Jo Furniss is the author of All the Little Children, a suspense novel about a frazzled working-mum whose family gets caught up in a disaster.
Danielle Egan-Miller is a literary agent and president of Browne & Miller Literary Associates.
This is their story.
JF: I’m a former BBC journalist, but I’ve been an ex-patriate for many years so my career has taken a meandering course. Originally from the UK, I’ve lived in Cameroon and Switzerland, and I currently reside with my family in Singapore.
DE-M: I’m an established literary agent based in Chicago with a very deep clientele. I’m usually swamped with queries, not to mention with referrals. I’m highly selective about the new clients I take on and only very occasionally do I go looking for something.
JF: I started writing the story that would eventually become All the Little Children in 2012 as part of an MA program. I wanted to write about the light and shade of motherhood, about isolation, about surviving the toughest test I’d ever faced—giving myself to someone else. At some point, I read a blog post where a fellow mum described having her first child as “my own personal apocalypse.” That struck a chord—everything changes when you have kids, life as you know it is gone; even when you survive and thrive, you are changed.
I also started to feel annoyed with books and movies that made so much of “one man’s struggle to survive.” How difficult is it to survive when you’ve only yourself to think about? What if you’re struggling to survive and then your kid starts melting down about a lost shoe or no ketchup? I thought there was an inherent darkness, black humor and horror in the “mom-pocalypse,” as I started to call it!
DE-M: In January 2016, I had a conversation with an editor about what was on her wish list (ironically) and somehow we ended up talking about “preppers” – i.e. people who compulsively prepare for impending disaster. The sad truth was that neither she nor I had a home deeply stocked with emergency supplies and we were both parents. This spiraled into us pondering what lengths a mother might go to in order to save her kids should a disaster arise (and wouldn’t that make for an amazing book?). This general idea stuck with me. So, on February 21, 2016, I tweeted the following: Looking for a “mom saves her family after a disaster” kind of novel #MSWL. I think this was one of the very first #MSWL tweets I ever sent out into the universe. I didn’t know what kind of disaster, what kind of mom, or even what genre I wanted, I just knew I was willing to look at a whole bunch of queries that might come close to hitting on this basic theme.
JF: By late 2015, my manuscript was in the best shape I could manage and I started submitting to agents. Being British with a novel set in England, my internal compass pointed to London. So I started sending out to UK-based agencies. But my American friend, Melissa Nesbitt, who was submitting her historical novel to agents in the US, was all over this thing called #MSWL. One day, Melissa forwarded me a Tweet; an agent in Chicago is looking for a book just like yours! And she’s got a great profile on Publishers Marketplace, you should query her…
DE-M: One day after I tweeted my manuscript wish, I received a query from Jo Furniss. >>>Dear Ms. Egan-Miller, I spotted your Twitter post from earlier today regarding your ‘manuscript wish’ for a novel about a mother saving her family. I have recently completed an upmarket commercial fiction…which offers a uniquely female take on the survival thriller – putting motherhood into the foreground of a dark setting…>>> The author noted that she was a British ex-pat living in Singapore. This sounded exactly like the type of story I was hoping to find. Distance be damned, I immediately asked to see the full manuscript.
JF: I’m not a spiritual person, but I am a runner. There are times when I hit a rhythm and the ground itself seems to propel me forward, as though I’m being swept along by a friendly tide. It’s very odd, but pleasing; passive and active at the same time. When I sent my manuscript to Danielle, I had a similar sense of flow. I knew this was my best opportunity yet—an agent who liked my premise—all I could do was hope she liked my writing too!
DE-M: The author submitted her manuscript immediately and I and my staff read it instantly. On February 25 – four days after my apparently magical #MSWL tweet – I sent Jo an email that began with >>>> Good morning, Joanne – I am going to cut right to the chase: I’d like to offer you…representation from Browne & Miller. We love it and would be thrilled to represent you and this manuscript. I have to say, we rarely move on something so quickly but your novel and your writing have really grabbed us in all the right ways and we think it and you are very salable…>>> This stands as the quickest query-to-submission-to-offer-to-new-client conversion I’ve made in the past 15+ years as an agent.
JF: That email stopped my heart for a beat and it restarted at a much higher rate than is advisable. My ‘flow’ was replaced by a sense of splashing about like a drunk person in a fountain. There have been wonderful moments since—the offer from my publisher, the selection of my book for Kindle First, the first messages from readers—but this moment was euphoric.
DE-M: After several weeks spent on editorial finessing and polishing, Jo’s manuscript went out on submission and it ultimately landed exactly where it was destined to: with the editor with whom I’d had the “preppers” discussion. It’s been kismet at every turn with this project.
JF: From the first day that All the Little Children released, I started receiving messages from readers. I hadn’t expected that—reviews, yes, but not personal emails. That’s quite powerful; to work on something for years, never knowing if it will find an audience, and then have people take the time to reach out and say they’d connected with the characters. I was so chuffed.
DE-M: Jo’s experience has been a publishing “Cinderella story” of the first order and though she is incredibly talented, has worked remarkably hard, and is entirely deserving of the successes she’s enjoying, the fact is ALL of this became a reality for her because of one #MSWL tweet that put us in touch despite the 10,000 mile distance between Singapore and Chicago. Talk about serendipity! Powerful stuff, right?
JF & DE-M: To #MSWL, we offer a deep-felt Thank you! You’re doing great work and you’ve created an excellent tool that’s helping to make lots of authors’ (and agents’ and editors’) dreams come true. We’re believers!
All the Little Children, Jo Furniss’s debut novel, released September 1, 2017, from Lake Union Publishing. Amazon Prime subscribers received a sneak-peek as All the Little Children was an August 2017 Kindle First selection and subsequently spent several weeks atop Amazon’s bestseller list including time at #1 and landing at #16 on Amazon Charts for Most Sold.