We all have goals in life, it might be reaching new levels on Candy Crush, or for the less remedial, intending to read more novels, or perhaps even write one. The first revelation is that novels aren’t as easy to write as they are to read, unless it’s Wolf Hall.
It’s hard to know how many times I sent my completed novel out to agents and publishers, even more times than I completed it for the final time – seventeen times. Any literary agency fool enough to publicise their email and submission details will have seen it at some point. Some twice, and some probably seventeen times.
But, if literary doomsayers are believed (i.e. me), it’s hard to know why anyone would be bothered. People are too busy looking at their phones like insecure new mothers to be reading books. Writing a novel feels like inventing the steam engine at the advent of the internal combustion engine. Yet people persist.
However, as the human race evolves from hunters and gatherers, to audiences demanding constant entertainment, buckets of food and wi-fi connections on trains at 220 feet underground, novels maintain an admirable hold over us, or at least the film adaptations do.
As the new year approaches, literary agents must already be bracing themselves for the flurry of novel (or less novel) submissions completed through seasonal hangovers, winter illness, and inebriated family encouragement. Spam filters already sending automatically generated rejection letters to novels with cats as protaganists, will be updated to strip out novels involving girls on trains and teenage wizards.
The best advice to any debut novelist on completing a manuscript is to lock it in a drawer for 6 months,and post the key overseas instead of sending it to the nearest agency before the ink’s dried, which is what everyone does. It’s only once receipt is acknowledged that you realise it was an experimental old draft, which you’d written from the POV of a sock, and described literary agents as illiterate swamp donkeys.
Then there’s the posted submissions, which some agencies insist upon, presuming, probably correctly, that despite having spent 5 years working on a novel, for most writers, printing off its first 3 chapters and writing a covering letter, is too much effort. Once thanking the exhausted Canon Gs-57 printer in your workplace in the acknowledgements, and using all its paper, you walk to the postbox swinging imaginary holes-in-one, despite never having played golf in your life. The showbiz hi-hat cymbal, as the manuscript joins the others already in the letterbox is spoilt only by the immediate realisation that your protagonist’s mother needs to be a monk, not a seamstress.
However, before even facing up to the horror of a rewrite, you need to retrieve your manuscript. As an alternative to breaking into the agency at night, or waiting to intercept the postman, you nod companionably at passers-by, while dislocating your arm in four different places attempting to extricate it from the depths of the letterbox.
Then come the rejection slips. Some arrive so rapidly that agencies somehow send them before confirmation of having even received the manuscript. There are also some more ideas on how to quicken up the rejection procedure:
- Send a precise outline of your availability for book signings and appearances for the next 5 years.
- Include a series of photos showcasing various outfits you intend to wear to prize ceremonies, with invitation for their feedback on most suitable combinations.
- Make a short list of actors you wish to appear in the film.
- Make a long list of actors you wish to appear in the film.
- Suggest they contact Sophie Marceau as escort for the duration of promotional tours.
- Outline your rider, which includes ballpoint pens that someone has already scribbled with to ensure they work immediately when needed.
It’s difficult submitting something you believe is good because Aunt Joan enjoyed it after one too many ports. Everyone is writing a novel, possibly more than those reading them. Agencies are so inundated by manuscripts they abandon offices every 6 months, while losing sleep over the fact that some might be good. It’s why you have to ignore the pain of a rejection slip, like boxing, after the 50th punch they stop hurting. But who knows, perhaps yours might be one sliding off the ‘slush’ pile into the hands of the agent with a free weekend ahead to spend reading. If not, there’s always next year, or Angry Birds.
My novel, The Life Assistance Agency – selected by WHSmith Fresh Talent 2017 – is available here – http://myBook.to/lifeassistance
and on ebook here –