Maggie Groff - How Selwa Became My Agent

Over twenty years ago, in their quest to find valid reasons to support a need for more childcare, some professional working mothers took to the media and denigrated full-time motherhood as a waste of higher education. I took offence at this notion and wrote to a national newspaper outlining the benefits of a good education for all mothers. The letter received an amazing response, and all of it positive. It was stuck on walls across Australia โ€“ in offices, at railway stations, in shopping centres and cafes โ€“ I guess it went viral for those times.

A few days later I was interviewed on radio about the letter by Alan Jones on Radio 2UE. He asked me if I had written anything else, and I told him I had written quite a lot โ€“ as I had. Mr Jones then asked on air if there was a publisher listening because they should give me a call. Slightly breathless, I gave out my phone number.

A day or so later I received a call from Selwa Anthony, who I already knew was one of Australia’s leading and most respected literary agents. Selwa told me she represented Australian authors in finding a publisher for their work and asked if I would like her to have a look at some of my writing. I was so excited I could hardly speak but managed to answer that I would like that very much.

Selwa explained that she would advise me if she thought my writing was marketable, as well as provide direction on improving the work if it had potential. She also said she would tell me if my writing wasn’t yet marketable, and I appreciated that.

As I lived in far northern New South Wales and Selwa’s office was in Sydney, our chats in 1998 were initially by telephone. Selwa requested, and I sent her, a synopsis of my proposed book idea plus some chapters. A few days later, Selwa phoned to tell me that my writing was good and that she was happy to help me formulate a book and, if she felt it was marketable, to represent me if I wished.

I was never alone in writing the book. Selwa nurtured me through the whole process, provided valuable critique, endless personal encouragement, constructive literary advice regarding style and voice, assisted structure and editing, recommended illustrations and layout, and occasionally recommended a section or chapter rewrite. It was encouragement and mentoring beyond all my expectations, but she had initially told me she would do this, and she was doing it. And I did what I was told!

After viewing the completed manuscript, Selwa telephoned to tell me it was good and, if I agreed, that she would like to show it to a publisher. If I agreed? Oh my God, how I agreed!

I drove down to Sydney and over tea at Selwa’s house (she makes a great cuppa) we discussed our respective roles. Six weeks later Selwa phoned me, and I can still remember the amazing whoosh that rushed from my toes up through my body and out of the top of my head when she said, “You have a publishing contract with Random House Australia.” It was every would-be writer’s dream.

The book became the Australian bestseller Mothers Behaving Badly and was the beginning of our long and happy working relationship on many books, and the beginning of a warm and loyal friendship. Long may it all last.