My sister was the first person to introduce me to Sarah Bailey‘s bestselling, incredibly well-written novels. I read the first one, The Dark Lake, and that was it, I was hooked. It’s in the style of her writing, a unique voice that sets her apart from other thriller writers. Her stories are real, gritty, full of detailed imagery that grabs you by the face and yanks you into the characters mind. I love her unlovable characters, each with real qualities and insecurities that Sarah doesn’t shy away from. But, I know this isn’t a review on Sarah’s amazing books, this is about how Sarah came to be a published author, jumping over the same hurdles we all do. Sarah Bailey’s debut novel, The Dark Lake, is a best seller in Australia, the USA and Canada. It won both the 2018 Davitt Award for Best Crime Debut and the 2018 Ned Kelly award for Best First Crime and is now being produced for the screen! EEEK!
I feel really fortunate to learn about how my favourite Aussie author secured quick representation and a long relationship with her publishing team. She reminds us to read the instructions each agent outlines in their standards for pitching/submitting and that sometimes setting a goal (like getting published before her 35th birthday) is all we need to motivate us towards the dream of becoming a published author!
How long have you been writing?
I’ve always loved writing and remember writing stories in high school and university but it was never very serious. I had a lot of ideas and I started a lot of writing projects but I didn’t seem to be able to stick with them. Then when I hit my thirties, the desire to write a book really flared up. I thought about it all the time and I decided I wanted to give it a real crack. I wrote a few short stories which I think got me into a good rhythm and gave me a bit of confidence in my ability to double down on writing. I also did a short writing course which I really enjoyed. It was really refreshing being around other people with similar writing goals. In the end, I set a deadline to write a novel by my thirty-fifth birthday. The Dark Lake was published the day after I turned thirty-five so I almost made it!
What led to your offer of representation with an agent (or contract with a publisher, if you went that way around first?)
I didn’t know anyone in the industry so I turned to good old Google for advice once I had my draft manuscript ready. Most of the information online indicated that finding an agent was preferable to going direct to a publisher so I investigated what was involved in that. There are lots of agent lists publicly available and I identified the ones that I felt were relevant to the type of story I had written, and then carefully read all of the submission guidelines. All of the agents asked that you only approached one agent at a time, so I started at the top of my list and sent off an overview of my story. I was incredibly lucky that the first agent I approached was interested in my pitch and wanted to read my draft.
How long did you have to wait to hear back and was it a partial or full request?
For me it was quick. Lyn from Australian Literary Management called me about two days after I sent my pitch email for The Dark Lake through to her and said she liked the sound of my plot and asked to read the first fifty pages. So I sent them off, crossed my fingers and waited a few more days. Lyn then emailed me and asked for the balance of the draft. The whole process from my initial enquiry to signing an agent agreement probably only took three weeks but the editing process I completed after that took a lot longer, almost six months, and I found it very difficult.
How many submissions did you make prior to gaining representation/publishing contract?
Lyn my agent had a lot of feedback for me to address before she felt it was ready to submit to publishers for consideration. Once she felt it was ready, I was in her capable hands. She pitched it out to five publishers, people she felt would be interested in the genre and who were most likely to be champions of the story. There was a fair bit of interest but in the end we went with Allen&Unwin. The whole team there have been absolutely fantastic to work with and I feel very supported.
Any tips on cover letters/synopsis/pitches?
Follow the instructions! Most agents and publishers have really specific submission guidelines and I’ve heard stories about submissions getting thrown away if these requirements aren’t strictly adhered to. Even things as simple as the spacing and the font are important. But it’s mostly about the way you present your story. Keep it simple and professional, tell the recipient what your story is about and why you think people will like it.
Your first reaction when they offered the representation/contract?
Relief and excitement rolled together in a bizarre out-of-body sensation. I really struggled to believe it even though I’d been working so hard to achieve it. It was a really special moment and I remember thinking that exact thing as it was happening – it’s not a moment you ever want to take for granted.
What’s next for you?
I’m not sure! My full-time work keeps me pretty busy and I wrote steadily all last year so I’m keen to have a bit of a break. I am working with a production company on an episode plan for The Dark Lake which is a very different kind of writing but something I’m really enjoying so far. After that, we’ll see. I have an idea for another Gemma Woodstock book and another idea for a standalone novel. I’d love to make a start on one or both of them next year if I can.
Just as long as you keep writing, Sarah, I don’t mind when they come out! 🙂 A TV series for The Dark Lake would be AMAZING! Thank you for joining us on the blog, Sarah! Fans of Sarah Bailey will hopefully feel as inspired as I do learning about her journey from hobby writer to bestselling author. You can learn more about Sarah here and purchase her latest novel The Housemate here.
Thanks for stopping by,