Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Submitting your writing to literary agents and editors - The distant sound of gunfire

I hope the following is useful to potential writers. I'd like to be able to post various different articles I've written, as well as personal opinions and thoughts and updates on my writing and what I'm working on.

I recently received some great reviews in Australian newspapers for my latest novel, THE LADY SPLASH and have included an example here. Reading the papers is one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday but in the months after publication each year (I write a book each year at the moment but I might be stretching that out a little for the next title - THE TEQUILA BIKINI which gives me more time to develop the books but also help look after my mum right now who is quite sick, and so my writing hasn't been as regular as usual).

I get nervous reading the books section because when I turn a page in the arts section of the paper and see an image of my latest book cover and article or review, my heart squeezes in fear. I've had a couple great reviews, some vague ones and one nasty personal attack, so I'm always expecting the worst, which is one of the crapper aspects of my personality. I'm working on building up some optimism but in the meantime, I think I can go back to reading my papers again without fear...

Giving yourself the best chance possible to get published

When W. H. Allen & Co. rejected Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal in 1970 citing ‘No reader interest’, he could have received it like a blow to the head, but he kept writing. Perhaps he felt compelled to contribute to the creative world or maybe he just set about furiously to prove them wrong.

But many writers don’t get the opportunity to get angry about anything other than a blank compliments slip, which can be quite a let down. As the director of Driftwood Manuscripts, I’ve discovered at least one of the reasons this rejection occurs. All too often the manuscript was not passed over because the agent had been lazy or arrogant or drunk, it’s because they never read it in the first place.

Any form of rejection sucks, but I found that dealing with rejection from a publisher by downing a few dozen shots of vodka is rather like trying to distract the Hounds of Hell with a few bone shaped treats. So while I can get used to good-looking strangers dismissing me with a glance and cashiers waving off my offers of exact change, publishers offering no explanation for this cruel clip around the ears was something I tried to address.

And no, agents don’t reject you without explanation because they’re crap. They want to publish your brilliant erotic space opera thriller that will open up their favourite editor’s fledgling fiction line to an untapped audience and require its own paper mill.

The truth is, they may well have not read the critical first sentence because they didn’t take your writing seriously. Agents are just not going to wade through the novelty paper, attention-grabbing glitter and 10 point Lydian MT font hoping for a gem.

I know this because agents and editors tell me about it and also because I see it a lot myself. Driftwood clients are asked to submit their work to us in the same way they would to a publisher (only without their surname in the header) in order for us to give them a robust assessment on the entire submission, but it’s really surprising how many manuscripts I receive tied up in ribbons (romance), strings and rope (sailing theme), spiral bound, glued like a book, illustrated by the client’s niece, with coloured fonts, (inexplicably popular) ClipArt, held together by plastic folders (which, when piled on top of one another, slip all over the desk and then get lost behind the shredder) and even quotes (‘Kirsty’s characters made me want to weep and laugh at the same time’ - Dave from Foxtel).

When these festive packages arrive and the agent is very quiet at her desk, she can hear the distant sound of gunfire. This is the actual sound of a writer shooting themselves in the foot.

As Caro Clarke, author of the article ‘I am your Editor: Submitting your Novel’ in the Romance Writers of Australia newsletter, Heart Talk, states: ‘This is what the professional side of being a writer is all about: making a no-gimmick, no-hassle submission that gets me to the point of reading. Don’t blow your only chance. Why give me an excuse to say goodbye?’

Meet the agent’s basic needs, but then tailor it to the individual agent or publisher you have targeted. But most importantly, be professional, concise and give them exactly what they ask for. Along with the basic information that every writer should know, there are many resources that offer a lot of very useful advice.

I recently spoke to a writer who felt she was ready to submit her work. When I suggested perhaps mentioning an author or two who had been successful in the same genre (and published by that company) in the marketing section of the submission, she asked me who I would suggest. I gave her a few names before realising she actually didn’t know herself. I don’t read in this genre, but I’d seen these blokes in the recent weekend paper while enjoying a chocolate croissant, so I felt I knew my stuff.

Now she’d probably been hunched over her computer laying down some fine dialogue that Saturday instead of developing late onset diabetes, but she should have known who she was competing against on the bookshelves. These final bits of information are available to all writers and much of it is incredibly important in getting that dialogue read.

So this is exactly how I cocked up when I first submitted my work. I remained unpublished for so long I got depressed, drunk, surly, and finally, indignant enough to do something about it. So I started trying to find out what agents wanted from me, and when I thought I had it right, I checked again. Then I shook out all the glitter and changed the font. Do yourself, and your manuscript, justice, and get it right the first time. You just don’t get a second chance.

This post first appeared as an article in the SA Writers' Centre newsletter.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Patricia said...

Hi, Kirsty, Your items this week make me wish I could write fiction and, although a lie may be labelled 'fiction,' I don't think I'd qualify.

This week's blog must be an invaluable help to those already writing and to those aspiring, clever people.

PS, how are the birds,

Patricia.

12:33 pm, October 11, 2006  

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