Thursday, 13 August 2009

Advice for unpublished authors

  • Under no circumstances whatsoever, ask a non-writing friend if she would like to read your novel. She wouldn't, but she can't tell you that. She will see it as a chore, and worry about what to say if, as she suspects, it turns out to be terrible.

  • Try not to mention you are writing a book, even when you are totally caught up in its toils and unable to think about anything else. Nobody wants to know.

  • If you find you have inadvertently ignored my second bit of advice, then be ready with a succinct answer to the question, 'What's it about?' With TORBREK and the Dragon Variation, I would find myself saying, as their eyes glazed over, 'Well, it's fantasy, but not standard fantasy as the characters talk normally, and there aren't any elves or anything; it's set in an alternative Middle Ages with dragons, and it's about this girl who discovers that she's not only a Dragon Master, but that the black jewelled dagger her grandfather left her means she is...'

  • If an agent should express interest in your novel, DO NOT TELL ANYONE. Well, all right, you can tell ONE writing friend. That is all. Because your non-writing friends will not understand how thrilled you are, and will be tepid in their congratulations; and you will have to tell your writing friends the bad news later if it comes to naught, and they will understand how depressed you are...


  1. I'm with you all the way on point number one.

    Not so sure about point number two. At least for me, making my goal public seems to motivate me to "Get 'er done".

    Point number three is a great illustration of why we all need to perfect our "elevator pitch". That five to ten second blurb about the book that is enough to make anybody want to know more. Edit, edit, edit.

    And just which of your writing friends is going to be privy to this bit of news? Hmmm? You bet we will understand. I've got a binder full of agent rejections, bless their souls. The nice, personalized ones get to go in front.

  2. The elevator pitch - yes, essential, and I've done it for the latest book.

    I wonder if agents realize how welcome personal rejections, however brief, are? I've got a couple that gave me quite a warm glow.

  3. There is an article in the latest Writers' Digest magazine about "encouraging rejections". It is essentially a sort of ping-pong between Scott Hoffman, a pretty well established agent, and Rachel Estrada Ryan, a writer he almost took on as a client. Interesting dynamic, eh?

    Scott breaks down agent rejections into three types: The Form, which he calls the "most common (and least valuable) type". Those are sent out because somebody "not necessarily even the agent herself--glanced over your manuscript and didn't think it could be sold at a high enough price to justify signing you as a client." He also says that if you get twenty in a row of this type it could be a sign that "your book, or at least the beginning of it, isn't ready to hit the shelves quite yet. (Remember, agents read until we can stop, and then we do.)

    Next comes the Personalized Rejection. Either a form reject with an attached note or a "letter obviously written to you. If you receive one of these, it means your manuscript is head and shoulders above the majority of submissions an agent has read. I'd guess that most agents add a personal and encouraging touch to no more than 5 percent of the queries they itself, a personalized rejection is actually a good thing: it means you've got the writing chops or some other compelling factor on your side that will likely lead you to eventually becoming a published author."

    Lastly, the "Real-Time Interaction" rejection. Hoffman calls it "the rarest (and most valuable) rejection, and, it comes in the form of either a phone call or (rarer still) an in-person meeting." He also goes out on a limb by adding "--and I may get i trouble with some of my colleagues for saying this--if an agent is going to take the time to call you or meet with you, he almost certainly will represent you at some point in your career. It may just be a matter of finding the right book, or making changes to the one you're working on now."

    Later in the article, Hoffman sez: "If you're a writer who has received personal attention or an "encouraging" rejection from even one reputable agent, this is a good indication that publishing has become a numbers game for you. It's now just a matter of finding the right agent or editor at the right time. I'd strongly urge you not to get even a little bit discouraged until you've received 50--maybe even100--rejections on the project in question."

    Sorry about running on with somebody else's words, but it seemed timely. You're just starting with making the rounds with your book and if you've already gotten some personalized rejections, according to at least one powerhouse agent here in the US, you're flying way above the crowd.

  4. Thank you for that, Alan, which I read with great interest.

    Encouraging words indeed :o)