The Route to Publication: Agents

July 6, 2017

Getting your novel published is easy (you can do it yourself) but that’s not what authors want: they want readers, and in a market full of great and established writers, that’s the hard part—not impossible, though. Successful new writers emerge all the time but that’s out of a very large pool of failures. (If you doubt me, check out the submissions page of any literary agent, there will be something in there about the number of submissions they constantly have to wade through—or bin.)


Literary agents are the interface between writers and publishers. Their job is to get you published with the right publisher on the right terms, and that’s the route I’d choose. But, along with the good ones, there are sharks. If an agent wants a reading fee, be cautious. They may be just after your money and all you’ll get in return is a costly thank-you-but-no-thank-you letter. Spend your money wisely and buy the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. It lists bona fide agents and tells you if they charge reading fees.


You can sidestep agents and go directly to publishers—not all, but some—but publishers have their own interests at heart, not yours, so think carefully before you do. Either way, brace yourself for rejections. It happens to the very best of writers, as authors bios will confirm. Great writers like Graham Greene suffered numerous rejections over many years before breaking through, and he’s in good company. If you’re easily downhearted, the writing trade may not be for you.


Apart from occasional exceptions and celebrities, the ones that make it have two things in common: perseverance and talent—not always a great talent, but definitely talent. Ask yourself if you do. Ask yourself what evidence you have because agents will ask that same question.


I thought I might have a talent when a series of short stories I wrote for my employer as a teaching tool went viral, far beyond its intended audience. They were, it seems, entertaining. When I could afford the time, I studied English Literature with creative writing modules, achieving a BA (First –class Honours) degree in 2015. There is my evidence of talent for what it’s worth. Yet, out of over twenty submissions to agents of my first novel, Conjuring the Blood, only one bothered to read it and, though he called it an ‘impressive achievement’, he still rejected it. That’s where perseverance comes in.


Disappointment aside, I learned from the experience. In the synopsis that all agents demand, don’t describe you work as something it isn’t. Mine wanted action packed thrillers and I sort of suggested it was. Many agents have preferences for genres because they’re easier to publicise and sell. If a readership is your overriding priority, you may want to consider that before you start your masterpiece. But many of us write stuff that doesn’t fit the mould so precisely. In my novel, the emphasis is on the emotional conflict between a bigot, his partner and an Islamist. A thriller come love story come redemption tale might best describe it, and I should have admitted it. Although, if I had, I would probably have missed out on something no amateur, no parent nor best friend can provide: professional feedback.


Urging me to send it to other agents reassured me the novel had substance, his comment that it was ‘wordy’ led me to cut three thousand, and his suggestion that it lacked sufficient ‘action’ persuaded me to add more (though the emphasis remains on emotional rather than physical ‘action’). There is no question in my mind that the novel is better for it. So, if you can get professional feedback, listen to it; if you submit to an agent, check their client list (are you a suitable fit)—and be honest in your submission.


Using words such as ‘imaginative’, ‘convincing’ and ‘impressive’, the agent had also given me a review; a useful marketing tool. If you get something similar, remember to get permission to use it.


Next week, I’ll do genres. They are a pain in the arse but there is no escaping them.



Ps: An article in the Daily Telegraph on 17.6.17 showed self-publishing worked for Mark Edwards (but only after years of struggle). Worth a read if you can get hold of it.



Book review/recommendation: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes


Nobody could mistake this book for anything other than a thriller. An ex government agent and writer on forensic pathology suspects his work has been used to commit the ‘perfect murder.’ Called back (aren’t they always) by the government to find and stop a terrorist planning a biological attack, he uses his investigation into the murder as a cover. It’s intricate, well researched and full of action and suspense. A whopper of a book but you’ll read it faster than most because you won’t be able to put it down. Don’t expect deep, this is water skiing buzz not dreamy diving.








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