They should have called it Charlotte’s Dead…
I have an egalitarian attitude towards knowledge. I don’t want to get all political on ‘yo ass, but if knowledge is power then I believe it should be shared. Yes, I’m talking to you, you library closing, art-fund cutting, self proliferating, NHS spoiling, money grabbing, clueless, Bullingdon twats. Ahem. Aaaaaanyway, I like sharing knowledge.
So, have you ever sent a query letter to an agent? I have. It’s really quite painful. It hurts like hell. You’re on a high after finishing your book. You’ve re-written it (Yes, you will need to re-write it, but more of that another time) and you’re full of self-doubt and anxiety. First though, pat yourself on the back, because you’ve finished a book! A lot of people say they reckon they could write a book, or that they have an idea for a book, or some-such wishy-washy literary motive BUT THEY HAVEN’T WRITTEN A WHOLE FUCKING BOOK USING LOTS OF BIG WORDS AND STUFF AND YOU HAVE! So there.
Now it’s time for you to pluck up the courage and release this monster on to the world. When I pitched my first book I had no experience of how this whole publishing sha-bang thing works. My first efforts at pitching were pretty horrendous and I cringe thinking back at them.
The people on the receiving end of your pitch make their living by evaluating, selling, enjoying, consuming and believing in literature. Hopefully, your world of literature and their world are pretty close things. Always remember though agents are not the enemy. If they reject you then that’s just part and parcel of what they do. They are not there to humiliate you. If they truly believe in your work they will do all they can to help you. I entered this whole new world of publishing at a point where things were transforming pretty radically. The internet, kindle, Amazon, Tesco, fan fiction, Tesco, Dan-the-famous-man-looked-at-the-red-cup-Brown, that one about sex, that other one about sex, that other one about sex, that other one about sex that was like the first one about sex, self publishing, did I mention Tesco? The whole traditional routes into publishing have become more fluid and… erm… fluids make people nervous. Yeah. Anyway, all of this should never impact on you as a writer. If you want to write one of those books that have the literary nutrition of a happy meal, then go for it. But I believe you should write what floats your boat, and if others like it, great. If they don’t, then so be it.
So, what I found out about submitting to agents was through other people sharing their knowledge. Other people who have got a bit more time than I have to share their experiences. But what I can do is pool together what I have found and share it with you. Here’s a collection of sites which, once you’ve got a body of work to show, might help you understand how a new writer might pitch that fantastic new novel to an agent. Like I say, I’m still learning about pitching and still looking for that elusive agent so dive in to this lot and see how you get on.
The Query Shark is a great place find out what might work for you. He/She/They look at pitches and show how to revise them. There’s a whole back catalogue of past query letters that the shark has chomped at, in the hope of making them more succesful. Fill your boots with this site.
Danuta Keane runs the Guardian Master class on pitching your book. It’s a great course for anyone new to pitching. Danuta is the book’s editor for the brilliant Mslexia (a superb resource for women who write) and has a whole bunch of advice including this great article about what agents want. Take a look. I did the masterclass and found it really helpful as well as exciting being able to mooch around the Guardian building of a weekend.
Rejection is a necessity. You will get a rejected. And then you’ll move on. If you don’t ever get a rejection, then blimey, I’ll not only take my hat off to you but I’ll eat it as well. The rejection letter will be a form letter and feel really impersonal. Here’s a whole website called literary rejections dedicated to rejection and why manuscripts are rejected. Boo. But Hurrah!
Carole Blake is Agent & Joint Managing Director for Blake Freidman and here she tells us 29 ways not to submit to an agent at the Bang2write website, including at number 27. Do NOT slip your synopsis under the door of the ladies loo I am occupying. Seriously… that’s just desperate and weird.
If you’re after something a bit more up close and personal then here’s 14 Questions You’re Too Afraid to Ask Literary Agents at writers digest
And just to round it all off here’s a site where someone has stuck googly eyes on books called…erm… Googly Eye Books. I particularly like Charlotte’s Web. I read this book to my son when he was about six. When we’d finshed, I turned to him to ask, if after the rather sad ending, he was okay. “Daddy,” he replied, “they should have called it Charlotte’s Dead.”