Saturday, 12 June 2010

I'd prefer to blame Royal Mail, on the whole...

This round of submissions I've taken to enclosing a stamped self-addressed postcard for the agent to post to let me know my chapters have arrived. The messages I put on them are getting increasingly frivolous:

Your chapters are now with our team of readers, being passed eagerly from hand to hand was the latest.

And the worrying thing is, three out of five haven't come back.

Is this because Royal Mail has lost my submissions, or my postcards? London deliveries are now so unreliable, this could easily be the case. Or have my envelopes joined a tottering stack of similar unopened submissions, waiting till the lowliest intern has time to send the lot form rejections? I can imagine that, too.

Unpublished writers are told to do our research; personalize our query, check out the writers the agent represents, submit in the exact format the agent requires. It's a downer to feel that this doesn't mean our submissions will necessarily even be read. My feeling is that the slush pile has now become such a burden to agents that they prefer to find their authors elsewhere. I've been approached by one agent via Authonomy, and by another after submitting a short story for a contest.

No wonder people pay Cornerstones or The Literary Consultancy hundreds of pounds in the hope of being thought good enough for referral to an agent, or throng to literary festivals to pitch their novels in person, or spend £99 on a day's writing workshop at Harper Collins' headquarters. These days, unless a new writer is very lucky, he needs to find some shortcut that avoids the slush. Any ideas?


  1. Well, I can see why you're worried, Lexi, but I also think there are other explanations.

    I've heard that there are big differences in the way the UK and US markets operate, so my extrapolation may be way off the mark, but here's a thought.

    Yes, agencies are inundated with submissions, so slush pile readers are keenly attuned to anything that helps them toss a manuscript more quickly and concentrate on the handful of gems. No SASE? Toss it. No query letter, or not personally addressed? Toss it. Not printed sharp black on clean white, approved font, double-spaced, with 1" borders? Toss it.

    So, a worrying possibility is...unwanted items enclosed? Toss it. That would clearly be a bad thing.

    Less damaging might simply be: we don't send delivery receipts, toss the postcard. If it's not part of their process, then I can easily imagine a screener not wanting to take the few extra nanoseconds to work out what it is you want done with the postcard and drop it in the outgoing mail.

    This is why you never send something that will require a signature at the receiving end. You don't want to put any obstacle in the way of getting your submission in front (eventually) of someone's eyes.

    That may be a harsh reality, but you have to play by their rules, not the other way around. Unless you know that enclosing a delivery-receipt is widespread accepted practice (and I can't comment on the UK, but I've never seen anything about it over here) then I suggest don't do it.

    Better to wait a suitable time (based on the agency guidelines for response times) and follow up with a polite reminder (and enclosing a fresh copy of the submission) if you've heard nothing.

    Just my 2 cents...

  2. Botanist, from what I've read, enclosing a postcard isn't resented over here.

    I know agents don't like signing for post, so it's the only way to know your submission has arrived. Someone, I can't remember who, looked on an attractive or witty card as another way of standing out from the crowd.

    I do draw the line at enclosing a teaspoonful of glitter, though...

  3. I'm not sure it's resented here either, it's just that I don't recall any mention of it one way or another.

    I think all I'm saying is that I wouldn't do anything that strayed outside of the submission guidelines without first doing my homework to make sure it's OK.

    The majority of agents here now accept email submissions (and many actually insist on it). I've sent very few by snail mail, so this is not something I've actively tried to answer.

  4. In the UK only a minority of agents accept email submissions. Some accept both, and the word is that if so, you are better off sending a paper submission, as it's more likely to get read properly.

    If I were an agent, I'd prefer email.

  5. I think your message is inspired. If I worked there I'd certainly look at the manuscript it accompanied. And do so with a smile on my face.

    Having said that though I imagine it's a hideous job to go through the slush pile; one that's put off as long as possible. So don't give up hope just yet. Theyight get round to it next month.

    Can't understand the anti-email approach though. Unless they're actually in league with the Royal Mail to drive up sales of stamps.


  6. Apologies for typos. I think the gist of it is there!

  7. I didn't notice the typo, K.

    I'd quite enjoy going through a slush pile, I think, organizing it into sheep and goats. But it may be one of those things, like joining the Royal family, that would be fun for three weeks and then pall...

    (Not that I know about becoming a member of the Royal family from personal experience, you understand.)

  8. Golly if someone does have an idea on how to avoid The Slush Pile - they ought to market it and sell to the highest bidder! LOL!

    But seriously - I love what you write on your SAE postcards! :-) Brilliant!

    Good luck with your submissions!
    take care

  9. Kitty, publishers know how to avoid the slush pile - they shifted it on to the agents.

    Perhaps in time agents will pass it down the line to literary consultancies...

  10. So you've really had better luck with Authonomy than traditional submissions? Wow.

  11. I wouldn't say that, Hants - so far with Heart of Rock I've had four requests for the full typescript, two of them via normal submissions.

    And Authonomy was very different eighteen months ago, when the agent contacted me.

  12. I think the best advice with submissions is to fire and forget. If you've got something good, you will get attention.

  13. Fire and forget - I like that.

  14. Naughty behavior of the sort that attracts not only the attention of the local constabulary but also the media is the surest way to attract an agent.

  15. Would you care to be more specific, Alan?

    I know one writer who tried to get into Big Brother purely in order to sell her novel. She got into the top fifty, but wasn't chosen. She's since been published by Legend.

  16. Such a good post Lexi!

    My approach is to get it as far as I can afford with Cornerstones and if that fails, then to do exactly what you are doing and then 'fire and forget' and get on with the WIP. (And try and forget that every year of my writing life that passes, I rapidly approach my old age and soon won't be of any interest to agent or publisher!)

  17. Hi, mesmered, thanks for dropping by.

    Are you already using Cornerstones? And if so, would you recommend them?

  18. Lexi, I would STRONGLY recommend Cornerstones. Their crits are worth every penny and are a great way to up one's editing skills. The crits are expensive, but I've never regretted the investment.

  19. I've heard good things about them, Justine.

    I know one can always improve, but I'd say, at the risk of sounding smug, my editing skills aren't too bad. I'd need another incentive.

  20. Lexi, when I say edit I don't mean line editing and proof-reading etc, I mean examining whether the structure, characterisation, character motivation, plot etc. works. Cornerstones look at all these things. I do think however good one's skills are, having another take on the MS from an experienced person is invaluable.

  21. If I had doubts about Heart of Rock's structure, characterization, character motivation, plot etc. I might find the money for a professional edit, but I don't. I think they all work well.

    I can hear you tut-tutting at my attitude, Justine, but there it is :o)

  22. Not tut-tutting at all! Everyone is different and this kind of thing isn't right for everyone. I do wish I had your sort of confidence, though!

    I paid for my crit when I'd only just finished the one book and was still pretty clueless. Perhaps you're past the stage where you'd benefit.

  23. Hi Lexi, sorry to take so long to reply. Yes, absolutely I would recommend Cornerstones.

    I have spent a lot of money working with them over the years (I'm in Australia, so the exchange is a nightmare), but I attribute anything I have learned to them.

    The editors who work on the reports are completely professional and the reports themselves are detailed and cover every conceivable aspect of a manuscript.
    Helen Corner and Kathryn Robinson are exceptionally approachable and if I have any beef at all, it is that they are not agents themselves and that they don't accept electronic transfer of full manuscripts (unlike American consultancies).

  24. Better still, they are scouts and if they think your work is good enough, they may call it in and try and sell it on to the trade.

  25. Thanks for that, mesmered. Interesting.