My sincere intention with this blog was to chart the ups and downs of writing and publishing my first novel. In this I have latterly failed. Why? Because I could not bring myself to describe the anguish (and – no! – that is not too strong a word) attached to the process of submitting to literary agents. I break my silence now not because anything has changed (the anguish is on-going) but because (a) I wish to have a record of this time, and (b) I’d like to pass on a couple of things I have learnt along the way.
It started back in September. After my last blog post, I pulled myself together, tidied up my MS, and composed a template submission letter and synopsis. I then spent a day researching literary agents and choosing ten who seemed (on their websites at least) to welcome new authors and to enjoy historical fiction. This process was far easier than I had anticipated thanks to Agent Hunter, a sister service to the excellent Writers’ Workshop.
(I signed up for Agent Hunter’s ‘gold’ package, which included an editorial review of my synopsis and letter. In the event, consumed with irrational impatience, I sent out half my submissions before receiving this review. Although I made adjustments for the second batch, I should have waited. We live and learn.)
Two of my chosen agents required hard copy submissions. I do not have a printer (who does, nowadays?) so I used the efficient and very cost-effect printing service offered by Doxzoo. Nicely printed letters, synopsis and sample chapters arrived securely packaged within 48 hours. It would have taken me that long to fit new cartridges into a home printer.
So far so good. I pressed ‘send’ eight times (and trotted down to the post box) and sat back and waited. And waited.
I’m still waiting.
I’ve had two replies. Both rejections. One short and polite. The other longer and more personal; rather kind, actually. I emailed back and said “thank you” very nicely to both. Agent Hunter seems to think I will hear eventually from the other agents. I hope so. I can cope with rejection; living with uncertainty is much harder. I’m not sure if I should “nudge” or not. Maybe I will. Maybe something went wrong with the uploads or email attachments. I had to convert from Pages to Word; maybe my sample chapters reverted to gibberish in transit. Somehow I doubt it; I suspect They took one look at my word count, genre and/or subject and tossed it metaphorically aside. Yes, paranoia is only a breath away.
What has taken me by surprise is how disturbing, how distressing, how personally destructive this whole process is! I was warned but, goodness me, when it’s happening to you it’s as if your heart is being torn out and stamped on by a pair of precisely aimed stiletto heels. It’s a soul-destroying, energy-sapping, time-wasting vortex of self-doubt. I’m not joking.
So, what have I learnt?
First: don’t go it alone. The support of just one person who understands – who ideally has personal experience – makes all the difference. I have that one person; the tutor on my creative writing course a couple of years ago with whom I have kept in touch through Twitter. And, talking of Twitter; make the most of the enormous virtual community of aspiring writers. There will always be greater and lesser writers than you; learn from the former and be (privately) smug about your progress compared with the latter. (Other social media are available but take far more time and effort.)
Second: tell your family that no news is bad news. You will inform them when you have the three book deal – otherwise don’t ask. Ever.
Third: engage with beta readers before you submit to agents. I ignored all the advice and I didn’t – because I’m both arrogant and shy and that is not a good combination. I now regret this and I am putting it right. I’ll save the detail for another post now I’ve broken the jinx.
Fourth: have a Plan B, with sensible target dates. Assume the worse – and plan for it. My Plan B (with dates) goes something like this: (Jan) recruit beta readers; (Feb) implement feedback from readers; (Jan or Feb) send polite and timid reminders to my 10 agents and wait 4 weeks (no more and no less) – and then (March) commission a full editorial review from Writers’ Workshop. (Other editing services are available blah blah blah – but personal recommendation trumps ads on Twitter.)
Fifth: (and this is the most heartfelt piece of advice) start another book. I did this back in the autumn and it’s stopped me being quite so suicidally precious about my first book as I may otherwise have been. Yes, of course I’m still worried about Charlotte et al – but I can now forget her for hours on end as I wrestle with the ramifications of Hope’s tragic love affair.
That’s enough for now. Happy New Year.