Monday, 14 February 2011

Those Agents


Being between houses is proving to be an enlightening experience. Did you watch Mary Portas on estate agents the other night?
Prospective Purchaser: 'Which direction does the house face?'
Indifferent Estate Agent with Provocatively Spiked Hair: 'West. Of course, West is the new South.'
Like 50 is the the new 30. Grey is the new Black. Going out is the new Staying In. Rejection is the new Acceptance...?
It's no coincidence, I think, that estate agents are the keyholders to prospective houses, just as literary agents are the gatekeepers for publishing houses.

A friend gave me some very good advice. 'Choose a flat,' she said, 'that will encourage your creative self to grow.'
Which put a whole new slant on my flat-hunting. Yesterday, I got very excited about an immaculate looking flat, minutes from the river. I made an appointment to see it. It was very...nice. Spacious, well proportioned, with a view over palm trees and gardens at the back. Brand-new bathroom and kitchen. Just the one patch of damp. Within my budget. What wasn't to like? I was enthusiastic, spoke of coming back to see it in the daylight. And yet there was a curious emptiness in my heart. You see, it didn't speak to me. It didn't respond. It didn't say: Yes! You're the one that I want. I found myself trying to fit my creative life into it, and my heart didn't sing at the prospect. I won't, after all, be going back.

A few days earlier, I saw another. Smaller, infinitely mankier, full of a jumble of wires and extension leads and tenant's clothes. Mould on the bathroom tiles, leaking Velux windows, sloping attic walls. Way over my budget. And yet... I think my creative spirit might flourish there. The place said 'hello' and smiled.

It brings to mind a line from the I Ching, the Chinese Book Of Change: Nurture an atmosphere in which things can grow. Such an atmosphere, for me, is one of responsiveness. I love places that speak to me, people who I respond freely and warmly to and who respond to me: people with ideas, enthusiasm, passion and depth. People who, as my friend said, encourage my creative spirit to grow.
It was this sense of reponsiveness and enthusiasm that Mary Portas was attempting to foster in the estate agents, and by the end of the programme they were models of the breed - especially the spiky-haired one. They listened to their clients and generally behaved in a very human way.

One of the most challenging things about the writing process is living with a longing for response, yet knowing that this isn't the way the publishing industry works. The submission process can be like having a conversation with a person who ignores what you say, makes you wait so long for an answer that you've forgotten the question and who is continually looking over your shoulder for someone more interesting to talk to.

A three month wait in the publishing world is nothing. A writing friend recently followed up the progress of his manuscript with a publisher to whom he'd submitted a year ago, and was told that, whilst his manuscript was still in the system, they had a large backlog of manuscripts ahead of his, so could not give an estimate of when it would be evaluated. They did apologise for the delay and inconvenience, but it's hardly the ideal scenario. Writers write because we want to communicate. We want a response. We feel happy when an agent or editor acknowledges our entry to a competition or submission with an automated reply. Even a rapid no - painful as it is - can sometimes be better than a long-drawn-out one.

Recently, as I mentioned in my last post, I had the good fortune to submit to a small, independent publisher. Since doing so, they've responded to my emails in a manner which is welcoming, friendly and encouraging. This is a publishing house where, I think, my creative spirit could grow.

So don't give up. You can walk into many, many houses and receive no response. You can be cold-shouldered by the agents and the houses may not speak to you. And then, if you're really lucky, you may find an open door, a warm fire, the smell of baking bread and a feeling that you've come home.

11 comments:

Helen Black said...

I think that thr waiting and the silence are definitely one of the worst things about writing.

It's almost better to have a rejection than no reply. At least you can move on with the former.

One thing I've learned, to avoid the void, is to always be writing and subbing something else. Always have lots of work you can potentially sell.

Having one novel that took you years, and emotinoally, has everything riding on it, is a sure recipe for mental torture.

Instead, think laterally. Pitch some journo ideas, write some short stories, some fillers. Start another book.

HB x

debutnovelist said...

Great post, Susie, and that 'longing for response' is so true. Loved the Mary Portas programme too. Good luck with the new place, North, South East or West!
AliB

Susie Nott-Bower said...

"Having one novel that took you years, and emotinoally, has everything riding on it, is a sure recipe for mental torture."
That's been so true, Helen. I did start another book, but stopped after 30,000 words. Still, it's waiting for me to return to.
Susiex

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Crossed with you, Ali - thank you!
The right place will come along.
Susiex

Debs Riccio said...

Fresh bread, ground coffee, roaring fire... you're so right, Susie, it has to feel right. There's only so much cajoling and convincing you can do with a square peg and a round hole before all its interesting corners have been smoothed down to nothing. Oh there I go again, Alaogies R Me.

Norelle Done said...

I really appreciate your candor on this blog, Susie! It's nice to read about another writer's ups and downs along the way. Keep it up!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

LOL, Debs! :)
Thanks, Norelle.
Susiex

Derek said...

I loved your assessment of the submission process. Especially because, as you rightly point out, once we've 'said our piece' it's all outside of our control. In a funny sort of way that liberates us to move on to other. hopefully more productive conversations.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Yes, once we've 'said our piece' it's in the hands of grace.
Susiex

Derek said...

I wish I knew where Grace lived; I'd send her some chocolates.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

LOL!
Susiex