Natalie Chandler began researching and writing her debut novel, ‘Believe Me Not’, in 2020, and attended the Summer Festival of Writing to build up her confidence before seeking agent representation. She’s now represented by Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment, and recently signed a deal with Headline Accent. Natalie kindly shares her story and some words of wisdom here.
JW: Tell us about finishing your book – where did the idea come from, and how did you go about turning that idea into words on a page?
NC: ‘Believe Me Not’ was born from a dream, believe it or not (delighted to have got a pun in so early on). I woke up thinking about a disorientated woman trying to find her baby son despite everyone she trusted insisting she didn’t have a child – and the idea just wouldn’t be quiet until I sat down and started writing. I’m very much a pantser so I had no idea where the plot was going or what was going to happen. But my protagonist, Megan, was already fully formed and she drove the early chapters. I did a lot of research – I hate getting details incorrect – and was fortunate that one of my best friends works in the NHS and she not only patiently answered my countless questions but also put me in touch with other mental health professionals.
For the first time, I had no other distractions, due to the small matter of the world coming to a halt with a global pandemic. No lunch invites, no exhortations for ‘just one drink’ or weekend getaways. I was writing practically full-time and it was flowing like never before. I had nearly finished the first draft when I saw an advert for the Summer Festival of Writing and decided, since I was Doing This Properly, it would be a sound investment. It turned out I was right. I came away feeling empowered, knowledgeable, no longer a complete amateur – and ready to edit until I could edit no more.
JW: How did you land your agent?
During the 2020 Summer Festival of Writing, I attended every webinar led by an agent. I wanted to learn as much as I could about submissions before jumping into the fray again, having previously tried to find representation for two earlier novels and been unsuccessful. Jericho Writers provided such wonderful opportunities to, for the first time, really discover the secrets of the industry and I felt much more confident in my submissions package after applying everything I’d learnt. I also booked several agent one-to-ones, which were nowhere near as terrifying as expected! One of the early ones was particularly brilliant. She ripped my opening pages to shreds and it really stung at the time, but when I sat down to work through her deeply perceptive notes, I realised she’d helped me improve tenfold and I was so grateful to her. From then, I had a stronger package to present at one-to-ones and I gained three more full requests from subsequent sessions.
By this point, I already had six full manuscripts on submission and was prepared to wait to see what the feedback would be when, out of the blue, I saw on Twitter that Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment had opened her submissions that morning. I’d followed Liza for a while and really liked her style so I decided there was nothing to be lost in contacting her. She replied within hours asking for the full manuscript and just over a week later, I was signing on the dotted line in a state of wonder, disbelief and sheer joy. It had been nearly a decade since I sent out those first tentative letters (no email back then!) seeking representation and I was so thrilled by the opportunity to become part of the Mushens Entertainment family – a dream agency I had followed since its creation – that I didn’t quite dare to believe it was finally happening.
JW: What was the process of choosing an agent after a number of full manuscript requests?
Liza was the first agent to call – she read the full manuscript in 48 hours and left me the most wonderful voicemail telling me how she loved it so much she’d stayed up half the night to finish it, which I intend to keep forever! As soon as we got talking, I was amazed by her excitement and her sheer passion for ‘Believe Me Not’. She already understood the characters and themes and we were completely on the same page regarding edits and improvements. I knew we’d clicked but Liza encouraged me to continue talking to the other agents who had the full manuscript and see what their thoughts were. They were all lovely and so encouraging but my gut was telling me I was going to accept Liza’s offer. My partner told me to listen to the voicemail again and said ‘anyone that enthusiastic is going to be your most valuable ally. She’s 100% committed to you and the book and you can’t ask for anything more’. That sealed it for me.
JW: What is your relationship like with your agent now?
Wonderful! Editing together was the best experience – the book grew stronger and I learned so much working alongside a talented professional for the first time. Liza’s cup is always half-full and she approaches everything with positivity. She checks in regularly whilst still giving me total autonomy in the writing process, and she always has time for me despite being super busy. I can discuss any problems or concerns with her and know I can trust her advice and guidance.
My partner told me to listen to the voicemail again and said ‘anyone that enthusiastic is going to be your most valuable ally. She’s 100% committed to you and the book and you can’t ask for anything more’. That sealed it for me.
JW: So you got your agent, but then what? What was the submissions process like?
‘Nerve-wracking’ is probably the best description. There had already been interest from a number of editors when I gained representation so we started with a list of twenty initial submissions to mostly Big 5 houses after we’d done two rounds of edits. I knew there are always rejections so I’d steeled myself but we were getting fantastic feedback and after three weeks, the magic word ‘acquisitions’ was whispered. Days later, Liza called with the news that Headline Accent wanted to meet me and was offering a two-book deal – I was really going to be a published author!
JW: Has everything met your expectations so far, or have there been a few surprises?
As a debut, I didn’t expect to be given the level of autonomy and control I have. Even though I’m learning fast, I’m still inexperienced, therefore I’d anticipated more instructions and fewer discussions. I was impressed that my thoughts and opinions are valued and how it has been constantly emphasised that it is my book and I am free to decide what works best.
Editing together was the best experience – the book grew stronger and I learned so much working alongside a talented professional for the first time. Liza’s cup is always half-full and she approaches everything with positivity.
JW: Has this experience taught you anything about the publishing industry and pursuing your goals?
Primarily, I’ve learned how lovely people in the publishing industry are! Everyone I’ve met has been so generous with their time, advice and encouragement. I’m very grateful. Don’t be scared to ask questions and take every opportunity to learn and network. If being an author is what you really want, understand it won’t happen overnight – sometimes it takes a decade. Stay committed through all the rejections and keep going – write anything, write everything, but keep honing your craft and growing as an author. You’ll feel like giving up many times but never forget you write, above all else, because you love it. It’s all worth it the moment you get the voicemail that will change your life!
Natalie Chandler was educated at the University of Durham and currently works in behavioural education, specialising in social, emotional and mental health issues. Her debut psychological thriller ‘Believe Me Not’ was written during lockdown and delves into the fractured mind of a woman abruptly diagnosed with psychosis, as she fights to prove the existence of her baby.
‘Believe Me Not’ will be published by Headline Accent in March 2022. Natalie is represented by Liza DeBlock at Mushens Entertainment and divides her time between London and the rural North of England.