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Saturday 10 January 2009


In the article INEXCUSABLE IGNORANCE, I went fairly brutally through a few of the dire and fume-causing questions that are often asked. But lots of you ask very sensible questions. Here are some.

  1. Is it just the quality of my writing or does my appearance/age/personality matter? The quality of your writing comes first but it does not come alone. Let's take these one by one. APPEARANCE: being attractive does not make you more likely to be published, unless the editor fancies you, but even that will only get you as far as dinner. (Or maybe further, but let's not go there). Ditto being slim, blonde, sexy. (You need to look at the members of any group of published authors to believe this ... ) AGE: hmm. Well. To an extent not. But I have to admit that (according to publishers and agents I've spoken to) being above a certain age (say late 50s) does not help for a new writer or for an existing writer whose sales are diminishing. Without wanting to be insensitive about this, they need a career out of you ... But, it's really important to realise that if your writing is good enough, they will want it. So don't be put off, and don't (if possible) feel bitter. PERSONALITY: actually, I'd say that this does make quite a difference (though if your writing shines through your seriously objectionable and unpleasant personality, this should do the trick). It's just that, as I said in another article, your editor and agent and everyone in the publicity department (etc) have to work with you, and ideally your readers have to meet you and like you so much that they'll buy your books. So, please, be as nice and cuddly as you can. Not that agents or publishers actually want to cuddle you - I am being metaphorical.
  2. Can I submit my work to more than one agent / publisher at a time? Publishers yes, agents sometimes (if they are a large agency). But you should always say that you are doing this. The thing about an independent agent is that he/she simply doesn't have time to spend on something so speculative as someone who has submitted elsewhere, too. Apart from that though, ethically and practically there's nothing wrong with the approach. Many agents will tell you (eg on their website) whether this is OK for them or not.
  3. How much of my work should I submit? Actually, this is a BAD question to ask me because it forms part of the answers in all the resources I've mentioned to you in other articles; in other words, you can find it out elsewhere. However, it's important, so I'll tell you. The first rule is that you should see whether the agent or publisher specifies; and then obey. Failing that, send something like 3 chapters / 5000 words (whichever is shorter). Plus the covering letter and synopsis. See my article on SUBMISSIONS (when I have written it ...)
  4. Agent? See my article TO BE AGENTED OR NOT TO BE ... Or publisher first? Well, I'd go for both simultaneously. Why? Because they're both equally (arguably) difficult so a two-pronged attack makes sense. If you get a publisher, an agent is more likely to take you, and vice-versa.
  5. Why won't they tell me why they haven't accepted my work? Because either a) they don't think it's worth commenting on b) they simply don't have time c) they didn't actually read it, either because they didn't have time or because your covering letter was rubbish d) they have taken the view that because any feedback is often taken very negatively by the aspiring writer, it is easier to say nothing. You can't (and mustn't) do anything about this: why do you think they're more likely to respond just because you're angry? They hold all the cards. Just grit your teeth and when you DO get any kind of feedback, listen to it (even though it may contradict someone else's view) and be grateful that someone bothered..
  6. How long should I expect them to take to reply? Unfortunately, there's no good answer to this. Sometimes, agents and publishers DO take a long time. Often, taking a long time is a good sign. But six months is only a sign that someone has forgotten/lost/doesn't care about your work. I feel that it's fair to say that if you've heard nothing after 10-12 weeks, a polite follow-up is acceptable.
Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other good questions, but when I do, I'll add them. Actually, how about you ask me a question and if it's good I'll add it? If it's rubbish, I may add it to the Inexcusable Ignorance article ... But hey, you'll have learnt something. So you won't be a fool.