Tag Archives: literary agents

Can a writer’s anxiety suffocate their chance of success? How learning to back yourself is crucial…

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So you’ve written a book. When do you decide to tell not just agents and publishers but stand up and shout proudly from the nearest mountain top that you have written a book in all its glory for anyone and everyone to hear?

Whether we recognise it or not, the moment we decide to send it out on submission, its begun a journey, albeit a very long, lonely one but one filled with surprises along the way and soon that book begins to eclipse your worries of failure and your need for re-assurance and become something separate to you, away from the anxiety – for you and your book are not one and the same. The book is fine, its the unpublished writer that’s the mess.

We talk to people in quiet voices, half in embarrassment as they ask how the book’s going and I answer truthfully that I’m still knocking on doors but perhaps its not until you can get over yourself that your book can set sail under its own steam.

‘What’s it about?’ they ask politely and you die inside, judging them judging you before you’ve even finished. You stumble out the word fantasy, then say horror too, then regret that cause it’s not really and then you say, “Well it would be similar to Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.” While this has lots of meaning to me, I imagine them stumped – not fans, not interested. Isn’t the whole vampire thing done already? Always knew she was odd, I can almost hear them say.

And so, you keep your book to yourself, tell people on a need-to-know basis to save yourself those conversations. And then something happens. Perhaps tired of feeling this way, tired of waiting for answers that could quite frankly change your life, you decide that you will put your head above the parapet, take a little peak around. You breathe the air in at an agent workshop and think, hey, there’s enough oxygen up here for all of us . You take the feedback. You realise that maybe you’ve learnt a few things from the rejections in the rear view mirror and that what you have might just be okay.

I sit in the front row at a ‘how to get published’ panel during the Dublin Book Festival and take notes – brazen as you like! I even wave hello to the agent I met the day before. Jeez, hold yourself back there girl – you’re in danger of behaving like any other normal person in the room. And though I skulk off afterwards instead of chatting to the publishing folk hanging around (my gumption only lasts so long), I can feel something different in myself. Gone is that helpless feeling of sitting around, being shy both for myself and most dangerously for my book.

I even attend a seminar the following weekend on self-publishing. Something which at the beginning of my journey seemed like a last resort, an oh-well-if-all-else-fails-I-can-shove-it-out-there, ashamed that I couldn’t get any real publishers to take it. I’m not proud of my small town view of e-publishing but the dream was a traditional one. And then in the course of one day, my perception changed totally. A complete 180. Control. Self-publishing means you have control and that notion swims even now in my mind a few weeks later. I now know that this journey is actually a hell of a lot more exciting than I’d anticipated and while I continue to chase traditional submissions, I know that there is no way that my book will ever be a throw-it-out-there thing. The skies of the year ahead suddenly went from grey to blue, even just at the thought of taking its fate into my own hands.

And so I stand proudly over my book. I’m not the sort to rant about its merits, quite the opposite but I know that the feedback I’ve had from my chosen readers has been abundantly positive and so I’m ready now to stand up and own it. So here’s what it is and here’s to not choking on my words when someone is kind enough to ask, ‘What’s it about?’

OUR DESTINY IS BLOOD

New York. 1847.

An Irish girl with a murderous secret. A vampire out for revenge.

Brought together by a powerful force…their destiny is blood.

Seventeen-year-old EVEYLN MOONEY has just burned a man to death with her bare hands. Now she has to run, keeping it a secret from her protective brother MICHAEL, until she can figure it out. Together they flee their famine stricken homeland, crossing the Atlantic to New York and into the household of Russian aristocrat VLADIMIR DERMATOV. But their new master has a secret of his own and when his dead brother makes a miraculous return, the stage is set for a reunion unlike any other. For SASHA is now a vampire, seeking retribution on the brother that left him in the hands of a monster. Their fates will be decided in the mansions of Fifth Avenue and far below them, for a dark force lurks beneath the city who would bring them all together.

©Clare B. Daly 2016

Why Rejection Is An Essential Lesson For Every Writer

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Rejection is the bane of every writer’s life – that soul destroying moment when you see the agent/publisher’s email in your inbox and a brief moment of hope flickers before you open it and your eyes quickly scan through the words….‘after careful consideration’…’unfortunately’…’not right for my list’…’another agent may feel differently’…’good luck’. Instantly you wonder if the off-license is still open or if there’s chocolate cake in the fridge cause you’re gonna need something to get through yet another knock back.

Having gathered more than my fair share, I’ve realised that those ‘no thank yous’ could be the best thing that ever happened to my writing. Allow me to explain.

The more the merrier!

Gather rejections. As many as you can, for some hidden gems may lie within. Keep sending out submissions but when you get to double figures on the rejection pile take stock. Is there a similar vein to each one? Casting aside the form rejections, did any offer feedback or insight and if so, are they of any use to you? We are too quick to let the disappointment in and you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t feel deflated and not good enough but later go back, read it again, for there are nuggets to be gleaned.

Consider the market stall you’re setting out

One agent (whom I admire –that’s important) told me that while he liked my writing, he couldn’t place it as a historical novel right now (it’s set in the 1840s). Initially I was horrified. That’s my story, it’s not something that can be altered. Head explodes! BUT when I thought about what I had said to him in my query letter, what my title may be suggesting, what my synopsis was saying I realised that perhaps I was highlighting the very thing that is in fact putting agents off. Yes, my story is set in harsh historical times but it’s a fantasy, a swirling gothic fantasy. A good story should shine through no matter the setting.

His words forced me to look at my book with a marketing eye. I may have written a book worthy of release (I have to believe so) but I also needed to re-check what my market stall was actually selling. Are the two things the same? If that agent in question found the setting a daunting one, then I would need to convey it to agents in a different and more commercial light. The first part of that was looking at the title. I thought it was perfect but perhaps only had true resonance after the reader had finished the book. My new title, which I shall keep under wraps for now, is much more enticing and tells the reader what to expect in simple terms from the outset, from the bookshelf. In following my gut, I know it’s the right move.

I re-shifted too the focus on my synopsis. Play down the setting, play up my heroine. What she’s capable of, what her fight is. What the true hook is. Think, think and think again. What am I selling? Agents are so busy and see so many manuscripts that they are rarely going to take the time to break down for you what needs to change. They will reject and move on so you must learn to read between the lines. Rejection, in forcing you to take a long hard look at what you’re selling, helps you see more clearly. You are getting a taste at last of the literary world as it repeatedly slams the door in your face. You want in? Yeah well you’re gonna have to work that book and that pitch like you never thought you would.

Silence can be a lesson in itself

Earlier this year, one agent asked me for exclusivity in considering my submission. A writer friend had introduced us personally and so I put all those fragile eggs in one basket and waited. And waited. And waited. Six months and still no response but after three, when I had dragged myself from the pity pit of panic, I took up my manuscript for a little read and immediately saw ways to improve it. So I wrote another draft, a better draft. Without floating in that limbo, I never would have done that. I took apart my book forensically. Wrote out new chapter cards, stuck them all up on my notice board without the chapter numbers and just looked at the plot laid out before me. I was like a miner striking gold when the contents of old chapter 29 became new chapter 3. When 53 short chapters became 27 more meaty ones. Again an exercise I would never have done without rejection. Comments of short chapters from agents, were now dealt with. I saw my book in a way I never did before I started submissions and it was better.

Without rejection, you won’t realise just how much your work means to you.

Want to find out how truly deeply invested you are in writing? Try some rejection. It’s the most telling signal as to how you will feel about your book and how hard you are willing to work it until someone somewhere finally says yes.

So get it out there, take the rejections, take their lessons, bury the ones that hurt and move on. There is much to be learnt and we as writers have nothing if not time on our hands. Remember you’re in it for the long game and perseverance is key. Me? I go back now into the abyss, with hopefully a stronger book, a better title, a sharper synopsis. More rejections will come, for that is the way, but I’ll keep learning from them and sharing the lessons learnt along the way.

 

Five things I’ve learned on the hunt for an agent…

So the writing posts have been quiet of late and as usual its not for the want of trying but rather I feel like the car I was travelling in has temporarily ditched me at the side of the road, as the driver (possibly Satan, possibly just a surly guy with long unwashed hair and a lot of denim) pulls the door to his mini shut and speeds away up life’s highway without me, his cackle still audible in the smoke filled air. I’m on a road I’ve never been on, with no idea where it goes or if my destination actually exists.  The regular asphalt has crumbled away, unearthing the scorching hot gravel that I must navigate in my bare feet with my lowly manuscript (sorry I meant magnificent, see No. 4) under my arm. Yes, agent hunting is a new world to me but I’m learning a few things as I go.

Here’s my top five:

1. You need a time machine.

No really – if there is ever a hope of getting an agent before I turn ninety, I’m gonna need one of these. With an average 12 weeks for a reply and a prevalent wish for exclusivity with each submission, this is going to take forever. I may have grandchildren by then, even a great grandchild. How nice it will be for them when their wizened old nan has her first book published. You may venture for multiple submissions but I learned very recently that some may put yours to one side if being read elsewhere. I can see their logic. Hence the time machine. Honesty has always been (perhaps to my detriment) the best policy. I may need to re-consider.

2. Don’t suppose for a second you can imagine who they are and what they want.

You don’t know these people. You may google them, follow them on Twitter, check out who they represent but really you don’t have a clue about what makes them tick. In my short experience, no two are alike, which makes sense as yes they are humans just like you and me. They are not Sauron-like, with their big fiery eye glaring at your pitiful work. Nor are they robots, checking your words for the perfect algorithm. They are people with good days and bad like the rest of us and you will find them having both.

3. Rejection is an armour piercing arrow.

Impossible to deny but much as you steel yourself for replies, the knockbacks and the comments do get through and they do hurt. This is something you care about and its like giving your child to a stranger to be slapped as you stand by watching. Maybe you’ll get a rejection and think ‘hey c’est la vie’ but maybe the next day, that arrow will hit you right in the ticker when you weren’t expecting it.  Their words will swirl around as you try to climb over them and the only thing you can do is move to the next agent on your list.

4. Doubt will be your daily burden.

Looking for an agent? You? With that book? And you will shrink at the thoughts of actually approaching one, let alone calling one and when you do get off the phone you’ll imagine all the really good things you could have said rather than all the pitiful garbage you did. You fool! Press rewind. What do you mean there’s no rewind? Where’s my godamned time machine?!

5. Be you because you can’t be what they want, if they don’t want it.

Much as your manuscript will divide so too will you. While you think your cover email/letter may be as concise as you can, you convey a little part of you and some will like it and some won’t and you can tell from the comments you receive back that some haven’t liked you or your book. Call it paranoia perhaps but this is personal. You are selling yourself too. So don’t compromise that. Just be yourself.

So onwards on the lonely road I go, book in hand with an old saying in mind – “what’s meant for you won’t go by you”. We shall see.

I shall adjust my armour, sharpen my spear and keep hunting.

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