15 November, 2013

An Agent - One Year On

It's been a year since I received a glorious e-mail from an agent concerning my newly-finished novel: "I've read the full MS now... I think it's tremendous... I'd very much like to take you on." Less than a month after finishing, and with another agency also interested, it was a bit of whirlwind time for me. But what happens after the whirlwind dies down? I thought it was time to update you...

You can read all about how I came to be represented by David Haviland at The Andrew Lownie Literary Agency here. Since then, I've been mostly silent on the subject of that first novel - The Art of Letting Go - and for a good reason: there's been little to say. Yet.

After meeting David and signing the agency contract, I spent a few months re-writing TAOLG based on David's feedback, and on working with him to put together a proposal package (sample chapters, short synopsis, detailed chapter breakdown, marketing ideas....). David started submitting the MS to editors at publishing houses in March - about 8 months ago.

At first, even receiving rejections was exciting. Unlike submitting to agents, most publishers offer a sentence or two of feedback, rather than standard rejections. Here were professional publishers discussing my work with an agent - who'd have thought it?! I knew the chance of a publishing contract was still small - an inexperienced, young author writing general (rather than genre) fiction, with a book that is a psychological exploration of human interaction, rather than an action-packed romp - but I was hopeful and, despite the lack of contract so far, I still am. I still believe in it. I know of authors who had a publishing deal within a month of getting an agent; but I also know a few authors who have taken a year or more to get a deal. And I also know authors who never sell their first book but for whom it opens a door to getting their next book published.

I could write a detailed post about the rejections I've received but I suspect it would be rather like writing down dreams: dull and pointless for the reader! To summarise it instead, I would say I am pleased with my rejections so far. That might sound odd - it's easy to feel embarrassed at the lack of an immediate publishing deal - but with one or two exceptions, the response has been positive. People have said nicer things on rejecting this novel than they have on awarding me short story prizes in the past! Among other things I've been told:

It's a shocking story, told with confidence and verve... a sense of darkness lurking below the surface of the narrative...
The layering of the story is deftly handled and navigated. A compelling novel.
It has a powerful sense of place and careful attention to humanity.

And in case that sounds like showing off, I will remind you that all this is in the context of being rejected! I am still waiting for somebody willing to give it a shot among the famous names and boldest thrillers. From the more, shall we call it 'constructive' feedback I've just finished writing yet another version of the novel (number six, if you're counting) and we are waiting to see what happens with that. But to avoid this blog post becoming an essay of epic proportions, I'll leave telling you what else I've been doing for the last 8 months for another time (not just refreshing my e-mail inbox, I promise).

For now, here are some things I've learned this year:

  1. Progress is not linear. Two years ago I had a great year - winning several short story prizes. Last year seemed slow but ended with an agency deal of my dreams. This year I've mostly just put words on paper. Just because you are going in the right direction doesn't mean you are going there fast! None of those hours trying to herd words are wasted.
  2. I can write. Several editors have described my writing as beautiful or told David they think I'm talented. I remind myself of this when it seems nothing I write is any good. I am not a polished writer. I am not a genius. I have so much work to do to even be publishable let alone worthy of attention. But I can write. In fact, my biggest comfort has been that the criticism has been for technical stuff (e.g. plot structure) - stuff writers can (hopefully) learn - whereas the praise has been for the writing itself - much harder to learn.
  3. Writing is subjective. Things that one editor loves, another hates. My characters have been criticised and complimented. The quirky structure of my novel has been praised as skillful and called a mess!
  4. Being open-minded is everything. Not only must a new writer be willing to change their precious manuscript, but dreams must be flexible too. I do possibly have a chance to be published by a good-quality, professional digital publisher. It could get my book out there quicker, possibly sell more than a traditional deal would and get over that first hurdle in publishing. I haven't thought about it much yet, but I am determined not to dismiss it only because it isn't the sort of deal I've dreamed of at night!
  5. It's easy to forget the positives. A rejection is negative, even if the editor says lovely things. BUT if they have said lovely things, they're not lying. I tend to forget the praise in the despair. Add in the hormonal free-for-all that is pregnancy, and teacups can be filled with tempests if I'm not careful!
  6. I want this book to be published. Yes, I want to be published one day. More than that though, I want THIS book to be published. I still love it and I am willing to work as hard as I can - listen to any advice - to bring it to life. Hell, I've written it six times already - why not 10?!

What have you learned from a bumpy journey, you might never have learned from a smooth road?

15 comments:

  1. It is really good to hear such praise of your writing - as you say, that is the hard bit. All you need now is to find the editor who likes enough aspects of book to give it a shot. Writing is really subjective as you say, and you'll never please everyone, but with every positive rejection there is more hope that someone else will decide that yours is the book for them :)

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    1. Thank-you. David said something similar - frustrating as it is, all there is to do is wait for someone to want the book. It could've happened after a week, it might happen today, it might happen in the New Year or in 10 years time when I've got another three novels out!

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  2. Good to see you're staying positive. It seems like writers feel like once they get that agent, it gets the ball rolling, but that's so not true. There's so many other things that need to happen.

    When I get to that point, and if my first (agented) novel isn't published, it'll suck. But I really believe that there's a time and place for novels and if the first one needs to be set aside until the publishing market is more open, at least that novel will still be there. Ready and waiting.

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    1. Thanks, Suzi. I'm sure you understand how hard it is to be positive about things during pregnancy! But I always knew it was a long slog and a long shot. Managing expectations is such an important part of being a writer - well, probably of being anything!

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  3. Excellent post - I happily shared it around. A lot of people can (quite rightly) get swept up in the days surrounding an agent's offer and the reality of being on submission can seem almost a let down. I found Mindy McGinnis' Submission Hell It's True (SHIT) series a great insight - they're here http://writerwriterpantsonfire.blogspot.com/search/label/SHIT. Series of interviews with authors about the time spent on sub, rather than looking for an agent.

    Plus, it took me more than a year to have an editor say 'yes', so I respect your balanced thoughts on all this

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    1. I do always think of you (and your new glamorous millionnaire lifestyle of a contracted author, of course) when I'm fretting over the time it's taking. I'm sure getting so much feedback from professional editors will be really valuable to me, whatever the final outcome. Thank-you for sharing!

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  4. Really interesting,useful, optimistic and enjoyable post, Chloe. Thank you for telling us about your journey - especially when it's a bit of the journey that is usually looked over, or that some writers may not feel happy talking about.

    Lots of luck.

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    1. Bless you - thanks. It wasn't really something I wanted to talk about much either but I think it's disingenuous to only talk about the highs. People on this blog and the writing community generally have been really kind to me - honesty is the only way I can repay you all!

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  5. Thank you for this post! You made some great points; I think number three is so important. I try to remind myself of that one when I'm feeling discouraged.

    Thanks, too, for your comment today—and congratulations to you as well! :)

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    1. I'm sure having a baby will put a lot of things into perspective! You'll have to give me your best tips on finding time to write when you have children!

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  6. As usual, Chloe, you approach your writer's journey with insight, positivity and perspective.

    It's interesting how, as fiction writers, we want our work to be filled with conflict, twists and turns, and adventure on the road to triumph and resolution. And yet, somehow, when it comes to our own lives there is often the expectation (from who knows where) that the route from A to B (aspiration to book) ought to be straight and unhindered. We look forward to your 'I have a publisher' post in the not too distant future.

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    1. Thank-you. I look forward to that post too!

      I know - we definitely don't like our own lives reading "like pages from a novel"!

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    2. Or maybe it depends on which novel!

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  7. Hi, I'm going through a similar process right now with my book. My agent has received so many positive comments -- and it's not quite right for a particular editor after all that praise for the writing. But I've become philosophical about it. It's a long process, and I'm happy that she's the one sending it out while I work on a new book. Meanwhile, I have learned so much about writing from both my agent, who coached me through some rewrites, and some of the editorial comments. It's so important to know what you are doing right, as well as what you are doing wrong. Best of luck with your novel.

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    1. Thanks - I've certainly learned so much in the last year. Probably more than if I'd got a deal straight away, though that would've been my preferred option! Good luck to you too. Let me know what you get that deal!

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