Monday, 11 June 2012

Letting go ...

Recently I decided to let go of the branch. As a friend quoted recently, If they won’t let you in through the front door go round the back and climb over the fence.

Many writers are trapped in the cycle of:
Polishing our work
Looking for an agent
Approaching agent
Pitching and sending three chapters to an agent
Rejection by agent and starting the cycle again.
I’ve been locked in this cycle for over ten years.

Supposing we can get an agent to listen to us and look at our work we are then faced with further difficulties. My experience with my first novel, Unwrapping Angelo (despite it making a short list of six titles in a major competition) was disheartening to say the least. The thirty agents I sent it to took anything from a week to eight months to get back to me. Rejections came from all of them but one. Rewrite it with these changes and I’ll look at it again, she said. After a whole summer of rewriting and sending it back to her I discovered she’d left the agency. It took numerous phone calls to glean the remaining staff didn’t want to see the rewrite.

On the occasions I’ve managed to get in front of various agents I’ve been told:

Make it shorter
Make it longer
Change his name
Change her name
Change the title. 
There were sundry other plot changes suggested but none of these have ever induced them to represent the book.

General information from agents was at best confusing, at worst upsetting:

Send a two page synopsis
Send a one page synopsis
Send half a page synopsis
I never read synopses so don’t bother sending one
Write bios for each character
Tell me the plot in the pitch letter
Don’t give the plot away in the pitch letter
Don’t bother with a pitch letter if I like the writing I’ll contact you.

Agents’ opinions of the next “big thing” during one particular season:

Chicklit is dead
Chicklit is still flourishing
Vampires are out, Angels are in
Forget Vampires and Angels
Sagas are over
We need more sagas.

How can any writer possibly please all these people? But supposing, despite all those factors, you get an agent who sells your novel to a publisher for you (taking their commission) and your dream is to be realised, it still isn’t plain sailing in today’s marketplace. The publisher will spend the best part of a year with your book before it appears on the shelves and will tie you into a contract. At the end of all of the effort, the rejections, the hours of re-writing, the schmoosing of agents, the lengthy wait for the book to appear in your hand they will grudgingly give you a pitiful fraction of the cost of your book; will possibly reject your second book if the first doesn’t sell into Tesco, and withhold the right to drop you from a great height if the figures don’t mount up to their satisfaction, all the while retaining the right to keep drawing their commission from sales of the original novel until they decide not to print it anymore.

The person we writers can please is the reader but with so many obstacles in our way we’re lucky if we ever reach them.

Until now I have held on with the earnest desire to be “chosen.” I’ve wanted my novel to be the one the agent picks up and loves. For this to happen, assuming my work is of a good enough standard, it has to fall on the right desk at the right time of year (book fairs, etc permitting) on the day the agent has had lunch with a publisher who is looking for exactly the story I’ve written.

So I’m letting go of the branch and Amazon is there to catch me.  As a learning curve I’ve put up a short novella, Favourite Things onto Amazon Kindle. In the first twenty-four hours almost fifty copies have been downloaded.  When I’ve polished up my novels they will go up there too.  All this time I’ve wanted to reach my readers and now I am.

I want to thank the very talented writer, Amanda Grange for her encouragement and support.


  1. Liz - I nodded in recognition when I read your post, and shed a little tear too, because I know how frustrating it is. It makes you want to scream, doesn't it?!
    I suppose, in the end, the only thing we can do is please ourselves as writers and hope the readers will like our particular vision of the world when we finally reach them. It seems to me Amazon is both writer-friendly and reader-friendly. Good luck!

  2. Wise words from Henriette.

    I'm off to download your novella now, Liz! Congrats!