Thanks to a fellow blogger, Mr Pootler, I recently entered a short horror story competition called Twisted50. It’s a brilliant idea (and one that has turned out to be more than just a writing comp) where writers who enter are additionally encouraged to leave feedback on other stories in the competition. The minimum commitment they ask of you is to read and comment on three stories for every one story you enter; I entered two stories so therefore I was obliged to leave feedback on six others. In the end I read and left feedback on nearly 60 stories – and some people way more than that. In truth, I found myself a little caught up in the whole process, which was not only enjoyable and entertaining, but also provided some really useful experience in both giving and receiving feedback, be it good… or not so good.
It seems that everywhere we go online nowadays, we’re continually confronted by articles shouting about ‘20 things you didn’t know about that…’ or ‘the 10 best things for doing this…’ or ‘the 5 top articles that contain useless lists…’
And so, in celebration of this internet phenomenon (no I didn’t spell that right at the first attempt), I am going to write my very own post that has a list. Mine is the five stages you need to get through before your book is published (that’s in the traditional way, not self-pubbing, in which case the list stops after number 4).
Oh, and I’m going in reverse order because it’s more dramatic that way.
At Stage Five, we have the most obvious (and some would argue the most easy) of all the stages: writing the book. That’s right folks, without actually writing the book, not much else can happen. We are the sole masters of our destiny here, which doesn’t really happen again during the process, so enjoy this bit. Continue reading
In recent posts, I’ve been mostly been talking about rewrites and J.K.Rowling (Hi, J.K., hope you’re well) and – being the literary marvel that I am – I thought I’d combine these two elements into a fresh post, as well as discussing the Beatles.
I’ve noticed that when some people ask me how my book is going and I tell them I’m reworking it before another batch of query letters go out, they seem to feel sorry for me… like I’m failing or something. I don’t know why.
And whenever my attempts to get published via the traditional method and J.K.Rowling are mentioned in the same sentence, the next comment is invariably, “You know that Harry Potter was rejected by most publishers before it became a massive hit, don’t you?” Yes, I do. And this is always encouraging.
I wonder if the version of we’ve all read of The Philosopher’s Stone is exactly the same as that which was sent out to all those publishers all those times prior to it being accepted? I doubt it. I’ll bet the query letter was reworked many times too.
The same story is told of the Beatles: The Fab Four were rejected by numerous record labels and famously told they “have no future in show business“, which may well have been true of them at the time. But during those audition sessions, how much altering did Brian Epstein (their manager) do to their look, their suits, their hair? How much more rehearsing did he make them do? How much was their repertoire honed to make them more commercial? How many times was John told to keep his mouth shut and let Brian do the talking? How much better did they become after each rejection?
You see where I’m going with this?
So, while I have received just as many rejections as J.K. and just as many refusals as the Beatles, I shall carry the spirt of those from-multi-rejetion-to-glory stories with me. Just as I believe they stoically altered their work until it was palatable and as good as it could be, so shall I happily continue with the rewrites of my novel and that seemingly never-ending culling of adverbs. It doesn’t get me down. It’s just part of the process.
I think that when we hear these stories, we all assume the publishers and record labels were mad to turn down these guys because just look at what they were capable of. “Idiots!” we all say. Yes… but what we know of J.K and the Beatles, is not what they were initially sending out. That came later.
Note: Can I make it clear that I do not expect to make as a big a splash as Help! or Harry Potter. I just want to know that, whatever happens, my work is the best it can be and if, sometime into the distant future, one of my grandchildren decides they would like to read granddad’s infamous novel, they won’t think it’s a pile of slush.
And so, whilst this getting published affair may seem long and drawn out, it’s all good.
Thanks for reading.
Thought this may interest some people…
Thanks Dawn Allen for the original.
The Intro: Who has fun spending hours creating that perfect 140-character pitch? Then bouncing that sentence or two off others to see if it’s fantastic? And finally having to create a couple more so you’re not posting the same one every few hours?
The Why: Kristin and Ann know what you’re going through. In fact, they both did quite a few Twitter Pitch Parties so they know your pain. Kristin remembers what it was like to see that little colored star and then checking and re-checking email to confirm that someone did in fact click on the pitch and favorite it. And Ann’s recalls her heart pounding and her palms sweaty, all the while hoping and praying that it wasn’t made by accident from a friend or some complete stranger who marked it and not re-tweeted it by mistake. They both trolled the feed all day long and didn’t work…
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After my latest post, and the small amount of discussion that followed on WordPress and Twitter, it really does seem that agents are focusing on plot, characterisation, voice, etc., when addressing a query, and are not so bothered about the little things.
That’s pretty much what I thought, but it was good to have a chat with others to confirm it anyway.
Of course the upshot of that, I fear, is the prospect of undertaking a re-write as opposed to a simple bit of tweaking and tightening here and there. The overriding majority of agents ask for the first three chapters and – I have to admit – it’s my first three chapters that are probably the weakest of the lot. Hence, I think I’ll need to have a long, hard look at them before the next batch of queries go out.
My blog-buddy D.R.Sylvester has kindly offered up his beta-reading services, so I shall wait and see what his advice may be before proceeding, but then I imagine it’ll be nose-shoved-hard-into-the-gridstone and time for some serious re-drafting.
D.R. did remind me, however, that an agent once told me it was simply the marketability and niche-ness (niche-ness…?) of my concept that put him off, whilst another told me the writing was of a high quality, but lacked urgency. So the task ahead may not be too bad.
By the way, the agent didn’t use the word niche-ness. That abomination is all mine.
Oh, and one other thing; did anyone notice that in my latest post I wrote, “I found myself scrutinising the text perhaps a trifle more than is required,” but rather ironically misspelled scrutinising. Idiot. (Don’t bother looking. I already corrected it). Almost even worse was the fact that it was my dad who spotted it. Doh!
Anyway, thanks for reading.
So, I have just been tweaking my first three chapters prior to embarking on another round of querying agents. Naturally, this involved doing all the usual stuff that gets done at this juncture: swapping adjectives, tightening up the text, removing adverbs, changing ‘that’ to ‘which’ and then ‘which’ back to ‘that’ again before eventually getting rid of the ‘that’ because it’s unnecessary. You know the drill.
Anyway, apart from making the changes that really need to happen, I found myself scrutinising the text perhaps a trifle more than is required at this point in the proceedings. For example, I changed the name of a starship from HMS Clevland simply because the word that follows HMS Cleveland is ‘and’. And that didn’t really work.
Yes, yes, I know this may be finicky and a little over the top… but that’s exactly what got me thinking on the question posed in the title: What do agents see in a manuscript? More to the point, are all of these little changes really worth the effort? I mean, I’ve been rejected by about 30 agents so far (which is only to be expected) but will minuscule tweaks of my work really make a difference? I’m sure that many agents don’t even get past the query letter and synopsis before they reject a submission. Fair enough; they’re busy people with a slush pile the size of corruption allegations against FIFA. Of those that do actually read what we’ve sent them, is it really that important that the work is as impeccable as can be, including those teeny-weeny details such as an ‘and’ following Cleveland. Aren’t any books accepted by a publisher going to be given a whopping great dose of the red-pen treatment by an in-house editor anyway?
The answer to this is no doubt, yes. But then again, do all of the tiny adjustments we make between sending stuff off in queries actually have an impact. I believe they do. Granted, when an agent reads those proverbial “first three chapters”, they’re looking primarily at the marketability, the concept, the voice, etc. But I do think that the general finish and sheen is important. Even if an editor is going to have a go at your pride and joy later on on the process, it must still blow the agent away by how much it has been polished.
Or should it…?
Agents are astute readers. They can tell when a huge amount of work has gone into a draft, and this must have an impact on their overall view of you as an author.
Or does it…?
Oh, I don’t know. Anyone who does know, please get in touch.
In the meantime, I shall carry on querying with the very best that I can offer… only to subsequently refine that very best that I can offer when I go back, re-read it and realise this wasn’t in fact the best I can offer and start making more changes. Circle of life.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. Sorry if you read this thinking that I was going to impart some wisdom as to what agents see in your manuscript. I wasn’t. The title wasn’t rhetorical and I really am seeking the answer to this question.
I’ve not been posting on here as frequently as I would like, and whilst I’m not going to apologise (after all, the only person that really affects is me) I will tell you that I shall endeavour to keep future postings a little more frequent than of late.
So then, trying to get an agent to take on my debut novel is proving about as impossible as I expected. In response to that I’m currently rejigging my story – especially those notorious “first three chapters” that agents ask for – and will be embarking on a second wave of attack in the near future. Right now, though, at least I have some good news to impart…
It turns out that The New Accelerator magazine took a liking to a short story of mine and has decided to publish it.
The adventure is set in the same swashbuckling sci-fi world as my novel, and centres around a young lad who is pressed into service onboard a starship. Life aboard a solar-sailing ship tuns out to be nothing like he expected, and we follow his subsequent attempts to get away.
This short story was, in part, an experiment to see if I could convince readers of my maritime sci-fi world… and it appears that I can. Great. Additionally, it has given me confidence in the concept of my novel and the faith to go and get that published.
The New Accelerator is a bi-monthly compendium of sci-fi shorts, ten in each issue, written by authors from around the globe. My story appears in Issue 3, just in case you’re interested.
The magazine is only recently launched (which probably helped my case a lot!) but a few of the writers are excellent. I am incredibly proud to share the pages with some of these guys and certainly chuffed that somebody took up one of my stories.
This is definitely a feeling I could get used to…
Thanks for reading