Fastest Rejection in the West

Or, how to learn a lesson

But only, y'know, the good stuff

But only, y’know, the good stuff

This is the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. In the last post I talked about changing the synopsis and query letters ahead of sending out a second batch of letters to agents… Was it time well spent? Not in one case…

As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, the turnaround times for expecting a reply from an agent is something like 6 – 8 weeks which, given the number of unsolicited submissions they receive each week, doesn’t seem too unreasonable (though it is of course nerve-shredding). I just received a reply, or should I say rejection, in under twelve hours – query sent at 9:30pm, rejection received at 9:01am. Do I take from this that the agency are very quick at reading submissions, or is there something else? Was there something in the initial few sentences of my query that put them off? I think it was the latter, and I’m going to tell you why. I promised at the beginning I’d share my blunders with you, so here’s a good one.

My novel is set in a real small town in the UK. It’s the one I grew up in, though these days I live in London. When researching agents I discovered that one agency is based in a village just outside this small town. The only trouble is that they specify on their website that they don’t normally handle sci-fi or fantasy. While my novel (and general taste) isn’t out-and-out high fantasy, it’s definitely closer to fantasy than any other genre. ‘Urban fantasy’ is how I’m describing it genre-wise in my query letters, though I do make it clear it’s set predominantly in the real world. So I weighed up the pros and cons, and decided it was worth a go. I submitted my novel to this particular agency, mentioning in the first couple of sentences that it was set in this particular small town and may therefore be of specific interest. But it seems not.

While I don’t think it was a mistake to send it to them per se, I do think it’s worth me remembering that primarily agents need to engage with the characters and story. The rest is glorified set dressing, in effect (though of course I’d argue it’s absolutely integral). I’m not a fan of gritty crime drama and while a gritty crime drama set in my home town would pique my interest slightly more, it’s unlikely it would make me suddenly fall in love with the rest of the trappings of the genre. And I want/need an agent who’ll fall in love with my story just as much as I love it. That’s what my novel deserves and I’d do well to remember not to undersell it on a gimmick.



Lies, Hypocrisy and Brevity

Or, the realities of uncertainty.

This is the latest in my series following my misadventures while trying to get published for the first time. And don’t worry, the title doesn’t betray the fraying of my previously sanguine attitude towards the industry I’m trying to inveigle my way into. It’s about me.

You may or may not have read the last post – amongst its blather was a declaration that I wasn’t going to tweak my synopsis/query letter beyond what was necessary for each agency (following any specific guidelines/adding something personal in relevant to that agency). Well… One of the agencies did have a different requirement and it kind of started a ball rolling.

I posted a little while back about writing the synopsis, the brief summation of the plot which needs to include characters, setting, theme and plot from beginning to end. I was pretty pleased with what I ended up with, a taut 800 word synopsis that rattled along and yet still imparted something of the atmosphere and tone of my writing. Well, this particular agency specified that they want a 300 word synopsis. Yup, that’s right. 300 words to sum up over 300 pages. And not just sum it up, but sell it! Sheer utter hell, I thought. An once again it turned out to be fun, paring it down to the absolute skin and bone of the story. I think what made it possible was that I had a bit more distance from the novel than when I tried before – I’ve been immersing myself in a different project, so I had a fresh perspective which helped me really get to the root of my plot. In fact, I like what I came up with so much (okay, it’s actually ended up at 320 words, but even so, not bad!) that it’s what I’ve sent out to all of the next batch of agents on my list, consigning my longer synopsis to the bench.

But it didn’t stop there. Once I had the shorter synopsis, I realised I could probably also tighten up my query letter, so out came the scissors and I had another go at that too. So. For all my talk of trusting my initial attempt, I think I’ve now very much improved upon it. The question is, in six weeks’ time when I send out the next batch (unless I get some very good news) will I look it all over and poke it again? I hope not – I think it’s pretty damn solid now, and tweaking it has completely distracted me from the redraft I’m working on. But I don’t think I’ll rule it completely out of the equation.

Either way, another four agents have been emailed and a fifth will have a package sent through the post tomorrow. Wish me luck chaps!



Urges. How to control them and when not to.

Or, asking the impossible.


Tappity tappity tappity

Tappity tappity tappity

This is the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. It’s been going on six weeks since I sent my first few query letters out, and so far I’ve had three rejections with two replies still pending. It’s getting close to time to send out the next batch and I’ve discovered a new step in the process. The urge to fiddle.

It’s impossible to know the definitive reason the three agents so far haven’t wanted to read more – it could be anything from the mood they were in when they read my submission, the fact that they just signed someone with the same basic premise, something specific in the writing, something that didn’t gel in the query letter…. The list goes on. Or, as their letters stated, it could simply be the fact that this is a subjective game. It’s dependent on taste, and for everyone that thinks my book is a masterpiece (that would be, um, me) there are bound to be people who disagree or don’t engage with the subject, setting or characters.

So do I fiddle with it (the novel, I mean. Filth.)? Well without some more comprehensive feedback, I don’t think there’s any point in fiddling with the novel itself. But that’s only part of the package. There’s also the query letter and the full synopsis which give a flavour of the book and the full plot respectively. And if something is amiss in those or could be more gripping then that could potentially be a turn off for the agents.

Or… they could be fine and just waiting to get in front of someone who really engages with them. For this next batch I’m going to keep everything the same (unless any of the agents have particular stipulations of course) and then ponder anew in about eight weeks. And I shall take heart from hearing that the author of The Help, Kathryn Stockett, faced 61 rejections and three years from first submitting to getting picked up. For her it was apparently rejection number fourteen that almost broke her. I’ll let you know which number it is for me.

That’s all well and good, but what to do in the interim? I can’t just twiddle my thumbs and hope for the best, that’s no way to get anywhere. I’ve dusted off the novel (or the three-quarters-of-a-novel) I wrote the first draft of for last year’s NaNoWriMo – The Lord of the Dance – and have got well and truly stuck into the redrafting. One of the major elements that need some TLC are the characters. Perhaps because of the time constraints that NaNoWriMo brings, the characters all start fairly strong then become a bit wishy washy. I’ve decided to borrow a trick from my other half (also a writer) and try casting the novel. Alongside doing a load of other character development bits and bobs, it’ll help me get back on track if I feel them drifting again. That and, if you cast them with actors who make interesting or bold character choices then maybe some surprises will pop up. So who is in the cast? My main five are:

Shia Labeouf (that breakdown has made him so much more interesting!), Cillian Murphy, Mia Wasikowska, Ellen Paige and Adrien Brody

I’ve cast this lot based on the character elements that I’d already come up with and written 80,000 words about, but it’s made me ponder what would happen if you approached it the other way around, if you used actors as your first stepping stone into characters’ heads. And more importantly, if you could pick any five actors to sling together in a cast, who would it be?