Rejection and Joy

Or, The Search For Silver Linings

Welcome to the latest in my series following my attempt to get published for the first time. I come with Big News. Not the Big News that causes champagne corks to pop, sadly, but Big News nonetheless: I have received my first rejection.

When I started this series I said that I would share any triumphs or failures, and do you know what? I’m undecided as to which this is. Obviously it’s not the kind of triumph I’m after, but it does give me a sense that I am ‘in the club’. From my research for preparing to approach agents, I reinforced the knowledge that there aren’t many published authors who haven’t faced between one and a gazillion rejections (see J K Rowling for details), so in a way, if you squint really hard, I’m actually closer to being published.

For those trying the same thing as me, and for those with no intention of ever writing anything, I thought you might find it interesting to see what rejection looks like, so, with the agent’s name removed, here we are:

‘Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for submitting your work entitled A Calling-On Song to this agency.  Unfortunately, I’m afraid I didn’t respond warmly enough to the story to be able to fully engage with it. As I’m sure you know, the publishing business is fiercely competitive and in order to represent a writer effectively, we do need to be one hundred percent convinced by their work.

I wish you best of luck in finding representation.

Best wishes,

So, what to take from this? I’m sure there’s a bit of cut-and-pasting in the reply, but that’s fair enough given the volume of submissions they look at. The fact that they’ve highlighted the story as what didn’t grab them is (again, squint a bit) a sort of positive. Not every story will appeal to everyone and agents have to be an author’s number one fan to give them the support needed. That said, my novel is the definitive British novel of this generation, or so I’ve almost convinced myself. But I’ll let you all be the judge of that when it’s published!

From my days plugging away as an actor, I’ve received many different forms of rejection, both polite and preposterous, and this definitely sits near the top of the list. It further confirms that publishing is a far more pleasant industry than performance and do you know what? A literary agent has at least glanced at my novel. That makes me happy, regardless of the outcome.

Have any of you lot had rejections from literary agents (or anyone else for that matter)? How do you think this compares to your experience? And how did you stop obsessing over analysing every word of the reply?!




Everything Crossed

You make your own luck. But just in case…

No idea who these people are. That's how good my schmoozing was.

No idea who these people were. That’s how good my schmoozing was.

It’s been a pretty big week, so welcome to the latest in my series on trying to get published. Last time I talked about researching agents, and I have news: my aim when I started this series was to get my novel sent off to a batch of agents before Easter, and guess what? Success!

I realised on Wednesday night last week that I could poke and tweak and re-poke and re-tweak my query letter forever and still not send it off. All it’s supposed to do is introduce agents to the novel (and author) – when push comes to shove, the novel needs to speak for itself. And so I stopped poking and re-poking and instead sent my first batch of query letters out. And now I’m checking my emails every five minutes. No news yet.

One of the reasons I was so keen to get things out was that I was paranoid about sending things in during Easter week when agents might be off on their hols, so I successfully accomplished that. Unfortunately what I should have realised is that this week is the London Book Fair, so I’m pretty sure everyone in the entire industry is swamped. Oh well. There’ll always be a reason not to send something in and the agents I’ve picked all sound like they do, eventually, check all submissions. So we shall see.

Just checked my emails again. Nothing.

On the other hand, seeing as this week is the London Book Fair and I just happen to have a novel to a publishable (so says I) state, I booked a last-minute day off work and pootled along. With a stash of query letters in my bag, of course.

I’ve not been to one before and a lot of the really exciting things – pitch competitions and the like – need to be booked far in advance. There was however a dedicated authors’ area with a programme of brief panel discussions about the industry. That’s where I toddled off to for the first talk of the day, an intro to the publishing process with speakers from a bookseller, a big publishing house, an independent publishing house and, rather enticingly, an agent. Lots of handy things were discussed and I asked a question about simultaneous submission etiquette to the agent, Camilla Wray from Darley Anderson (answer: it’s fine, but let agents know what you’re up to). And right at the end as everyone was leaving, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, introduced myself to Camilla and proffered her a copy of my query letter, synopsis and first three chapters. Which she took. It was busy, and many others were waiting to pounce after me, so I didn’t really say a massive amount, but hopefully the face-to-face contact will be a helpful reminder. I was wearing a distinctive stripy jumper and have ludicrous facial hair, so I’ll stick in her mind for better or worse!

I didn’t achieve much with the rest of my time there, but I was thinking of it in terms of a fact-finding mission ahead of going to more such events. Working out what goes on, what the etiquette is and so forth. Also, couple of free glasses of wine right at the end, so score!

And as of right now, five agents, all of whom I’m specifically excited about, have copies of my query letter, synopsis and first three chapters. Hopefully someone will ask for more of the manuscript but if not, in about five weeks time I’ll send the next batch of letters out.

So. Wish me luck. More soon.



Let’s Play Hunt-The-Agent

And hope they’re playing Hunt-The-Writer…

Well-thumbed and much fretted-over...

Well-thumbed and much fretted-over…

This is the latest in my series charting my misadventures as I try to get published for the first time. In the last post I promised I’d write about researching literary agents, and that’s the topic for today. But first…

Yay me! I finished the (re-re-re-)redraft. Every sentence is shiny and polished and ready to parade its wares in front of an agent, so huzzah! Today has been spent buffing my query letter (more on that in the future) and tomorrow will be redrafting my synopsis. And then… off we go.

Back to the topic at hand: agents. Those who know me or have been paying attention to previous posts will know that I trained and worked(ish) for a few years as an actor, so I’m well versed in writing query letters to acting agents. I always found it to be a fairly soulless part of the job and had been dreading this part of the publishing process. The trouble is that I found it impossible to really tell whether an acting agent would be any good for me (this was before Twitter, so maybe it’s got a bit easier now… maybe). Essentially all I wanted to know was whether any of their clients ever got any work, and all I could really tell them was that I wanted work and had been in this or that and by-the-way-come-and-see-this-play-I’m-doing.

There were various bibles for actors to consult full of agents to approach, and the same is true with literary agents. The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook seems to be the biggie, so that’s where I started with a somewhat heavy heart. Once I’d discounted all the lit agencies that don’t deal in fiction or only deal in historical romance or whatnot, I was left with a fairly hefty number of agencies to look at. Fortunately most of them have websites, so off to internet-land I went, and I discovered an amazing thing. They seem to want to find decent writers. By and large they actually seem properly engaged in the hunt for talent and new voices. I was absolutely flabbergasted. I never ever got that impression from acting agents (maybe I’m just being cynical – I did have an agent for a bit though, so it’s not all sour grapes).

From that discovery, it was then pretty exciting to research particular agents at agencies, starting with a look at their blurb about what they like on the company’s website, to add them to the ‘maybe’ or ‘no’ piles. Then I took the ‘maybe’ pile a step further and looked at the authors and books they represented and whether I’d be a good fit with them (reading some excellent and some miserable debut novels in the process) and any interviews I could dig up. Also, a good bit of Twitter-stalking helped shortlist a few of my maybes.

So now I’ve got a shortlist of nearly twenty agents, each from different agencies. Some people caution against sending loads of queries, others encourage it. Some even say to send only one query out at a time. Bearing in mind most agencies say to allow six to eight weeks to hear back I’ve decided to go with the middle ground. I’ve got four agents at the absolute top of my list, all of whom specify they’re interested in launching new writers and sound like a good fit for A Calling-on Song in terms of genre and market. When I’ve finished up my last little bits of redrafting on the query letter and synopsis I’ll send them the goods and see what happens.

Which will be really bloody soon.

And then I’m going to have an excruciating wait as I bide my time (if you don’t hear within eight weeks assume it’s a no, is the general consensus) before sending out the next batch. So. How do you deal with that kind of nerve shredding anticipation? I’m going to attempt to lose myself in redrafting another novel, but I just know it’ll be hard to concentrate. Any tips?

I’ll post any news here if and when I hear it of course, and will go into a bit more detail about my query letter next time.