Meet Ann Henry
Hello! My name is Ann Henry, and I am a writer. More specifically, a novelist, but I also worked for many years as a newspaper and magazine writer and editor, an advertising copywriter, and a commercial script writer when not too busy rearing children, assisting my husband with our photography and TV production business, or sailing across the South Pacific. As a result, I have not been overly prolific in the literary field, but I have managed to squeeze out a couple of novels and a nonfiction book related to fiction writing.
It took me more than eleven years to finish the first draft of my first novel, A Bit of Sun, and four more years to acquire an agent for it. I take credit for having written, revised (many times), and fine-tuned the manuscript, but I can take no credit for actually arousing the interest of an agent: that was accomplished by my friend Susie Caulcutt, who literally transported the manuscript from the British West Indies to England and then tromped around London with it until she found an agent who was willing to read it. That agent was Tessa Sayle of the Tessa Sayle Literary and Dramatic Agency.
Little did I know when Tess called to tell me that she was coming to the West Indies to talk to me about representing my book that she had been president of the United Kingdom’s Association of Authors’ Agents, that her client list included William Styron and Irwin Shaw, and that her literary agency, founded in 1896, had represented Joseph Conrad, H.G. Wells, D.H. Lawrence, Henry James, and Dashiell Hammett. Unfortunately, by the time she actually arrived, she had received half a dozen rejection letters from editors in London declining to publish my book and had decided that there was no point in pursuing it further as what publishers wanted at that time, she informed me, was stories about power and greed, and my book simply did not fall into that category.
“What about sex and violence?” I asked.
“Oh, that goes without saying,” she said.
Okay, I threw in that last little bit so that you’d know that in the publishing world, some things never change, but by now pretty much everything else has. At the time, however, Tess agreed to take me on as a client, even breaking two of her cardinal rules—no unpublished authors and no clients living outside the UK—to do so, but by the time I got around to finishing my second novel, Sailing Away from the Moon, a few years later, Tess had died. Her agency offered to keep me as a client but recommended that, since I was an American living on the west side of the Atlantic, I might prefer to have an American agent instead. That made sense to me, and so I agreed.
But although I got some serious encouragement from literary professionals along the way, I was never able to secure another agent. After 60 or 70 tries over a period of years, I simply gave up. (Shame on me!) Obviously my query letters didn’t work. Why? I wondered.
The question bugged me so much that I continued to research the subject over the ensuing years as the publishing industry evolved around me into a whole new world of opportunities for writers. One day, while sitting on our sailboat in Pago Pago, my husband pointed out that I wasn’t getting any younger, and if I ever wanted anyone to read my novels, I’d better do something about it. He even offered to help.
And so I decided to bypass the traditional route altogether and publish my novels myself—no shame in that. With Jim’s help (as promised), I published Sailing Away from the Moon, first as an e-book and then as a printed one. Unfortunately, we left Pago Pago before the first printed copies I’d ordered could arrive, but a fellow cruiser brought them to me in Tonga.
How exciting! A new book on the island! People were lining up to read it.
Then off we sailed again and never got around to publishing A Bit of Sun until 2015, by which time we had become somewhat settled in St. Augustine, Florida. It was during this time that I finally discovered the key to writing a query pitch for a novel. Although this revelation came too late to help me with my first two novels, I thought it nonetheless could be of use to other writers who want to be published by more traditional means. And so I wrote The Novel Pitch, which not only explains exactly what should be included in a fiction query and how to write it but also contains dozens of sample pitches that I wrote for other books that I have read.
One thing I learned in my research is that every agent, every editor, and every writer is a unique individual with unique needs and unique tastes. We can’t all be right since we don’t all agree on everything, but we can’t all be wrong, either. My advice is to gather as much information as you can related to fiction writing and query composing and then select what seems right for you and go with it. No one is more of an authority on your creative work than you are.
With that in mind, I highly recommend that you add The Novel Pitch, which has much useful information in it besides just how to write a fiction query, to your literary library. And when you need a break and just want to lie on the beach or curl up by the fireside with a good book, please consider selecting A Bit of Sun or Sailing Away from the Moon for a most stellar experience.
Books by Ann Henry
I must be a born rebel. (Well, I am a Mississippian and I did graduate from Ole Miss…) When it comes to fiction-writing rules, I just can’t seem to help […]
The solution I propose below is not meant to fly in the face of convention, with which I have no problem, but to ease a path to brevity and clarity […]
When I finished the first draft of A Bit of Sun, my first novel, it comprised 234,000 words. Oh, Ann, you are thinking, haven’t you ever heard of ‘less is […]
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