No publishing journey is ever the same, so it’s always interesting to hear different writers’ perspectives. We spoke to Cate Green, a former Festival of Writing prizewinner (who’s also used our agent one-to-ones, mentoring, and editorial services), about her experience.
JW: Please tell us a bit about you: how long have you been writing, and what was your journey to finding an agent like?
I’m one of those writers who always says, ‘I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember’, and it’s true! I loved writing as a child at school and at home and had a special notebook for my stories and poems. I was a prize-winner in my first national essay-writing competition at the age of 18 and, although it took me many, many years to finally write a novel (let alone have one published) I never stopped writing one way or another. I’ve had a career that has spanned news journalism, copywriting, and communications in the UK and France, where I have lived for almost thirty years.
I started seriously trying to write a novel just over ten years ago and, after a couple of near misses, won the 2019 Exeter Novel Prize. That led to offers from a few agents, including one from the Prize judge, Broo Doherty of DHH Literary. I’m delighted to say that Broo now represents me and negotiated my two-book deal with One More Chapter, a Harper Collins imprint. My novel, The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W., will be published in paperback, digital and audio in the summer of 2023.
I find that mentoring is a great way of moving ahead with a manuscript as it’s so helpful to have objective feedback and support that’s completely personalised to you, whatever stage you’re at with your novel.
JW: What resources have you found useful along the way?
I’ve never been on any writing courses as such and my first Festival of Writing back in 2012 was both a real eye-opener and a huge help in learning more about the craft of writing, and standing back to understand how to edit your own work. The agent one-to-ones were just fantastic in giving me confidence about my writing – although they didn’t lead to representation, both agents asked to see my first three chapters and gave me some incredibly helpful feedback. In fact, York was also the place where I met Broo Doherty for the first time. We were both sitting at the back of a workshop and after the talk, I plucked up the courage to do a quick pitch of the novel that I’d brought to the Festival that year (the first one I’d written, which is now deep in a hidden drawer, where it will stay). Broo was kind enough to listen and interested enough to ask to read the first three chapters – proof that agents actually are approachable people and that sometimes things do come full circle.
I went back to York in 2014 and this time actually won the Best First Chapter Competition and came runner-up in Friday Night Live – second to Joanna Cannon, for whom the rest was history! I had lots of interest from agents then, but I had only written the first five or so chapters of my second (unpublished) novel and, in the end, it wasn’t to be – that time.
I naturally turned to Jericho Writers for help with manuscript critiques and mentoring. I worked for a few months with a great mentor, but we decided to part ways – for the best of reasons: I had come runner-up in the Yeovil Prize and through that found an agent. Sadly, I also parted ways with the agent several months later (see below), but hey, onwards and upwards.
I find that mentoring is a great way of moving ahead with a manuscript as it’s so helpful to have objective feedback and support that’s completely personalised to you, whatever stage you’re at with your novel. I later went on to work with another mentor who encouraged me to enter the Exeter Prize, so huge thanks to her!
And book Twitter has been a great resource. I’ve had so much encouragement and support from other writers, agents and editors on there – many people are so approachable and generous. Plus, it’s a great way of finding out who’s who and who does what in publishing.
JW: Did you experience any setbacks? How did you cope with them?
I’ve had lots of rejections from both agents and editors. To be honest, I think that having worked as a journalist and copywriter for so long means that I’ve grown used to having red ink all over my work (as well as using it on other people’s work!) and grown quite a thick skin.
I’d say my main setbacks were parting ways with my previous agent and, before that, coming down from the First Chapter Prize cloud when I realised that, unlike Joanna, I wasn’t going to get seven agent offers and a fast track to publication. That was a blow to my morale, but the Prize meant I knew I could write and that my idea had legs, so in the end it made me determined to finish the novel and get that agent. When I finally did though, being ‘fired’ by the agency after coming very close to a publishing deal was the most difficult setback to cope with. It was a fairly big London agency which was going through some internal restructuring, including a change of role for my agent, and it made me realise that sometimes you just fall through the cracks. They didn’t like the idea for my next novel – the one set for publication next year – but I really believed in it so, after a few weeks of tears and soul-searching, I just dusted myself off and decided I was going to write it.
… Working with an agent while I was still writing the book was just wonderful. I had someone to bounce my ideas off and to give me honest, constructive feedback, as well as some great ideas – and who was rooting for me the whole time!
JW: What was it like having an agent while you were still writing your book? In what ways do you think that a more collaborative approach (working with an agent/editor) changed or will change the way you approach your writing?
I was incredibly lucky that Broo Doherty signed me on the strength of my first ten thousand words because working with an agent while I was still writing the book was just wonderful. I had someone to bounce my ideas off and to give me honest, constructive feedback, as well as some great ideas – and who was rooting for me the whole time! True luxury after so many years of working on my own or paying for editorial services. I’ve also enjoyed working with Charlotte Ledger, my editor at One More Chapter – again, fresh eyes and a collaboration with someone who’s totally on your side, loves your work and wants to make it even better is just such a positive experience.
I’m looking forward to working on book two with both of them. It’s in the early stages for now, but I think the biggest change will be the challenge of a tight deadline. I know it’s not the most orthodox approach, but for my first three novels, I didn’t write a “messy” first draft as such. I tend to keep editing until I’m happy and then move on to the next chapter of the novel. But having just under a year to write the next book (and keep doing the day job and running family matters!) means I’m not sure that I’ll be able to work in the same way this time. I hope I can make it!
JW: What has it been like working with a digital-first publisher? What are the benefits?
I haven’t had any concrete experience of any difference the digital side might make – except for the fact that the royalties are significantly higher than for print and audio, and that’s a bonus since OMC are very experienced in selling and marketing in the digital arena.
Cate Green grew up in Buckinghamshire and moved to France over twenty years ago. She now lives just outside of Lyon with her husband and three daughters.
Cate is a copywriter and a broadcast and print journalist, with more than twenty years’ experience in television, international radio, and corporate communications.
Her debut novel, The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W, won the 2019 Exeter Novel Prize and will be released in the summer of 2023.
You can follow Cate on Twitter here.