As regular readers are hopefully aware, I am trying to write a book every month with a vague future aim of publication and possible literary stardom.
One question I am asked on an occasional basis (by two people, but they have asked multiple times so I deem it pertinent) is “HAVE YOU GOT AN AGENT YET?”
The answer to this is no, and I can tell you for why.
It’s not lack of confidence in my work, for my ideas are beacons of shining brilliance in the sea of prosaic treacle that is Stuff Already In Print. It’s more a sense of self preservation, with a hint of procrastination thrown in.
If you’ve been paying attention, particularly to the posts with links to advice for writers or my re-tweets of advice to writers, you’ll know I read a fair bit of advice to writers. It’s because I am a writer in need of advice.
Obviously a lot of the information out there clashes terribly. I wrote about it for Mslexia and not one but nearly four people agreed with my assessment that ultimately you have to find your own way. However, one thing that reappears with a monotonous regularity that smacks of truth is the suggestion that when looking for an agent or publisher, you should take the time to research your 8 million query letters properly. This echoes all the freelance journalism advice I’ve ever read (research the market, find out who is looking for submissions, tailor your pitch accordingly) and I see no reason to put in any less work to trying to sell fiction.
The main difference between the two is that when pitching an article, its common practice not to write it first. What you do instead is pitch the idea, then shape it according to what the editor wants if they express an interest. There’s no point slaving away over a 2000 word feature and sending it in without asking their opinion first – what if they were looking for a 500 word blog post? Or worse, what if they aren’t taking submissions at all? That is time you aren’t getting back, which you could’ve spent watching Ghostbusters and eating scones if only you’d known.
When pitching a book, on the other hand, it’s pretty OK to have a few chapters down first, especially when you are a nobody such as what I am. Someone like Stephen Fry might be able to go to his agent/publisher and go ‘hey, I’ve had a novel idea about a cat who likes cricket,’ and be taken up on the spot, but I am not him. Seriously, what agent is going to take me on based on a hastily scribbled query letter and a body of work that has only been seen in excerpt format on this blog? A mad one, at best. Better to have at least a couple of chapters, if not a whole book, polished up into something I’m proud to parade about town. Rejection is always better when you start from a point of relative confidence, after all. And rejection is inevitable, let us make no bones about that – it wouldn’t matter if I was Shakespeare, Stephen King, Tolstoy and Enid Blyton rolled into one strange ball of bestselling potential.
My first seven books all have the beginnings of something, but shiny they ain’t. And if I want to ensnare an agent, I fear they need to be shinier. Then I need to write an equally sparkling cover to persuade them my chapters are worth reading. After all, getting one stranger to believe in my work is merely the first step – we then have to persuade a publisher to buy it. Then there’s the task of getting members of the general public who aren’t related to me to buy it from them. All of which requires time and effort.
It’s work that I plan to put in, but I’ve set myself this challenge of a draft every month and by Odin’s beard I’m going to do it.
In summary then: I don’t have an agent yet, because I don’t have any finished books yet. But don’t worry about it, I’ll get there. I’m in this for the long haul. To find out whether I ultimately succeed, you should probably come back in 2-3 years. See you then.