Let Me In!

It’s actually going to be a real post this week! With length and misery and everything!

whoop

Seriously though, this blog post is not for the fainthearted – it is, however, intended to be an understanding cuddle to everyone who has felt what I’m feeling at the minute re: rejections. And to try and reassure myself, as much as anyone, that this feeling isn’t reserved for me, and that it won’t last.

So here’s how I feel. Nearly ten years ago, in my tender early teens, I knocked politely on the door of a Very Intimidating House, and had this conversation with the very tall and scary person, called Publishing Industry, who answered:

Me: Will you publish my book please?

Publishing Industry: *flicking through my 500+ page, dragons-and-swords fantasy trilogy* No. Go away and write a better book.

Which, to be honest, was fair. So I did. Two years later, we had the same conversation about my much-harder-to-genre-ise YA story, only now there were some extras:

Publishing Industry: Still not a good enough book. Also, you need to get better at writing cover letters and synopses, pay attention to every minute detail on our various and sundry websites to make sure you don’t piss us off at the starting post, find out where you stand in the children’s market, learn how to pitch better and get more writing experience.

FINE

So I went away (skipping and frolicking) and read hundreds of books, learned the children’s market about as well as anyone who isn’t being paid to do so can, studied countless guides to writing cover letters and synopses to write a good pitch, made sure I was submitting precisely within the guidelines of each individual agency / competition, and in the meantime got an MA in Creative Writing as well as writing thousands and thousands more words.

Now, I’m standing in front of that same door (only now it’s cold and pissing rain) and they still won’t let me in. And now, no-one will even tell me why. Is it because my writing isn’t good enough? Maybe; I’m no JK Rowling, but I’ve also read (published) worse. Is it because my story isn’t marketable? Again, maybe; but it’s essentially children’s fantasy – how un-marketable has that ever been?  Is it because I’m just unlucky, and keep writing to the wrong people at the wrong time? Maybe; but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

What’s frustrating me the most at the minute is that I keep finding myself trawling the internet for more tips, more guidance, more things I haven’t tried that might finally get me through that door. But all I ever find is stuff I’ve already done.

So that’s me this week, I’m afraid. Standing outside of a perennially closed door; cold, soaked and very, very grumpy.

sad rain

Next week we’re back to short and sweet, but I promise to also say some things that won’t leave you wanting to go to bed forever. Maybe.

 

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A HESITANT look at the balance of respect within the agent/potential author relationship

I am quite nervous about this post. I apologise in advance if everything you’re about to read is so lampshaded and contradicted that it makes no sense. But…

poncey-scared

…here goes.

I don’t think the level of respect submitting authors are expected to show agents is reflected or balanced in the way agents can treat submitting authors. And I think that is unfair.

Now unless your response to that was ‘well, duh’ (which is entirely reasonable), bear with me. I noticed right at the beginning of this process that there was a particular ‘tone’ to the submissions information on most agency websites. Most of the instructions given are extremely specific  – save your document with the name in this template, include all of these things within one attachment only, give us all of this information in the top line of your email. The implication – if not outright stated – is that if you don’t abide by these exact rules then your submission will receive a one-way ticket to the recycling, without passing Go.

And I think that’s fair enough. I get it, agents are very busy people; they don’t have time to fanny on with formatting  and digging for relevant information when they only have ten minutes today to dig into the slush pile anyway. Quite apart from which, the agent is in the position of power here; as a potential author you are asking them for their highly prized, hard-won and much-coveted help. They won’t get paid unless you do a good job – it’s entirely fair for them to be extremely particular about how you approach them.

So far, so reasonable.

On top of this, agents expect prospective authors to treat them with an individuality, and a personal touch. Whilst most agencies understand and expect you as an author to be making multiple submissions at once (in the interest of not withering into old age by the time you reach the promised land of Publishedom), they also expect you to have approached their agency for a reason, and for your approach to be personalised and well-researched for their particular agency.

This too, seems legit.

So you follow all the rules, you read the bio for every single author on their client list, you rewrite your cover letter to include everything you’ve researched, reformat your opening chapters to fit their specifications, write a new synopsis of the length they requested, save it all in a document precisely labelled ‘dd.mm.yyy_Name_Book Title_ohpleaseohplease_I’ll send you cake’, and email it to them with a metaphorical packaging of all your hopes and dreams since you were twelve.

At which point, you wait twelve weeks and eventually realise they’re never going to respond.

Now here’s where I’m like:

not-okay

I think it’s really important in this age of Twitter and YouTube to always try and speak to people via typing the same way you would talk to them if they were sat in front of you. I get that this is not how the rest of the internet operates, and most people who are arsewipes online will be arsewipes in real life, but I still think it’s an idealistically decent attitude to live by.

So imagine this IRL. Our budding young author has followed the agency’s instructions to the letter and lovingly packaged their submission to meet all requirements. S/he holds it in her/his sweaty hand and waits in a queue of other dream-fuelled masochists for literal weeks. Eventually s/he reaches the agent, who at least in my head sits bathed in a bright glowing light á la Obi Wan Kenobi at the end of Return of the Jedi. S/he places the submission on the table between them, and waits with baited breath as the agent flicks casually through the pages. Minutes pass. Then, all at once, the agent swipes the submission sideways into an overflowing bin, stands up and walks off without a single word.

In the words of that really scary dude from Firefly, does that seem right to you?

Now don’t get me wrong, I know that agents have other peoples’ hopes and dreams up the wazoo, and they literally can’t take the time to send a gentle, supportive reply to each and every one. But if all it took was a blanket bcc at the end of the day to every author whose submission they had decided not to take further – even just addressed to ‘Author’ – I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a reply.

It must be a very strange thing, to have to squash a stranger’s hope with every submission that doesn’t interest you – and I don’t envy agents that. Every rejection I’ve ever received has included a line wishing me ‘the best of luck with another agent’. Generic or not, I still think this is a very kind sentiment. But I imagine it also helps agents cope with the way they have to treat others’ aspirations as part of their job.

I imagine that, because I like to think that agents are aware of how important every submission is to its writer. As a writer myself, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect reams of feedback, or breathless encouragement, or even a vaguely personalised rejection letter from an agent. But I do think that whoever you are, if you’re dealing with something that is – in all likelihood – indescribably important to anyone, anywhere, and you’re aware of that…

The decent thing to do is to treat it, and them, with respect.

(Though if an agent is reading this then I don’t mean a word of it I’m sorry please excuse my principles I’ll get rid of them sorry sorry please don’t hate me.)

Next Post: The yin to my Good News post‘s yang, I’m afraid. On picking yourself up when you find you’ve been given a good solid kick back to square one. (I swear every other post will not always be about reactions to the many and varied forms of rejection…)

Submissions Last Week

Just three this week, having resumed our regular programming. One I had to preface with a phone call, which I’m gonna say was one of the Top Five Most Nerve-Wracking Moments Of My Life.

Current Rejection Tally: 5

 

A Submission A DAY?! Don’t you have, like, a job?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve heard this a lot over the last couple of weeks. The answer is yes – I do have a job, albeit a part-time one – and a life, and friends, etc. etc. I’ve actually reduced the time I spend preparing and sending submissions to (I reckon) around 4 hours a week. I don’t actually know whether this is good or bad in the scheme of things – but for me, so far it’s striking the right balance of giving me enough time to do other things (like actually get paid, actually write, and, y’know, sleep and stuff) whilst enabling me to make each submission individual enough that I feel like I’m making each agent feel just that little bit special before they crush my soul and dreams.

grand entrance.jpg

I know, right: get me.

This is made possible by two factors:

  1. Pretty much every agent asks for variations on the same three things
  2. TEMPLATES TEMPLATES TEMPLATES

So, for me at least, once you’ve invested the time into writing up templates for the three aspects of a submission, you’ve pretty much done the leg work. If you’ve ever sent off a novel submission I’m sure you know exactly what goes into it, so please excuse me for boring you with my own list:

  1. Cover letter

This is actually the only aspect of my submission template that gets tweaked for each new agent. Now I think cover letters are generally understood to be right up there with ‘Goodbye cards for colleagues you don’t actually know’ and ‘texting an acquaintance to explain why you’re not attending an event you just don’t want to go to’ in the ‘Worst Things To Write’ stakes. You have to magically find a balance between making yourself sound impossibly brilliant without coming off like Donald Trump. They suck.

Now I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve written a lot of job applications. I know, I know, it’s impressive, but we can’t all be permanently unsatisfied layabouts; such hallowed ground is reserved for only the truly desperate. Ahem.

The upside of this, however, is that I have written a lot of cover letters, and I think (hope) I’ve finally managed to find something like the right balance, which mostly just means talking about myself as little as possible. To which end, my cover letter template consists of a paragraph summarising my novel, a paragraph supposedly expanding on where I believe my story would fit into the current market (which is actually just to prove that I read more YA than is really reasonable for a grown up, but that this is a good thing), and a shudder-inducing paragraph about me and why my on-paper total lack of experience actually amounts to loads and loads of experience.

So for each new submission, I tweak the cover letter to include the name of the agent I want to read it, the list of what I’m sending them and a line or two about their personal client list, and how my story is both similar enough to appeal to them, but different enough to be worth their time. At least, that’s the hope. This last point is actually the time-suck; in the two weeks I’ve been sending submissions I have already spent several hours trawling through client lists and novel blurbs, and the outcome of each hour results in about half a line of text in the cover letter. On the plus side, it is genuinely worth knowing whether this agent even seems to like the genre I’m writing – and I’ve picked up some valuable tips on how to make an author bio truly cringeworthy.

  1. Synopsis

The second main part of any submission is the synopsis, and for this one all of the work went in before I’d sent off a sausage. Writing a synopsis is a familiar task to any writer, and many use them for their own benefit to examine the structure of the plot and assist with the creation of their story. I am not one of those people. My typical reaction to trying to summarise the various threads, characters, dramas and what is hopefully the general entertainment value of my story in a succinct, thorough one-page summary pretty much has me like:

weeping.gif

I do not enjoy. That said, I managed to crank out three synopses of differing lengths before submitting anything: a short, 350-word version, a one-page (500- word) version and a 750-word version. Most agencies I’ve submitted to so far have asked for a one-page version, but I have used the others and the one-page one is actually my least favourite, so I like to have the option of avoiding it where possible…

  1. Sample pages

And this: the key element, reason for being here and basis on which I will be rejected or contacted, which – hilariously – I spend almost no time on. I have (so far) submitted three versions of my opening chapters, depending on the length specified by the agent: ten pages (brutal), three chapters (most common) and 10,000 words (preferable).

Now don’t get me wrong, the time that has gone into my actual manuscript – and particularly those first few chapters – far outweighs what I’ve spent preparing submissions, thank God. What I am ashamed to say, and probably shouldn’t admit, is that I don’t actually read them again before each submission. In my defence, I’m submitting every single day, and have read / re-written / proofread these chapters LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF TIMES. I think it’s seriously possible that I could recite at least the first two chapters of my story word-for-word, by heart. So yes, I don’t even check this part before attaching it to the email. You probably shouldn’t ever do that.

So that’s how I’ve enabled myself to fit sending a submission a day around the rest of my life. Lots of advanced prep, a few hours each weekend researching the agencies and client lists, and then only about 20 minutes per day actually sending the sucker off. As with a surprising number of aspects about writing, success seems to lie in your proficiency at Microsoft Excel and scheduling, rather than actual writing. Go figure.

Next Week’s Post: My first rejection arrived! Er, yaayyy! So expect ramblings about rejection in general, my coping mechanisms and how I’m planning to resist anger, misery and hate. To the Dark Side, such things lead.

Submissions Last Week
5 agencies, including JK Rowling’s publisher, to whom I spent the majority of my time constructing the agent-specific line in the cover letter repeating ‘DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER’ to myself.

 Current Rejection Tally: 1