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.