Tuesday, 3 February 2009

BooBoo Anonymous



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novel four years ago, that in certain literary circles I suffer from only one vice worth talking about: Books Under Bed Unpublished.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 And as I approach submission time again with my *mutters a number indiscriminately* unpublished book, I’ve sensed a wee red-horned devil on my shoulder, whispering into my ear: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,

Samantha Tonge


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.

18 comments:

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Yes, Sam, it's a case of: do we keep the earlier attempts firmly in the closet or, if we have 'em, flaunt them? They aren't wasted, that's for sure. Each one has fuelled the ability to write the next.
Your post touched me.
Susiex

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Crikey, I've written loads of stuff here and there but never a backlog of novels to stick under the bed with the dust bunnies, old socks, a plate and a coffee mug!

What I do though is go back and look at earlier writing attempts and just now and then through the distance of time and a relatively poor memory because I am a menopausal old bag, then seeing the writing through a different perspective helps me to be more objective about how good or bad I deem it. Sometimes I feel quite pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as bad as I had assumed it was. So, old stuff is good and the building blocks for some good solid work later on I think.

Geraldine Ryan said...

Sam,
You know how much I've always admired your sticking power - (some might say stubborness.) The way you pick yourself up and dust yourself off is a characteristic of the brave and you are one of the bravest to keep on putting your work - and yourself, (because how can your work NOT be yourself?) out there. I'll be watching your progress with this one eagerly and wish you all the best!

Oh, I've no advice, by the way!

Fiona Robyn said...

I'd completed three novels by the time I got a deal, and have been lucky enough to bring them all out from under the bed ;)

Something that kept me going was hearing a random fact about an author who'd had their fifth novel published, and then their previous ones came out too. I don't know if it was true enough, but I reckoned if it was possible for them then it was possible for me... I always expected finding a publisher to be a 'long term' aim, and I'm VERY glad it took a while - I'm in a much better position now to cope with it all. Although I wouldn't have said that if you asked me five years ago, when I started my search - I wanted it NOW for all that time!

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, Susie - I agree, hard as it might be to acknowledge as you shove yet another under the bed, nothing is wasted.

MOB,i totally agree, if i can bear to pull out old work, it is often not quite as awful as i thought (apart from the dreadful sex scenes i used to write:)!)

Aw, thanks for that, Geri, that's boosted me.

Fiona, there is no way my first books will be published! But how wonderful for that to have been the case for you. And i agree, i was very green about it all when i started out 4 years ago, and feel much more confident now in terms of not only my writing, but also what i've learnt about the publishing industry.

Sam x

Gillian McDade said...

I think everyone (well most writer folk) suffers from a case of BUBU or as I call it 'Bottom Drawer Syndrome'. But don't bin them - I always keep the BUBUs and BDS's for future reference. Just in case ;)

Nik's Blog said...

I like to view bottom-draw works as training; you can't decide you want to be a footballer and go straight into Man Utd's starting 11...

I'd love to know if anyone actually sends that sort of query though!

CarolineG said...

Brilliant post, Sam. Really enjoyed this. I have one BUBU so far, but the current WIP is a bit of an old tart, who's been round the block a fair bit already. Fair chance that BUBU-dom awaits, but I live in hope.
I think your tenacity WILL pay off.

The Write Woman said...

Don't ever bin them - even if they never see the light of day as entire publications, they can successfully be 'plundered' for characters, ideas, phrases, entire scenes! - to use in another book, or even short stories. No Writing Is Ever Wasted - I think that should be my motto! But save them on the computer, backed up on a memory stick or whatever - and use those old typescripts as scrap paper!

Samantha Tonge said...

Under bed, bottom drawer - i wonder where else people keep their booboos:)

Nik, i bet queries similar to that are sent out - i know agents have had letters where people say their mum likes their script, or really arrogant ones...agents must have lots of pet hates regarding subs.
x

emmadarwin said...

Yes, nothing's ever wasted.

I've got six under my bed, and there they're staying: I can honestly say I've never looked at a previous manuscript - including the one which was very nearly bought. But I return again and again to the themes and characters which have stuck in my head. I know if I went back to old actual writing I'd want to lift chunks and try to wedge them in somewhere, whereas my memory works as a very effective seive. A Secret Alchemy has kinship with every single one of its seven predecessors. I'd agree with Fiona that there's I'm glad it's happened how it has.

Besides, one of the subsidiary reasons for second book syndrome, as seen from the reviewer's PoV, is that that the 'second' book is so often a first book, dragged out and dusted down...

Roderic Vincent said...

Great post, thank you. It always shocks me to hear how many abandoned novels people like Emma have under their beds. I've abandoned one complete ms so far and one partially written story. I'm close to binning my current attempt (currently in 3rd draft), but it's hard to know at what point to quit. I realise nobody else can tell you that, but I wish they could. It almost feels like to ditch it would be to take a step towards the requisite number of previous attempts (whatever that number is).

Samantha Tonge said...

Have you subbed the one you're about to ditch, Rod?

My last one to go under the bed, i hardly subbed at all - most unlike me. I just got the vibe (plus some feedback from an agent who read the full) that it would be going nowhere, however much i worked on it. My heart wasn't in it anymore. It is really important to know when to move on.

Sam

Poppy said...

Fantastic post, Sam (as usual on this blog).

I've never found the instant success stories remotely inspiring, But people's BUBUs - yes, they are inspirational.
xx

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, Pops:)

x

Samantha Tonge said...

And yes, Emma,i agree there is a temptation to lift chunks - i've done that and they do stick out a bit and need a good rewrite.

x

womagwriter said...

Well I don't know, that query letter might sell the book if the book was a humourous tongue-in-cheek tale about the long and winding road to publication...

thanks for making me laugh!

Roderic Vincent said...

Sam, I'll email you a reply, rather than hijack your blog.