Guest Blog and Book Giveaway by Rosy Barnes - The Life of an Unpublished Author

Visit Vulpes Libris today for more info about The Borders Book Festival that Rosy talks about here!

Your hands sweat. You check your email inbox.
You check your answer phone.
No new messages.
You check the area near your letter box (although you already checked it this morning).
Still nothing.
You might as well just check your email once more.
Perhaps it went in the spam folder. (No.)
You tamper with the idea of sending a message, “Sorry to send this message, but just wanted to check if you received the submission of my new memoir “Travels with my Hamster…” .
You agonise about whether to send it…
You do, of course.
A few minutes go by. Nothing. Perhaps this message didn’t get through either. I mean HOW LONG does it take to read and respond to an email?
Stuff it! You don’t need them anyway. Who needs to be published? You’ll sit it out and go for accolades and glory after death, thank you very much. Yes. That’s it!
(You send another email).
Those of you Strictly readers who are unpublished or “aspiring” writers will recognise this as the torture known as the Submission Process.
It is impossible not to feel too forward and yet simultaneously pathetic and needy, slimy and disgusting – the worst sort of life-form to crawl out from under a stone – when you’re submitting your book to agents or publishers.
Your world reduces down to the size of an email inbox (empty). You become incredibly boring. People start moving away from you at parties.
You might – by chance – meet someone who works in publishing at your friend’s wedding. You are delighted to meet them. You get the strangest impression that they are not quite so delighted to meet you. Probably paranoia. When they go down with Salmonella halfway through the reception and go home early you think nothing more of it.
And so it goes on…
You have to remember that agents and publishers won’t be aware of your suffering. They might sigh inwardly when you send in your memoir, “Travels Through Wales with my Hamster, Bob” and throw it straight in the bin, but they won’t see the sweat, your general disgustingness or be even vaguely aware of the long dark night of the soul you just went through to build up enough courage to contact them in the first place.
Unless you start stalking them that is and they meet the general disgustingness which is you in person…outside the school…when they’re picking up their kids…with a 4000 page manuscript clasped in your sweaty hand…
(Note: Stalking, harassing or assaulting agents and editors is generally considered to be a BAD IDEA.)
If you are really really lucky, at some point the rejections will start coming in.
“Whilst I loved the warm cuddly characters and the original voice, I wasn’t so sure about the unconventional subject-matter.”
“Whilst I enjoyed the unconventional subject-matter, I loathed and detested the acerbic unsympathetic characters.”
If you try to make sense of any of this stuff you will go slowly mad. Please try to avoid sitting down and addressing a reply that goes:
“Dear Mr Agent
Thank you for your rejection of my memoir “Travels Through Wales with my Hamster, Bob”. Do you realise it took 3 decades to write this work of unparalleled genius? How long did it you look at it for? A couple of minutes? Yeah right! If YOU were capable of writing a work of unparalleled genius you wouldn’t be an agent but writing your own hamster memoirs, you blood-sucking parasite.”
After months, years of trying, you finally stalk, harass or bully an agent into representing you. This is a real landmark moment. You feel exhilarated, exonerated and all sorts of self-justifying smug and self-satisfied sorts of emotions. Make the most of the bragging, trumpeting and general “I told you soing” to friends and family…because it will be a LONG time before you can do this again.
Life after getting an agent can feel pretty similar to life before getting an agent: a lot of waiting, basically.
At this point in the process you enter something called Publishing Time. This is where all life stands still. No birds sing. Plants stop growing and the only thing getting older and more shrivelly and wrinkled by the day is you.
Basically, the road to publication is full of corpses who just died of boredom whilst waiting along the way. It is excruciatingly stressful.
For me, I was eventually saved by the publishers, Marion Boyars – who loved the book, published it and really got behind it.
I was totally pig-headedly convinced that I would get there in the end. But - start to finish - it took a while. It was just a matter of finding the right fit.
So, my message is quite simple: don’t listen to a word anyone says about how to get published.
If you go looking, you will find millions of websites telling you how to achieve this goal. The truth is: none of them know how to get published.
Even people who get published have no idea how to get published.
Basically, my view is that there are no blanket rules. There are far too many people writing books and a lot of myths.
I have committed all the crimes. I’ve disobeyed submission guidelines (something that many people would say denotes me as a complete moron who deserves to be taken out and tarred and feathered by my peers). I’ve phoned up people (another heinous crime, apparently). I’ve written personalised and perky submission letters that sound like I just might be a human being (another crime punishable by complete excommunication from the writing world), and synopses of all shapes and sizes that left things hanging and didn’t reveal the ending (should be shot for that too.)
But, most importantly, I got out there, did my own thing and got involved.
One of the best things I did was become part of an online bookblog – Vulpes Libris Written by people from all over the world – from Scotland, Finland, France and Chile – to the darkest depths of Cornwall – iIt has allowed me to find out things about the world of books, interview publishers and writers and ask them the kinds of questions we all would like to know. It has also been a huge amount of fun. I’m sure the Strictly crowd feel the same way about this site.
So if there was any advice I’d have to unpublished aspiring authors it would be that – stop obsessing over your emails and get out there and be part of things. Take an interest in the world of books and channel the angst into something positive. You just don’t know what will come of it.
(Oh yes, and write a book, of course. But you knew that already…)

NB. This article formed the basis of RosyB’s talk given at an event for Debut Writers at The Borders Book Festival in Melrose 2009. (Please note Ferret Bill has morphed into Hamster Bob because she was getting bored of him.) Remember, do pop over to Vulpes Libris today to hear Rosy talk more about this event!

Rosy Barnes is a talented new author and to win a copy of her debut novel, Sadomasochism for Accountants, simply comment below and a winner will be drawn from the hat - sorry, competition not open to Strictly Writers! The winner will be announced on Saturday!


Keren David said...

It's's me..! Completely spot on. Ouch.

Even though now I've got an agent and a publishign deal - hurray! - I'm still wondering what happened to that submission I never heard from....

Susannah Rickards said...

Thanks Rosy. Sooooo glad to know it's universal.

I read this article three seconds after checking my emails to see if a magazine I'd subbed to earlier in the week had replied yet. Nuff said.

Love the title of your novel.


sarah fox said...

Great post, Rosy. We all need to look at things with a bit more humour - or go mad!

Administrator said...

LOL, Rosy - glad i'm not the only one! Also, glad i'm not the only one who breaks submission rules!

So pleased you got there in the end:)

I agree, it's best not to write in a vacuum for all sorts of reasons. Get yourselves 'out there' into the literary community, writers, even if it is only on-line...

Anonymous said...

As an aspiring author, I find this slightly scary. Do I really want to subject myself to this?
...hell yeah!
but thanks for the warning of things to come!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Greetings, Rosy, from the Darkest Depths of Cornwall...
A great post. Seems to me it's the same story with any art form (IS submitting an art form??) - that you learn about the rules, and then you break 'em. I sooo agree with you about the 'myths' that circulate, the shoulds and shouldn'ts - nothing's set in stone, nobody really knows.

Luisa said...

This is brilliant! I love it. I just wanted to say that, but please don't enter me into the contest as I am already the proud owner of a copy. (Though if "Travels Through Wales with my Hamster, Bob" is available, you could put me down for that one? I like the sound of its fluffy yet acerbic characters.) :)

Caroline Green said...

Great post, Rosy. I'd like to hear more about this stalking and bullying an agent into representing you! We need tips!

Hack for hire said...

Really enjoyed reading this, even if it did make me cringe a bit! I've got a long way to go before I can even think about sitting and staring at my email in-box. But I feel the pain and know I'll be a horror to live with when the time comes.

Helen Black said...

So glad I didn't know about all the rules when I was subbing.
I just did what I thought best.
I'm not advocating it as the best and most effective way to get published but nor did it hold me back.

Roderic Vincent said...

Thanks, Rosy. Funny but painful. It's reassuring to know that actually getting a response is an achievement.

Not a member of the Strictly team said...

Great post! Please enter me in the draw for a copy of your fab sounding book.

RosyB said...

Hee hee everyone. Thanks!

I love the way Sam has added Salmonella as a tag.

Caroline Green said...

Rod, stop it. You are too a member of the Strictly team...

Administrator said...

I'll try anything to get traffic, Rosy - and commiserations to anyone reading this with food poisoning:)

Rodders, you'll have to try harder than that:):)

Rachel Eldred said...

I haven't completed a book yet, so don't personally know the angst of this waiting game. Thanks for the tip, though...I'm all for becoming part of a literary community.

Congratulations, too, on the publication of your first book!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Rodella, get off the line!

Rosy, sounds to me the whole process is a bit like having twins. No one can prepare you for it - you just have to go through it in your own way and learn from the experience.

Sheila Cornelius said...

Sounds so right! I was married in Melrose, once, not that it's very relevant except I notice you gave a talk there, so thought I'd say how scenic it was/is, (unless it's changed a lot).

rosyb said...

Oh yes Sheila - maybe I should have explained. This talk was part of an event with three debut authors. We all had 8 minutes (!!!) to give a talk about the road to publication and do a small reading. There is a report about the event on Vulpes Libris today.

The idea was to give a bit of advice to unpublished writers etc. It was very interesting on a number of levels - not least that NONE of us had gone through the slush pile for agents. It's not that I think it doesn't happen - it's more that I think that a lot of writers are found by other routes...and that a lot of agents will actively look for people through these other avenues rather than relying on the slush.

The more I read the advice dished out on the internet to unpublished writers the more I find myself disagreeing with it. I haven't really got any advice at all except what I said about getting out there. I don't mean you have to be some kind of celebrity - but, for example, a lot of agents will keep an eye on short story comps and events and all sorts of things like that. One of my co-eventees found an agent through an excerpt of her work being included in an anthology. I entered something called an Unpublished Writer's Jam. I think the challenge is being read - and being read by the right person at the time when they are looking for you. The more you can get your work out there the better, in whatever form. Plus it does give you something to concentrate on whilst waiting...

Paula Williams said...

Great post, Rosy. As for the obsessive email checking - that's me. Abd the wondering if the first one got through.
Problem is, I'm a short story writer and thought it was ages since I'd heard from one mag, then got an email from the Fiction Editor saying: didn't you get my email about wanting to buy your story? I'm worse than ever now! Just off to check my emails... just in case!

Julia Phillips Smith said...

You're making me choke on my lunch.

Suzanne Ross Jones said...

Hee hee. Great post. :-)

Caroline Rance said...

Fab post, and it must have made a brilliant talk. Glad the festival went well.

Lesley (aka Upper West Side Writer) said...

Please enter me--it sounds wonderful (as is your post :^)! Thanks!


Anonymous said...

I'm glad i'm not the only one who does that. I'm also a pacer, and soon i'll wear the hall carpet out checking for light brown envelopes.
Julia Anderson

Sherri said...

Ooh, stalking agents - what a good idea!
Thanks for an interesting post. Glad it's not just me.

RosyB said...

Yes, I'm not sure what my agent's going to have to say about that but...;)

Anon - I suggest wooden floors. It's the only answer.

Thanks so much for all the comments, everyone. Really nice of you all. And can I just say that Battypip has be one of the best monikers I've ever come across.

Derek Thompson said...

Hi, just caught up with your posting (I'd like to say I was working on my novel edit but I'd be fibbing). Yep, the tried and tested formula is indeed to try and test EVERY formula and then make it up or hope you meet the right person for an 'in'. No rules other than good writing and being professional. Kinda liberating when you think about it. On a good day... :o)