Whenever There’s a Doubt (There’s No Doubt).

16 Mar

Every now and then I write something that I think is pretty good.

Sometimes, when I come back to something I wrote some time ago, I still think it’s pretty good.

I also have an interesting and varied collection of rejection letters from a selection of agents, publishers and magazines.

Having become a little discouraged with publishers and agents I indulged in a spot of self publication on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing a while ago.

The advantage of this kind of self publishing is that it costs nothing and you don’t have to slip past someone else’s hang ups to do it.

The disadvantage is that there’s an enormous amount of material out there and it’s no easy thing to get your work noticed by the people who might actually want to read it.

So in spite of a couple of encouraging comments from various people, I would have to admit that so far my career as an author could be described as a bit of a damp squib.

This is largely my own fault. I dislike self promotion and I’m not very imaginative or persistent about it. I also have a bad habit of writing things that are too long, too short or otherwise just not very commercially attractive.

But here I go again.

I’ve written two novels out of a trilogy (the third installment is in draft form but still in need of extensive revision). Having reread (and further revised) the first two I still think they’re pretty good.

So having come to the conclusion that someone else might also think they’re pretty good, I’m going to have another shot at getting them published.

Where to begin?

Well, the traditional place to start is The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook, so that’s where I’ve started. (Call me a traditionalist if you like).

I went through the UK agents section with a highlighter and market out the likely prospects. This gave me a list of 56 possible agents based on what they had to say about what they wanted (or more precisely what they said they wouldn’t consider).

My policy on who to select for submissions is reasonably straightforward. If the agent provides me with sufficient information to be sure that they won’t be interested in my work then I won’t waste my time or theirs. If they provide sufficient information for me to think that they may well be interested in the kind of work I do, then obviously I’ll send them a submission.

If, on the other hand they make it difficult for me to find enough information to make a decision, or if the information they provide is too vague (There is one agent who claims he will consider ‘anything with wit and intelligence’ and as far as I’m concerned he deserves everything he gets – including a submission from me) then I take the view that ‘whenever there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt’ and send them a submission anyway. (See Robert De Niro in Ronin) The agent concerned may be annoyed about this, but in my opinion it’s their own fault for not being specific enough in their submission guidelines.

As an aside, I’d have to say I get a little irritated with some agents (and some publishers and even a few published authors) because of their attitude to unpublished authors.

Essentially I am a little tired of hearing, or more often reading,  complaints about schizophrenics with hypergraphia, hopeless boobs with delusions of talent, people who can’t spell, who don’t understand the basics of grammar and punctuation and won’t do anything about it, people who send submissions in exotic fonts and garish colours or who simply don’t bother to do basic research into who is likely to accept what.

Part of this irritation stems from the fact that I fall into none of these categories, but essentially I get tired of hearing the same gripes over and over again from people who are actually in pretty good jobs and don’t seem to properly appreciate their good fortune.

My suggestion to such people is to try an 8 hour shift in a call centre. I suspect that after this experience their slush piles, or whatever else they’re bitching about, would all of a sudden start to look quite attractive.

Incidently, can anyone tell me what, exactly ‘literary’ fiction is?

I can understand what other genres are because the names are fairly descriptive, so if you’re looking for a western or a detective story, or science fiction, you can be pretty sure of what you’re going to get. The term literary fiction, on the other hand, tells you nothing at all about what the book is about, or what kind of book it is, it simply makes a claim about the quality of the work.

Maybe it would be more honest to call it ‘non-genre’ fiction.

As a matter of fact the only thing I really understand by the term ‘literary’ is that it means that the people who claim to handle it are liable to take a very long time to reply and probably not be very courteous when (and if) they ever do.

So, having had my little rant, I then took a massive trawl through the internet looking for further information on submission guidelines, likes and dislikes etc and this gave me a shorter list of 26 possibilities. (Incidently this represents progress of a sort 2-3 years ago hardly any of the agents listed in the Writers and Artists had websites although most publishing houses did). 

17 of these candidates were willing to accept email submissions (Some actually insist on them, this is more progress, as until recently email submissions were obviously far too hi tech for most agents). While 9 still insisted on postal submissions.

So 17 email submissions later, I have had one rejection (it arrived 2 days after the submission) and 2 acknowledgements. (In previous years I have waited months, sometimes nearly a year to get any response at all from agents). The stated turnaround time  for most of these agents seems to be 6 – 8 weeks (more progress, it’s not so long ago that they were talking in terms of months, one agent even suggested that if no reply had been received within a year, it might be worth making a polite enquiry).

The next step in the project is to print off hard copies of the submissions to the 9 possible candidates who want postal submissions and send them off.

I’ve always tried to ensure that my submissions were of a reasonably professional standard and that any correspondence was courteous (at least on my side). Now I’m trying to be a lot more systematic and even to operate on an industrial (albeit a cottage industry) basis.

I’m hoping that if I do it right this time, maybe I won’t have to do it again.


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