Saturday 24 January 2015

Adhere to submission guidelines don't interpret

It is part of the journey...
Last night I was at a party celebrating the second year of the Golden Egg Academy. I can't believe it is two years since Imogen started and how it has grown and what an amazing organisation it has become. It is incredible to be part of and hugely satisfying.

I had some wonderful conversations with various agents and publishers and we were all talking about one of our biggest bug bears and that is not just the inability to adhere to submission guidelines but it is the interpretation of them.

I apologise if I come across as stroppy in this post but we do all get very tired at times. We spend a long time creating submission guidelines. They are not just numbers we pick out of the air. The number of pages or chapters we suggest have been decided because we believe they give us a fair indication of the story. It is standard that most organisations ask for three chapters. When we are doing feedback for editorial surgeries we ask for 30 pages because that is all we can read in the time allocated for preparation. It takes a long time to read and give detailed feedback.

The standard way to present this work is double spaced with reasonable margins. There is a reason for that too. It allows us to be able to see the words and write feedback on it. It is important to be able to see the white space on a page too.

Yet talking to agents, and in our own experience, people seem to find it appropriate to interpret these submission guidelines in their own way. Obviously assuming we won't notice. Three chapters suddenly becomes five because the story doesn't really get going until the fifth chapter. Or it is formatted in single line spacing with the smallest margins you can ever possibly imagine so they can get as many words in and that we can't actually read . Don't worry we re format so that it is set out properly and read only the appropriate number. Or they might slip in a few extra pages because it doesn't end in the right place - those extra pages might equate to half the number again. Some even send the whole novel just in case you have time. We would love to have time but am afraid we don't.

I was talking to Hannah Sheppard of DHH Literary Agency as she was telling me how she gently sends an email to an author who doesn't meet the submission guidelines suggesting that they check out the website. Very generous of her. However if they resubmit and are still ignoring them (it happens!) they have lost their chance. It is really not that difficult.

Please this is your novel. You have worked hard on it. Why stumble at that last hurdle by not bothering to pay attention to those little details. The impression it gives is that you are going to be quite difficult to work with because you just don't listen and can't be bothered to pay attention.

For all those who attended the Big Honk last night here's Andrew Wright's Book Map anthem

Saturday 17 January 2015

Agents and Editors...they are human beings you know!

Sometimes the way writers behave really embarrasses me and they give  the rest of us a bad name. I have to say they are often the inexperienced ones.  I am Facebook friends with the wonderful Carole Blake of Blake Friedmann. She will occasionally regale us with tales of recalcitrant aspiring authors who have not read the detailed submission guidelines on the agency's website or have not taken kindly to her rejection and something she wrote recently made me think I ought to write this post.

Before you all shout at me I do also know that some agents may  behave a little badly too with their rejections but today I am not talking about that. I will deal with that in another post.

Firstly those awful letters/emails. Some of which come across as almost threatening! And this is the point that I have to thank Carole for. Do not respond to any rejection email while drunk. It is not clever. You have no hope of ever being able to send anything else ever to that agency/editor again if you send a rude and abusive email to them. Never say anything in an email you wouldn't be willing to say face to face. Always be polite and considerate.

Nicola Morgan has written some excellent books offering guidance as well as Carole Blake's own book, From Pitch to Publication(Macmillan), which she is currently writing an a new version of. As well, of course, check the submission guidelines on any agency/publishers website and adhere to them. They are there for a reason.

But then there is also face to face and that can be really cringeworthy. I am talking about those people, and come on you have all seen them or heard them haven't you, who pin a potential agent or editor in the corner giving them no hope of escape while telling them every single detail of their book even if it is not finished or appropriate for their agency/publisher because the aspiring author hasn't checked who they are. Shouting at them 'Oh you must read it, you'd love it, I know you'll want to take me on. I'd be so easy to work with.Shall I give you my number, or I know shall I ring you tomorrow? Can I have your card.' This is all said without taking a breath and without the agent/editor being able to get a word in edge-ways.  I have seen it happen at conferences, other people's book launches and most unforgivable parties where the poor agent/editor has actually gone to have a social life with people who have nothing to do with books necessarily.

What I am trying to say in possibly a rather long winded way is respect these people. They are human beings. If you are going to an event where you are know they are going to be in attendance. Find out about them (Check out websites and the Writers' and Artists Yearbook if you don't know where to look) and just talk to them.  Have a normal conversation. There is a good chance when they find out you are a writer they will ask you about your work and then you have an opportunity to give your brief (note that word BRIEF) elevator pitch. If they are interested they will ask more. If not don't push it, don't keep harping on about it thinking you can convince them. Leave the subject alone and move the conversation on. Don't let them think you were only talking to them because they were agents/editors. How shallow and rude is that?

Most importantly be an interesting writerly person who leaves a good impression. And for all writers there is always going to be another mountain but we will always make it through...

Thursday 1 January 2015

Writing into 2015 - it is not a race

It is a long but good journey
Happy New Year. It is 2015, the start of a brand new shiny year. Thank goodness. 2014 for me wasn't the greatest and I know for a lot of other people it wasn't too good either so 2015 has a lot of pressure riding on it to be better. I hope it's feeling up to it!

For me I have the pressure of two books to finish. Writing is a journey. It is not a race. Some people appear to think otherwise. They seem to be under the misapprehension that the faster they go, the more they rush the sooner they will get that publishing deal. Unfortunately it doesn't necessarily work like that. You may read the odd success story where they say they have written a book in a few months then it was published and to huge acclaim. I have to say I often doubt that. I wonder how much prewriting and rewriting was done and what about the thinking time beforehand when they were mulling the story over. Ok you can call me a cynic but really?

A story needs to be nurtured and teased out. Often undergoing several rewrites and edits until the true story that was waiting to be told makes it way out. Sometimes I am asked how many rewrites should a writer do? How long is a piece is a of string is a better question. That is impossible to answer. I know some people who have rewritten their story tens of times. Others who rewrite it five or six times. Just don't be afraid of the process or rush it. Neither think it is easy. If I am truly honest writing the first draft is easy. Going back and rewriting and editing is the difficult bit. Though I have to say I enjoy that side. Maybe I am odd! I love seeing the story develop and emerge like a butterfly out of a chrysalis.

So for all you writers out there enjoy that journey with me this year. I am really looking forward to mine. 2015 is going to be good. I am hoping to see lots of Eggers at the Big Honk plus many more during the year I am sure. On a personal note there is a lot of joy to look forward to this year. So 2015 bring it on and don't stop me now...