The deadliest, jelliest site ever. Brought to you by Niamh Shaw

Cosmic prank

When I completed Smart/Casual in early 2007, it was 90,443 words long and most comfortably described as ‘Chick Lit’ (or ‘Clit Lit’ as my buddy JohnO likes to call it, the cheeky spank meister).

By that stage, I was sick of the sound of my own voice. If any of my characters had walked through the door, I would have attacked them with a frozen chicken with an unseemly amount of bloody relish. 

I nearly did not submit Smart/Casual at all. Whenever I read through it, all I could see were the flaws. And after all, I had learned so much from the process of writing it; and my second book would be better. Yes, definitely.

Also, I was a little bit terrified.

But whenever friends asked how the writing was coming along and I said with as much enthusiasm as I could dredge up: ‘Well, I’ve finished my first book, and – hey! Guess what? I’ve started on the second!’, it proved to be rather a conversation stopper. People didn’t see the point – and after a while, I rather lost sight of it myself.

So I decided to submit. Good experience etc; and I might get some feedback as to the degree of my literary delusion.

One of the greatest leaps for me was to view Smart/Casual as a product and the submission as a pitch, rather than my precious baby and a personal vendetta respectively. I focussed on the first six chapters and, with the assistance of various kind members of Litopia and Bookshed, ensured they were as fabulous as possible without doing serious damage to my brain.

I did a load of reading about the submissions process: recommended layout, what agents look for, what makes them snarl. An invaluable resource was Miss Snark, a blog offering advice from a literary agent’s perspective. I read pretty much every archived entry, took note, and winced at all the mistakes I’d been planning to make.

Then I went through Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, picking out agents that specialised in chicklit/ humourous fiction/ general fiction. I prioritised agents who accepted email submissions, since I lived in Dubai at the time and organising SASEs was problematic (I actually ordered £300 worth of stamps from Royal Mail, but they got lost in the post 🙂

In most instances, the W&A Yearbook provided explicit submission guidelines. I customised each submission EXACTLY. First three chapters? Here they are count ‘em. Font Times New Roman point size 700? One letter per page, coming up. Every fourth word to be ‘ostrich’? Not a problem.

There were only seven agents who accepted email submissions in Smart/Casual’s genre. Over two years later, I am still awaiting a response from two and received form letters from another two. BUT three wrote back and asked to see the full manuscript.

Of these, one never got back to me. Another responded six months later with a rejection. However, she wrote a terrific, thoughtful email on why she passed, and asked me to bear her in mind for my next book.

The agent who offered to represent me was Peter Buckman, of the Ampersand Agency. Within two days of my query, he responded asking to see the full manuscript. Within a week of receiving the manuscript, he offered to represent me.

Although Peter requested a significant overhaul, representation was conditional only on my accepting his revision requests – i.e. he signed me before I completed the revisions. He was proactive, responsive and encouraging throughout the entire process.

I completed the ‘final’ edit in August 2007 and Peter started sending Smart/Casual to publishers. The responses trickled in; first rejection came in November, followed by . . . oh look, it’s still too depressing. One said my voice was ‘angry and caustic’, which I would have accepted as a compliment – except it was a rejection.

Most of the publishers were kind enough to give feedback on why they passed. Whilst all liked my writing/’voice’, most had issues with the plot (could see the twists a mile off when they weren’t focussed on the holes etc).

Finally, in early 2008 we got an offer from Little Black Dress Books, for a two book deal.

Although it is all tremendously exciting, there are still times I feel like the subject of a great, cosmic prank


Comments on: "Cosmic prank" (13)

  1. Hi Niamh,

    Look out for my blog posts on Smart Casual in the coming weeks. I have lots to say and look forward to your comments (nothing too ‘angry and caustic’ though, eh? Haha)!

    &… xxx

  2. Hi Niamh,

    Look out for my blog posts on Smart/Casual in the coming weeks. I have lots to say and look forward to your comments (nothing too ‘angry and caustic’ though, eh? Haha)!

    &… xxx

  3. That’s – exciting! Thank you for the story. I do look forward to reading this book, when I get around to buying it.

    And I’ll expect you to sign it, too. That way maybe it can replace my pension fund.

  4. deadlyjelly said:

    Hi vet! Smart/Casual is currently a rare commodity (perhaps it is a marketing ploy to create demand). I’m not sure where it is or will be available for purchase, although Little Black Dress books are in most bookshops worldwide.

    Hi & – looking forward to starring in The Agency’s blog! I will ensure all caust is removed from my comments before posting 😀


  5. Thanks so much for this post. It is both a reality check and, in it’s own way, and encouragement to me.

  6. Excellent post, you clever wee bunny, you – writes this wandering kiwi who accidentally woke too early and is reading you in the peace of a 6.59am Istanbul morning.

    Keri Hume’s famous book, The Bone People, was rejected a gazillion times and then became something of an international hit too 🙂

    Looking forward to reading this book of yours and the one after and the next and the next and the next.

  7. deadlyjelly said:

    Hi Di – thought you usually wandered around with camera poised at 6:59 in the morning?

    So let me see, I’m tallying all the ‘next’s . . . so, you expect four more novels. Ok, I’ll see what I can do 😀


  8. Oh I wish I was early morning wandering, Ms Deadlyjelly but truly, I’m destroyed and we’re out of the centre city some, so putting together ‘the plan for the day’ requires the team and careful planning. Two weeks to photograph Istanbul is a tight schedule.

    And not just 4 books, I’m thinking a lifetime of writing actually … that’s all xo

  9. deadlyjelly said:

    About five years ago, I spent a long weekend in Istanbul with my best friend. She lived in London; I lived in Dubai; it was the perfect mid-point. At least, it was the closest mid-point 🙂 It was February and snowing and we were the only tourists in the city. We stayed in a little hotel built into the old city walls. It was magic


  10. solartap said:

    The thing i particularly liked about this post was the fact that you tagged it with “cheeky spank boy”.

  11. deadlyjelly said:

    Yeah, I like to keep my tags fresh 😀


  12. empress said:


    Loved Smart Casual – please keep up the dirty work!!

  13. deadlyjelly said:

    Hi Empress – thank you! Thrilled you enjoyed it. My mother-in-law read it last night; that was nerve-wracking. I kept her supplied with coffee to improve the experience, but couldn’t stop asking: ‘Where are you now? How about now?’


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: