Discovery Day at Foyles

Today was Discovery Day at the Foyles book shop on Charing Cross Road. What that means is that a load of agents from Conville & Walsh and Curtis Brown had foolishly agreed to meet a massive load of authors and listen to hundreds of novel pitches.

I’ve written a fair bit about pitching generally (and specifically) while touting my novel A Calling-on Song (update: it needs a bit of a redraft and is waiting in my queue of projects to work on). What I hadn’t done to date though, was pitch my novel to an agent in person. Bearing that in mind I prepared a pitch for the novel I’m currently working on, which is roughly 50% complete and 50% drafted/plotted.

The Discovery Day Setup


The view from the queue

I had been allotted a time slot, so was allowed into the queue (long, but well managed don’tcherknow). Awaiting me at the top was an agent looking for two things: a 30 second verbal pitch, and the first page of my novel. That’s all they were after.

I heard someone in the queue likening the experience to an X Factor audition. I think that’s a little unfair – X Factor seems predominantly about revelling in other people’s misery, humiliation and lack of self-knowledge (I’m not a fan). This, as the blurb promised, was more like speed dating. No-one would witness my soaring success or crashing failure apart from me and the agent, and maybe, just maybe, a long and fruitful relationship would come out of it all.

30 Seconds Of Glory

I reached the front of the queue, clutching my pitch notes and first page in an increasingly sweaty hand. Then it was time and I was led across the room to sit opposite an agent. Her surname was the same as one of the most famous/infamous magickal figures of the last couple of hundred years, which I took to be a good omen – my novels tend towards magick with a ‘k’ after all. We introduced ourselves and then it was showtime.

As I’ve written before, distilling a novel full of odd characters, weird cults and all sorts of dramatic goings on down into a handful of sentences is both gut-wrenching and necessary. This is what I came up with for this event, though I think it’s a bit on the long side in hindsight:

“When a teenage punk trio sell their souls to the wrong devil, the fate of all music hangs in the balance. Reuben James was the original guitarist with We Are The Scene, back before they were famous. Now he’s the most hated man on the planet. Blamed by tabloids and fans alike after the death of We Are The Scene’s singer, it’s time for Reuben to reveal the truth behind their stratospheric rise and tragic fall. This isn’t sex and drugs and rock and roll; this is small town toilet venues, revenge and ancient magick.”

Once that was done, the agent asked me a few questions: was it my first novel – nope, but would be my first to be published. Did I think it was stronger – yup, a much more active main character for starters. Where did the idea come from – mashing together some of my favourite things, together with a great deal of time spent at the Tunbridge Wells Forum in my youth, both watching and playing. That sort of thing.

And then?

She read the first page. Asked if it was a horror novel (more urban fantasy with horror elements than out and out horror I’d say. So I did). Then told me it wasn’t really her sort of thing and wrote down an agent who was building a SF/F list and bade me farewell.

That was it?

Not quite. I had been hoping for a little feedback on the pitch – was it on point or waffly etc, but there wasn’t any of that. I headed downstairs and joined a table of five other pitchers chatting to a different agent. This was more about the industry and process generally, not specifically about our individual pitches, but was a nice informal group. Following questions, the agent talked about his slush-pile process, trends in literary and women’s fiction and the like.

And that was that. Nerve-wracking and certainly an interesting experience. It was a bit of a shame there wasn’t really any feedback from the agent I pitched to – as with letters of rejection, the more feedback I get from the industry the more I can work out how to approach things in future. But talking about my novel to industry types was great practice which could prove invaluable, and I’ve got the name of an agent to approach once the novel is done. Now to ride up and down in Foyles lifts until one of the agents is trapped in there with me… All I need is 30 seconds!


London Book Fair 2015

Or, A Drop In The Ocean

One of the earliest posts on this blog was after my sojourn to last year’s London Book Fair.  Well it’s that time of year again, only this time I popped along to all three days rather than just the one.

Held at Kensington Olympia, it was a wonderfully maze-like expanse of beautiful beautiful books (none of which were on sale to the likes of me – it’s an industry fair after all). Here’s the best cover I spotted:

Enough from Burt? Never!

Enough from Burt? Never!

Like last year, there was a dedicated ‘Author’ area slap bang in the middle of the labyrinth (where the minotaurs roam). Each day saw a series of 45 minute seminars and panel discussions on topics like tips on getting an agent, success stories from published authors and more general discussions on how authors are changing their writing to suit newer forms like Twitter.

I only went to the seminars I was most interested in, but that was still a hefty ten or eleven. There was a little variation in quality, but on the whole they were very well presented. I found a couple were either slightly mis-named (or perhaps they veered off topic at the beginning and didn’t recover) and one or two came across as marketing pitches for one or other e-publishing services. I suppose that’s the nature of this kind of event. There were great talks from representatives from The Bookseller and various agents, publishers, journalists and booksellers though, and served to give an interesting overview of a few different parts of the industry alongside decent practical advice.

I’m sure there were plenty of opportunities to network with other authors – just by hanging around and chatting with others at the Author HQ for example – but being an obtuse sort I used gaps in my schedule of seminars to meet up with a couple of editors I know of old and take foolish selfies.

A professional demeanor is key at these events.

A professional demeanor is key at these events.

Worth going to? Absolutely. I think a lot of what was covered in the seminars needs further research and, arguably, could be gleaned by decent research online in the first place, but I can put a few industry names to faces now, met a couple of other novice authors I’m going to try and keep in touch with and drank a fair bit of (pretty decent by exhibition centre standards) coffee. A good rebaptism into the publishing world, having had a couple of months of self-doubt. I’ll come on to that next time, but did you go to the Book Fair? Anything stand out particularly for you?


Professional Critiquing Services

This one fits into my ongoing series about trying to get published for the first time.

Quick summary of where I’m currently at (though feel free to have a look back at some of previous posts along the way) – I’ve got a novel that, after a lot of redrafting, I’m happy with and have sent out to agents. So far there haven’t been many nibbles, though I haven’t been quite as proactive about sending it out as I possibly could have been.

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is paying for a professional critique of my novel. Whilst I am hopeful that it’s going to knock the socks off anyone who reads it, I am aware that it’s the first thing I’ve written and polished to this degree and I am entirely self-taught. I’ve been hoping that I might pique an agent’s interest enough to get a little specific feedback but, while I’ve had one little morsel, it’s not really enough to base a further redraft on.

At an earlier stage I got a few trusted friends (trusted also in the sense that I thought their opinions would be honest) to have a read and provide feedback which was invaluable, but now I’d really like something a bit more industry-centric. And that comes with a price tag.

I looked up quite a few different services, and tried to find peoples’ own reviews of them, which proved surprisingly hard. Google something like ‘Novel critique service uk review’, and of course you’re only really going to get links to the services themselves! There were a few that stood out from the pack though, and I’ve ended up going with the Writers’ Workshop. They seem to be at the higher end, both in terms of price (over £500 for my 87,000 word novel) and, hopefully, quality. I figured it’s probably worth going for it though – if it helps get towards publication then it’s money well spent, and any feedback on style/structure etc will be useful for future projects.

They’ve got an impressive list of editors, so I’m looking forward to finding out who’ll be tackling my novel, but what swung it for me were their sample critiques. Loads of detail (one of the sample reports is over 10,000 words!), and looking at things from all angles, including marketability. It looks like there should be the chance to chat with the editor about their feedback, and they have ties to agents and publishers should they think it’s strong enough or close to it. We’ll see.

I’ve been able to ask a few specific questions on areas I’m thinking may need attention (is the first quarter attention-grabbing enough? Is the MC active, or too passive? How the arse do I market it as anything other than UK-centric?!) so hopefully they’ll be addressed in particular detail as well as all the other bits and bobs. It takes a fair few weeks to hear back, but I’ll definitely post about the results.

Have any of you had professional critiques? How useful did you find them?


Where do you get those ideas?

Or, Hal-an-tow, jolly rumbelow.

Some of the books I've stolen from. I mean, 'been influenced by'.

Some of the books I’ve stolen from. I mean, ‘been influenced by’.

Welcome to the latest in my series about trying to get published for the first time.

I’ve been submitting my ‘finished’ novel to a few more agents over the last couple of weeks, and an interesting thing occurred to me. On many submissions advice pages on various agencies’ websites there’s something along the lines of ‘include anything that makes you an expert in what you’re writing about.’

Now, I’d sort-of assumed that was mostly there for non-fiction submissions but now I’m wondering if that’s not the case. Faced with my query letter, synopsis and novel extract, a prospective agent is, I imagine, looking for two things: material they really connect with and a reason to say no (given they’ve got unsolicited submissions coming out of the wazoo, wherever that may be). Or, perhaps it’s a default ‘no’, but they’re looking for a reason to say yes, something they can sell, some nugget they can base a pitch to a publisher around, something that lends credence to a submission.

I’ve not made much of an effort to disguise some of my book’s origins – it’s set in the town I grew up in, and the main characters work in a DVD rental store (possibly the last one!), which plays host to a number of important scenes. I worked in record shops in the town for four years between leaving school and going to drama school, so there are a fair few little quirks and tics that are directly based on those experiences. So far, so not-that-enticing – who hasn’t written something based on a re-imagined version of their home town? It’s far from an original idea.

But that’s just the setting. And there are reasons and ramifications for that setting, but it’s not the juicy part of the novel, it’s not necessarily going to hook anyone in unless they have some kind of affinity for the town. The real meat (or tofu-steak I should say, being a damn hippy) of the novel is in the folk tales that stalk my main character and that besiege him at every turn. It is, when boiled right down, about a young man discovering a deep connection to the traditional stories of these isles. And that’s where I’ve been underselling myself.

When I was 12 I joined a youth theatre, and the first play I performed in was a version of Robin Hood that reconnected the character to traditional folklore. It was an established play co-written (I think) by Toni Arthur, and we were lucky enough to have her directing us. Those of a certain age may remember her from the children’s show Playaway. She taught me most of the swear words I know. But she also, during the course of the play, taught me and the rest of the cast a few folk songs. And I’ve been singing them ever since. A few years later for a different production her ex husband, and former musical partner, Dave Arthur, taught me a few more folk songs. And then, a few years later still, in my mid twenties, I got interested in American folk and made the logical leap back into traditional British folk music. It really did feel like coming home.

Dave and Toni Arthur were part of the 60s/70s British folk revival that spawned the likes of Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span (who, along with Martin Carthy, I’ve been lucky enough to see live a number of times over the last few years). And they taught me folk songs which wormed their way into my bones and have wound up in my novel. So that is where the root of the idea comes from. And I think that’s a much more engaging narrative for my own journey to write the novel than the one I’ve been giving to potential agents.

What do you think? Is it worth letting agents and publishers know the truth behind the novel?

An Agent Replies

Or, Careful What You Wish For.

Pick your ingredients, mash them up, then serve.

Pick your ingredients, mash them up, then serve.

Welcome to the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. A little while ago I mentioned in a post that what I really wanted from an agent (other than an offer of representation of course) was feedback. As a rookie writer I sometimes feel like I’m howling into a gale – I’ve got no real way of getting decent impartial feedback without paying a critiquing company. And while I think the novel is good to go, I’m not precious about it – if something isn’t working then I’ll fix it. All I need is some consensus from people in the business to know what needs another draft. And guess what? I finally have a bit of industry feedback!

In a previous post I talked about sending the novel off to a friend of a friend of a friend who works at an agency. He requested the full manuscript and here’s what he had to say, verbatim:

‘Dear Jonathan

Thanks for this, I’ve read a bit more. I think you write really well and there’s some interesting elements in your story but it lacked the pace and edge of your seat thrill that really gets me excited about a novel. I also think it’s hard these days to have adult books which are quite so quintessentially English in there (sic) settings. I enjoy it but publishers tend to shy away as it limits the appeal out of the UK. For that reason I don’t think I’m the right agent for this book. It’s such a fierce market out there that you really need someone who is 100% behind your writing and will champion you with conviction.

Sorry for the disappointing response but it really is just one opinion and you may find other agents who completely disagree.

I wish you all the best with getting the book published.’

Interesting, no? What do I take from this? There are two real issues here and I think they may have very different solutions.

The pace/excitement factor is something I’ve been wondering about myself, so it’s good to have that raised. I think the novel does start as a slow burner and once the strands twist together – about halfway through – momentum gathers and the pace becomes more breathless. But possibly readers are only going to get to that if they are patient for the first half. This gives me a valuable insight to feed into the next redraft, though I will keep pursuing this version for the time being. As he states, it’s all down to personal opinion so I’ll exhaust a few more avenues before picking reaching for the tipp-ex.

His observation about the quintessential Englishness of the novel is very interesting. The novel is, when you get right down to it, about a young man in small-town England discovering the English folk tradition and folk stories, so making it less quintessentially English would be either tricky or diminishing to what I’m trying to do. I’d be lying if I hadn’t thought of the Englishness being a limiting factor myself, so I wasn’t altogether surprised it was raised. However it got me thinking about other novels and films that are quintessentially English in some way and yet have managed to transcend into international appeal. Richard Curtis films are a good example, I think. Bridget Jones too. Where these work is that the setting is picture-postcard enough (in a way) to be an unthreatening window into the culture for those outside and yet well-observed enough to appeal to the culture itself. Add to that dealing with universal themes and it’s a good combo.

Now, I think I’ve got that balance to a degree. The story distils into a coming-of-age tale when you strip everything else away. The setting is, I suppose, a scratch down below the chocolate-boxiness of some fluffier versions of England, but it’s not exactly gritty. There are a lot of references to geeky cultural touchstones from both the UK and America to broaden the appeal, but also my own observations of day to day life in high-street shops. And when things really get going there are weird, ooky, odd planes of existence with giant spider-monsters. Those are universal, right?

So what does that mean? I think (and I could be wrong – I may need to redraft to broaden the appeal, but as with the pacing I shall seek further feedback ahead of that) that I need to sell the book differently. I need to manage the expectations of the agents I’m writing to and join the dots for them. Effectively I need to tell them why this has more broad appeal than they may think at first glance. Because if I was told about a book set in an English high street about English folk tales then I too would assume it would appeal primarily to the English. Maybe that is the case, but I think I’ve got something more here. I’m going back to my query letter to see if I can work something in to highlight this as a positive rather than let agents think of it as a negative. In a strange way it gives me an aspiration. I want to be the Richard Curtis of the weird.

More soon!




Or, making an example of myself…

Probably not the best opening gambit...

Probably not the best opening gambit…

Welcome to the latest in my series on trying to get published for the first time. As promised in my last post, this time I’m going to post the query letter I’ve been sending out to agents.

Before I do, I thought I’d share just a few of the basics of querying – I’m no expert, as this blog attests to, but I did a fair bit of research before writing mine, and a fair bit of redrafting before sending it. Also, those of you who aren’t trying to (or succeeding at) getting published may be interested in the background.

As I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned in a previous post, by and large there are three things that should be sent to agents. The first is a query letter, the second is the first three chapters of the novel and the third is a synopsis of the rest of the novel. And that’s most likely the order they’ll be read in. Query letter first, if that piques their interest then they’ll have a read of the goods, and if they’re intrigued by that then they’ll have a look at the synopsis to see if your grasp of plotting is as hot as your writing voice.

The query letter itself has (and again, I’m basing this on a load of research rather than any actual expertise) three jobs: introduce the novel, sell the novel, introduce the author. And all of that in somewhere between 150 and 350 words depending on which source you follow. The ‘selling the novel’ aspect can cover anything from who it’s aimed at, why it’s culturally relevant now, anything that could be used as PR, authors it may sit alongside (opinion is divided on this – it can sound egotistical, but if it comes across as if you’re giving a clue as to the audience that may be interested rather than saying you’re as good as a master of the genre then it’s a good shorthand) and all manner of other bits and bobs. The other two parts – introducing the novel and introducing the author – are a bit more self explanatory and it’s the former of the two that is more important than the latter.

I’m posting this both to see what you think (having not read the novel you won’t know whether it’s an accurate intro to it, of course) and as another example people can stumble across online – the more examples the merrier, I discovered while I was scouring t’interweb for hints. So, enough waffle. The only thing to be aware of is that I would add a sentence in to explain why I’ve specifically targeted the agent I’ve sent it to. Here it is:

Dear xxxx

I’d like to introduce you to A Calling-on Song, an urban fantasy novel set in modern day small town England and complete at 87,000 words.
Reclusive university drop-out Robin is back in the town he loves, desperate to rebuild his identity. Pursued by a mysterious vagrant and haunted by strange visions, he’s determined to carry on as normal. When injuries transfer from vision to reality and he discovers the vagrant knows more than he should, Robin finally turns to his fellow drop-outs for help. Drawn into a group of self-professed wizards and dream readers, the battle is on for his sanity, his life and the soul of the small town he can’t leave behind. Oblivion is calling and not everything can survive.
Centred on a dying high street and filled with British folk-tales, the novel is a timely look at the importance of celebrating what you love. Fans of Neil Gaiman and China Miéville will enjoy the blend of myth and reality.
I’m a 33 year-old Londoner and based elements of the novel on my experiences working in now-extinct record shops in Tunbridge Wells. Since then I’ve trained as an actor and, after a few years leaping out at people while covered in fake blood, given it all up to watch adverts for a living. I’ve written copy for websites, had a short story published in the Mosaic anthology by Bridge House and an introduction to a Grant Morrison graphic novel published by Hachette.
The full manuscript or a more detailed synopsis are available on request. Thanks very much for your time.
Kind regards,
Blah blah blah.
Any thoughts welcome. Another post will follow in the not-too distant future with a bit of industry feedback.

It’s Not Who You Know…

… it’s who who you know knows.


Welcome to the latest in my series following my progress trying to get published for the first time. Frequent fliers might note it’s been a little while since my last post and that’s because, rather plainly, there’s been no news! But things are stirring, finally. As to how far they’ll stir, well I don’t think there’s any point in thinking they won’t shortly go back to their natural slumbering state, but we can hope. As for what’s stirring, read on…

As with all the creative (and uncreative, for that matter) industries, one of the most often espoused bits of advice is to use your contacts. It’s not rocket science – if you’ve written something and you know an agent or publisher personally then it’s not hard to imagine shoe-horning it into conversation and seeing if anything happens. But for those of us (and as writers I imagine I’m not the only one who prefers sitting in a dark room muttering about the outside world to actually engaging with it) who don’t happen to know the CEO of Harper Collins, how can this work?

I try not to bore my friends and colleagues to tears with tales of my writing exploits, but I have mentioned it a few times. And, long before my novel was ready to be seen by anyone in the industry, someone mentioned that their wife happened to work in publishing, though in a slightly different area to the stuff I was writing. I filed the knowledge away in my brain for future reference and got on with the redrafting. Flash forward in time (you can imagine the wibbly wobbly effects yourself) and I bump into said friend, adjourning to a café for a coffee and chat. We discuss my novel, he tells me to send the query letter and sample chapters over to his wife because, even though she won’t be able to do anything with it herself, she may be able to give some kind of feedback or recommend a contact. Keen, but not hopeful, I dutifully send the documents over.

Now it gets a little better. Firstly, as surmised, it’s not really suitable for her – she’s involved in ‘Women’s Fiction’ and I’ve written a male-dominated urban fantasy novel. However, not only does she say some nice things about the sample chapters (‘strong voice’) she also confirms that the query letter seems to do what it should (promise I’ll post it soon so you can see it for yourself, honest). Specifically, she cites the examples of comparative authors as accurate. More on that in a future post, but it’s a fine tightrope to walk – I used the comparison as a short-hand for giving agents an idea of the market I was aiming for rather than comparing my ability to that of the masters of the genre I cited (Neil Gaiman and China Mieville).

Most usefully though, she recommended an agent who may be into the kind of oddness I’m peddling and rather kindly said she’d give him a heads-up to expect contact from me. I gave it a few days, emailed the agent, and he’s now requested the full manuscript having enjoyed the first three chapters. So, even if this doesn’t lead to representation (which it probably won’t) I may get a few words of feedback on the whole shebang.

But it doesn’t stop there. I sent queries out to four agents about eight weeks ago and hadn’t heard back (they generally say to allow anywhere from 5 to 10 weeks for a response) so, following a little bit of advice I’d spotted on one agent’s website, I let the four agents know this new agent had requested the full manuscript. Lo and behold, I had a quick, very friendly reply from one of the agents saying something along the lines of ‘Well he’s got good taste so I’d better have a look.’

The lesson to be learned from all this? Keep going! And mention your novel to everyone you can within reason, because they may be up for helping out. Publishing is a pretty small world by all accounts, and if you can drop a name in or someone can recommend you it will give more credence than an unsolicited approach.

I’ll keep you posted with any developments and will stick my query letter up for dissection in a week or so.



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?