Two weeks on…agents update

March 17, 2012

It’s now two weeks since I sent the submission of ‘The Al-Muzafara Affair’ (aka Flight Into Darkness) to agents selected on the basis outlined in my last entry.  I would add the list here but the cut and paste function of this blogsite is not that user friendly for Excel spreadsheets so have a look at the original on Harry Bingham’s Writer’s Workshop website.

So, after two weeks, what has happened?  Well, surprisingly, things have moved on.  Within a day I had a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ email from one, followed a few days later by one asking for the full manuscript.  This is A Very Good Sign.  It vindicated my confidence in the book and offset the second rejection that followed a few days later.   Just being asked for the full MS by an agent is a major step forward.  Often the submission will not have been read by the agent whose name is over the door, but by an intern or secretary who does the coarse filtering.  Of course, being asked for the full MS doesn’t mean that the agent will take me on, but it is encouraging.

A word about what agents do with submissions.  When we writers have carefully crafted our novels, we are slightly miffed that agents only ask for the first three chapters and a synopsis.  ‘But, surely,’ we say to ourselves, ‘they can’t possibly assess my fabulous work on that basis…what about the wonderful extraterrestrial sex scene in Chaper 45?’  OK, this is true but it’s not what the agents are trying to do.  Their initial question is:  Can this person write?  Second:  Has he/she got a good idea?  Third:  Is it a gene that they are interested in?  Fourth: Is it something they could push with confidence in a difficult market?  Agents are inundated with submissions, so these coarse filters are a survival strategy.   They want to spot winners…they need to spot winners because they make their money that way.  I understand that a good agent can tell whether we can actually write by the first paragraph and quite often they need go no further than that.  I guess that’s what we’d call professionalism.

So, there you have it.  So far, encouraging.  I’m interested in the response times as agents seem to operate entirely differently.  Some are really on the ball, others seem to follow geological timelines.  I will report on how long it takes for them to come back to me but, to some extent, I like to believe that: time = they’re thinking about it rather than: time = it’s in the middle of the slushpile.  I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, I have a house to build. What? I didn’t mention it before?  I’ll tell you later…..

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On agents and prostitution

March 5, 2012

I spent the weekend planning my next assault on the world of publishing and the first step is finding a new agent.  Getting published without one is almost impossible as most publishers will not accept submissions directly from writers.  That’s because most writers are crap.  If this fails, there’s the eBook route but I want to try traditional print first.  So, the writer must walk the streets in fishnets, twirling a handbag, touting for business.  The agents are the pimps (or, to be more accurate, les Madames, as most of them are women).  They nurture their brood and get the business.  The brood does what it does best.

So, what do we expect of an agent?  I know from my experience of the Writer’s Worshop Festival of Writing that agents are committed to excellence and love books above all things.  This is true.  They have decades of experience and doctorates in Eng. Lit. from Oxbridge.  They know the business and get pissed with the right people.  They can spot a turkey from a hundred metres and a winner by its smell alone.   This is why I find it strange that my former agent read Flight Into Darkness, loved it, then pushed it to a number of prominent publishers.  They came back with (minor) suggestions on improving the plot and pace (which I carried out).  Surely, he should have spotted this earlier?  We all strive for 100% perfection; 99.9% is not enough in this game.  Agents have judgement, don’t they?  Rewrite carried out, the revised version was not even submitted to a publisher.  Boredom had set it.  Nuff said.

The Writer’s Workshop has a database of agents which complements the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and, with the agents’ websites, provides all the information needed.  The trouble is that there are over fifty of them and which do you choose?  Well, a good starting point is the ones who specialise in general fiction, ie, almost all of them.  Then there are the ones who attend York – a Good Sign.  Spotting the agents who are looking for new writers is important as many are simply not seeking anyone new.    Another good sign is the agents who have accepted recommendations from Harry Bingham (WW Imperator) and, for me, another indicator of an agent who is living in the same century as me is that they accept submissions by email.  I simply cannot believe that so many still insist on hard copy, posted with loving care in manila envelopes with SAE and in the memory of the rain forests.  Please, people, this is 2012 and email has been around for 25 years.  By the time that sifting is done, the list has reduced to a dozen or so.

Each Agent like to think that she is the only one you are interested in and that you have selected her out of hundreds because she is so good.  In reality, we don’t know them from Adam and shotgun the world because we like collecting rejection slips.  If you do this, however, it is polite to tell them so.   Mostly, they want the same thing in a submission: a letter, brief personal details, motivation, etc, a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters.

So that’s it.  I’m on the streets again.  There are lots of us out there, competition is fierce and there is a war going on; I hope I can make it before I get too old to turn a trick.  Emails will go out today, then it is the waiting game.  Agents get inundated with submissions, as we all know, and it can take some weeks before getting a response.  Some never answer.  I am told that the US agents are rather more polite and usually reply…that’s American customer service for you.  Many UK agents seem to be stuck in a Dickensian timewarp but far be it for me to question their working practises except to say that the general feedback you get from budding writers is that feeling of being like dead leaves left in the gutter.

That’s prostitution for you.


Need a good larf?

March 2, 2012

After a disastrous week, I needed to have a laugh today but everything seemed tragic until I stumbled on this:  http://bethanyamandamiller.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/the-56-bestworst-analogies-written-by-high-school-students/

It had me in tears.  The funniest thing is that these similes and analogies are genuinely intended to be serious and that’s the best kind of humour, the unintentional sort.  You can see the perpetrators frowning, saying, “What’s so funny?”  I really urge you to have a look.  Thanks to Bethany Miller http://bethanyamandamiller.wordpress.com/ and to Debi Alper for the link from http://debialper.blogspot.com/.

Have a good day!


Snakes and ladders

March 1, 2012

Trying to get over being mugged by the Portuguese government, today brought another bombshell.  When I started this blog, I intended it to be an honest account of the path to publication, warts and all, and today a major wart has erupted:  my erstwhile agent has has decided that his enthusiasm for Flight Into Darkness has waned and he would rather that another agent push it.  Now, for those writers amongst you, you will know how difficult it is to scale the slippery ladder to publication but getting an agent is normally regarded as the penultimate rung.  Not so.  An agent takes a subjective view and is a human being like you and me….well, not quite like you and me but you know what I mean.  Like other human beings, they have the right to change their minds.  I had a wife like that once.  So, the slippery ladder to stardom is more like snakes and ladders and there are plenty of snakes out there!  So, I must now go back to where I was last July and start shotgunning the world again searching for a White Knight prepared to slay dragons for me.  I have asked for the help of the Writer’s Workshop (link on this blog: http://www.writersworkshop.co.uk/literary-agents.html?page=index) but I know that they normally avoid recommending agents.  They have a good database, however, so a lot of the sifting through the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook is done.

I wish I’d known how difficult this would be.  Learning to write took four years and six novels but I now realise that that’s just the start of it.  Getting an agent is perilously difficult and the market is dire.  For new writers it is even worse, approaching impossibility it seems, but I still see it as a challenge.  If I didn’t love writing, I would not have embarked on this, even though I accept that it is in large measure egotism that makes me want other people to read my stuff.  In many ways, writing is an end in itself and publication is the icing on the cake.  Most writers will admit to being better for the creative scribbling process, regardless of the outcome.  The whole process is rather addictive.

So, where do I stand?  The book has been through enough rewrites for me to regard it as finished.  I am pleased with it.  I like it.  It has been edited by a professional.  It is a ripping yarn that combines action and brainpower  coupled with a modern setting and a political premise that is original and that I have never seen elsewhere.  It is a novel of its time – that is, right now.  It is filmic.  It has rather a lot going for it, in my less-than-humble opinion.  OK, that’s the egotism out of the way.  Time to eat humble pie.  The search for another agent begins tomorrow.  No, today.

I wrote earlier that I wish I’d known how difficult this would be but, in all honesty, it wouldn’t have changed anything because writing is fun and creative. 

Knowing the difficulties would actually have made no difference at all.