How to Catch an Agent’s Eye + 9 Free Book Ideas

Yes, I’m offering nine free ideas for popular fiction novels (and a couple of longer book blurbs). The only catch – they’re ideas that never made the cut. My deleted scenes so to speak. But if you want to write successful popular fiction and catch the eye of a great agent, read on. I'm a firm believer in learning from mistakes (especially my own!). I recently gave a six week workshop on writing. On the last day we talked about book proposals, and how to ‘sell’ your book to an agent. I explained that a book (and I was talking about popular fiction here, but it goes for pretty much any fiction) must have a very strong, original story and brilliant characters to make an agent sit up and take notice.

Exactly how strong and original, they asked? How about a sweet story that’s nicely written, will that cut it? Absolutely not! I told them. It has to be brilliant.

To illustrate this I pulled out some of my old ideas that never made it – because the plot or the premise or the characters weren’t strong enough. It seemed to help them understand, so I’ve copied some of them below for your entertainment.

I’m lucky, I get lots and lots of ideas. Most of them end up never being written. Some of them are terrible, and some of the ideas below are ten years old, so please don’t judge my present/future books on these snippets. I cringed reading them, but hey, if it’s helpful, what the heck.

It’s really important to find an idea that excites you as a writer and down the line, excites an agent and an editor. But first of all, and most importantly YOU have to be so darn excited that you can’t but write the book. And if you can get that excitement across in your proposal, you’re in!

Remember – these ideas below never made it. Some of them aren’t all that bad. However others stink. Some are written in note format, so apologies for any roughness.

Yours in writing,

Sarah XXX

PS I have given them all marks out of ten. Just because. Yes, I should have been a teacher!

The Last Man on Earth

“I wouldn’t go out with you if you were the last man on earth, Owen Scally!” “Really?” Annoyingly he just smiled. “We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?”

Donna’s ex-marine boyfriend, Curtis, is putting pressure on her to get married. They’ve been engaged for two years but she’s not sure how she truly feels about him. Her friends and family think she’s mad - he’s good-looking, attentive and a hugely successful business man, but Donna feels there’s something missing in their relationship. And when she meets the infuriating house painter and artist, Owen Scally things begin to get complicated.

Poppy’s got the opposite problem. Her boyfriend, professional rugby player Ralph Driver, the self-professed ‘heart-throb’ of the Irish rugby scene, won’t commit to their relationship and she’s getting fed up and her life strangely feels empty.

Ellen knows all about feeling empty. She’s been trying to have a child with her husband, Colm for over three years now. Her job doesn’t exactly help. As one of Dublin’s most popular Doulas or birthing helpers, she has daily contact with pregnant women and babies. But she’s determined not to give up hope just yet. 

The three women have been friends since school and their weekly Saturday brunch keeps them sane. But things are about to change for them all in unexpected ways. But sometimes friendship is the strongest bond of all.

Why it doesn’t work: it’s been done before and none of the characters sound very exciting looking back at it! I’d give it a very lukewarm 2.

Wedding Belle/Never the Bride/The Wedding Planner/The Reluctant Bride/Planning for a Miracle

(Not bad titles actually come to think of it, some of them!)

Plot - weddings - different ones - the 3 friends lives change with each wedding

Belle is a wedding planner and very anti-marriage She was jilted at the altar and swears she’ll never do it again

Her best friend Chloe is living in wedded bliss with her husband and 2 children - seems too good to be true but is it? Chloe has an affair and her marriage is threatened Was in art college Husband - now lecturer in art college - has an affair with one of his young students Not working - artist - paints on silk scarves and sells them in exclusive boutiques at end - feels more fulfilled

David - their friend - holding out for the right woman - can’t see what’s good for him - and that he’ll never have everything in a woman Refuses to settle or to change his ‘wants’ in a woman - needs to be more flexible Property investor - buys up old houses and does them up and sells them on Ex architect

Belle - organises a wedding for a girl she thinks would be perfect for David - tries to change her mind but ends up changing her own

Chloe - does her table plans for her

David - looks at the properties to see marquee etc - good with houses and design

Why it doesn’t work – again ,not original and my heart wasn’t really in it. I’d give it 2.

Never the Bride

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride . . .

Or so Amy O’Sullivan thought before her boyfriend, Steve Jones, world famous children’s book author, pops the question. But, in a fit of panic, instead of getting married, Amy runs away and travels half way around the world to New Zealand to visit her sister, Suzi.

Suzi’s just opened ‘The Ruby Red Make Up Store’ in Auckland and has her own problems in the shape of her predatory nanny, Wilma, who has her eye on Suzi’s rugby coach husband, Matt.

In Auckland, Amy meets the dashing and impossibly good-looking English America’s Cup sailor, Gray, and just as life is looking up, unwittingly gets caught up in a huge yacht design scandal.

Meanwhile Steve has just finished his latest book and is about to embark on a world-wide tour, last stop New Zealand, to try and win Amy back. What he doesn’t know is that Amy has gone missing. And back in Dublin, alerted by Suzi, Beth and Jodie, Amy’s best friends, are so worried about her that they decide to travel to Auckland to find her.

Together Suzi, Beth and Jodie set out to find Amy and talk some sense into her before it’s too late. But fate works in mysterious ways.

A comic tale of love, lust and long distance adventure, as Amy discovers the truth about love in the most unusual places.

Might have worked – the first book, Always the Bridesmaid was very popular (no 1 in Ireland for 9 weeks!) – and it has some interesting elements, but I should have done a sequel straight away, not 5 years later! Marks out of ten – 4.

 Almost Like Being in Love

When it comes to love - anything can happen

What is it about unsuitable men? Meet Martha. She’s a Fine Art Auctioneer with an Egyptian mummy obsession and a history of falling for the wrong guy. When she meets handsome young celebrity gardener, Gavin Tynan at a charity auction she falls head over heels in love immediately. But Gavin also has a history of terrible relationships, not to mention a well-documented (by the Irish tabloid news) sex addiction, and a vindictive American ex-wife who wants him back at any cost. Has Martha has bitten off more than she can chew this time?

Martha’s best friend Holly hates her job as the interior design consultant for posh Dublin department store, Henna’s. She’d much rather pack it all in and work from home, restoring old furniture, but her husband, Ryan, a respected and feared food and wine journalist/writer, is dead set against the idea. Holly’s let him rule her life so far, so why should now be any different? But when the opportunity to change her life does come along, is she brave enough to take it?

And Olivia aka ‘Barbie’, a twenty five year old single mother with a sad addiction to designer sunglasses, has more than enough on her plate without taking on a new client. Her Private Investigation firm, Eagle Eye PI, specialises in spying on errant husbands, but she’s never come across anyone as bad as Gavin Tynan before. And, to top it all, her eccentric Great Aunt Hattie is convinced she’s Audrey Hepburn’s long-lost cousin and makes Olivia take her on a wild goose chase to find Audrey’s Irish roots. And boy, are they in for a surprise! If they could only let their heads rule their hearts this one time. A compelling tale about friendship, love and . . . life-changing surprises.

Actually this one isn’t that bad, I just never loved it enough to actually write it. The characters sound kind of interesting though. I’ll give it a 4 for potential.

Fortune’s Fools/You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger/Cross my Palm with Silver/Horoscopes and other Horrors

(Terrible titles for a start!)

3 women visit a fortune teller and she tells them things and they go off and change their lives

The fortune teller is an out of work actress and feels bad afterwards – she’s been having a bad day – tries to trace the women – sub plot

Bee Clancy – interior designer – almost marries the wrong man Mona Clancy – mum, goes off traveling on her own – leaving husband and Bee and Alice behind her Alice – other daughter

The problem – I’m not all that interested in fortune telling – so I lost interest in this idea pretty quickly! 1 out of 10

The Bonus Baby

Emma thought her baby days were well behind her – but she was wrong

Emma, 43, has a new baby girl, Leonie. For most people this would be a blessing, but Emma doesn’t feel that way. She’s a highly reluctant third time parent. Her sons are 20 and 22 and about to leave home she was looking forward to having the house to herself for a change.

She’s just been promoted at work (radio presenter on a morning show in RTE) and having a baby to look after just doesn’t suit her lifestyle, thanks very much.

Emma’s life spills over into her presenting, she’s so tired that she just doesn’t care what she says on air sometimes and with every honest rant she gets more and more listeners.

On her enforced maternity leave (she would have much preferred to hand over the baby and go straight back to work) she meets Rowie, a young single mum, and Juliette, an old friend of Emma’s from work (they have lost touch as Juliette left RTE, married and had children young and Emma was too busy with her career to make any effort to visit) and a stay-at-home mum at the mother and baby clinic. Rowie’s only 17 but she’s made to be a mother. But Rowie has her own problems including a less than useless boyfriend.

And when Juliette, 34, starts disappearing for long days, leaving her children with the two other women (mainly Rowie, but it’s Emma who’s most outraged), they decide they have to take a stand. But they aren’t prepared for the consequences. (Juliette has breast cancer, but doesn’t want anyone to know, because it makes it real)

Together the three women learn that having a baby isn’t easy at any age. But sometimes blessings and miracles can happen when you least expect them.

Yawn, 3 out of 10.

The Baby Moon

One last child free break – one life changing holiday

Younger woman, 32 Older man, 39 Told from each point of view Worries, betrayal, secrets – they make friends with other couples in this ‘baby moon’ resort – Blue Moon – and learn that all couples have their secrets Several interlinked stories within 1 book

Double yawn, 2 out of 10.

The Shared Holiday

3 very different women, 1 extraordinary holiday

Eva is 34 and feels every year of it. With three children under the age of five and another one on the way working would be pretty much impossible. She knows she should be grateful for her stay at home life, but sometimes she just doesn’t feel all that bloody grateful.

Her oldest friend, Rebecca, one of only two female partners in her solicitors’ practice, commutes to Dublin every day to pay the mortgage on her glossy new house in Greystones. Her children, Denis, 17, Ryan, 13, and Bee, 8, are besotted with their ultra efficient Polish nanny cum housekeeper, Paulina.

Tully has a different kind of life. A hugely successful and robustly single children’s author, she spends most of her time flying around the world to promote her books. But is all as it seems? In reality she’s addicted to a younger man who treats her like dirt. And her body has slammed her into early menopause, making her swiftly rethink her childfree life.

Throw in Eva’s eccentric eighty-four year old granny, Bax, five assorted children, one sullen teenager, and one leggy twenty-year-old Polish nanny, and two husbands and it’s a recipe for disaster. Or is it?

Better – throwing different women together is always a good plot device – 3 out of 10.

My Utterly Fabulous Nervous Breakdown/Mothers on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown

What happens when your old life just stops?

Lauren, a working mum in her thirties who has a nervous breakdown and has to leave work to look after her own children and run her own house Previously she had a nanny and a housekeeper, now she just has a rather mad au pair She learns to be a good enough mother and starts to find out who she really is – previously work defined her

Yawn, yawn, yawn – 1 out of 10. Nothing original here!

The Suddenly Single Saloon

Dumped, betrayed, fed up with men . . . this is the club for you

Every week a group of women get together at an evening class – ostensibly to learn computer skills (from Vanessa) But they soon realise they have more than an interest in e-bay in common – they are all single Mona is 88 and has led quite a life – there’s a man in her sheltered housing who’s interested in her but she can’t be bothered – she’d much rather spend her remaining years in the company of other women Clare, a separated mum of three is 38 and spends most of her time and energy fighting with her ex-husband – she needs to stop fighting and start living Vanessa, 41, has never had much luck with men – she’s highly demanding and set in her ways. But she’s desperate for a child. The other women persuade her to try dating men she’d normally turn up her nose at. Rowie, 24, is a single mum who is fed up with meeting the wrong sort of men over and over again. But maybe she’s just looking for love in all the wrong places.

Again not very original and the characters sound pretty flat really. 3 out of 10. I did use that name again though, Rowie! So it wasn’t all wasted.

The End

(Boy am I glad to see the back of that lot – cringe-arama! But I hope it was helpful! Next time I’ll write about ideas and proposals that did make the cut!)