BUBU really, but what’s a misspelling between friends? The phonetic version is more fun and laughter is so good for one’s well-being. And, talking of things that are or aren’t good for your health, I like a mean glass of Rosé, adore pizza and Belgian chocolates… Yet I’ve noticed, since writing my first novel four years ago, that in certain literary circles I suffer from only one vice worth talking about: Books Under Bed Unpublished.
It’s the proverbial elephant in the room, with its trunk firmly knotted in case it can’t resist the urge, when you finally get that deal, to trumpet to one at all that it’s a joke, you being called a debut novelist - because, in actual fact, you’ve got two or four or more novels under the bed at home. In fact, “Debut Novelist” is a misleading term. Yes, it’s an author making their debut on the public scene, but to the man on the street it implies that the debut is in terms of actually writing a novel as well.
*Stands up in the room* - my name is Samantha Tonge and I’ve got… ahem… more than one book under my bed. And as I approach submission time again with my *mutters a number indiscriminately* unpublished book, I’ve sensed a wee red-horned devil on my shoulder, whispering into my ear:
“Go on! Tell them in your cover letter! Mention the fact that this isn’t your very first novel.”
So, here goes:
Dear Top Agent,
Over the last few years I have learnt and honed my craft. You should have read my first novel! Based on my amazingly interesting life, each chapter was twenty thousand words long! The POV was all over the place and I’d never heard of Show Not Tell. My second book, of course, was better apart from me striving to mimic Sophie Kinsella. Book three received harsh rejection and in retrospect I rushed the second draft. Book four was ahead of its time and book five just wasn’t loved enough. Book six was crossover, book seven too derivative and book eight was dismissed as gimmicky – no agent liked my second person, present tense prose.
I’ve learnt from all these mistakes and my present book really is THE ONE. Everyone says so, including Auntie Hilda and my best friend’s husband’s mum. You must, must read it, so, I’ve enclosed the full manuscript of ‘Too Good to Miss.’ It’s single-spaced, so it looks like a proper book. And as an added incentive to plough through my work, one of the pages is attached to a crisp ten pound note. Enjoy. I’ll ring you next week to let you know if I’m still available for you to take on.
Yours as ever,
BooBoo Anonymous would be proud! But sadly, a cover letter like that would not inspire. So how do I convey the positives about having completed several manuscripts? The determination it displays as well as the ability to learn and take on board harsh critiques? There’s got to be a way of expressing this in a cover letter, without putting an agent off. Anyone any ideas? Come on you other BooBoos, let’s untie that elephant’s trunk!
There is, however, one other perspective we should explore and that’s how heartening it is for a beginner writer to read of some ‘debut’ author’s novel appearing on Waterstone’s shelves. Back in the days when I thought I was going to be the Next Big Thing, these success stories sustained me through periods of self-doubt. By the time I found out for myself how tough it can be it was too late – I’d been well and truly bitten by the writing bug.