a week/24 hours a day. There will be nothing else on your mind.
In preparation for your slow descent into hell I must advise you to move into a clutter-free house, preferably one with padded walls. Crash-mat floors will provide protection for when you choose to hurl yourself around in utter despair. Send your submissions via email. Use texts to communicate with everyone else. While seeking representation, avoid contact with human beings - they’ll only keep asking if your work is published. When you tell them that you’re still working on that task, they’ll give you a look as if to say, ‘What have you been doing with your time?’ Therefore, I suggest you adopt a cat to keep you company. Make sure it’s trained and used to temperamental owners. Don’t get a dog - you won’t have time to take it on walks. It’ll only join the ever growing list of other ‘beings’ who resent you.
You’ll soon realise that you might never get an agent. This will occur long before you’ve reached the list of agents on page two of the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. Don’t have a strop. Eat cake. Drink wine. Put your dimply hands on your ample hips and shout at the top of your voice to every agent worldwide, ‘I’m coming to get you!’ Did I mention your minimalist home must also have triple glazing to dampen emotional outbursts?
It could take anything from twelve months to thirty years to finish a writer’s apprenticeship. You won’t live any longer than this. Life expectancy decreases the minute you receive your first rejection.
By now you’ll be penniless and overcome with self-doubt. You’ll try to work out why no one wants you on their list. Do they dislike one aspect of your submission or hate it all? You’ll not consider the possibility that it just isn’t their cup of tea or that your idea is too difficult to brand. At this stage of apprenticeship, you are your biggest critic. Be careful not to go into an editorial frenzy. Please don’t cut ‘First Draft’ in half. You’re not yourself anymore. In this state you’re likely to shred all the best bits and completely lose the plot. Seek help!
Join a Writer’s Group to get constructive criticism. Agents are very good at wining, dining, flirting and smiling, but only if they’re getting a percentage of your earnings. They don’t have the time to write wonderful letters of encouragement, even if they’ve been inspired by your submission. Your work might be brilliant, you could have real potential, but if it ends up on the slush pile you won’t get any praise. Every ‘reject’ receives the same standard NO. Agents don’t molly-coddle ‘unknowns’. Their role is to find something that stands out within a particular genre. They have a fiduciary duty to represent the authors on their lists (anyone with a client agreement). Once an author obtains this legal contract they should feel secure, because any misrepresentation can be fought in court. However, if you wish to avoid a battle, remain vigilant; expect to come across a few demons - it is HELL after all.