Remember your First Time?
I’ve been sending out enquiries for my 3rd teenage novel, ‘Grounded’ and although I’ve been here before - five times before to be precise - this time is the first time it actually hurts when I think about moving onto the N’s.
Of course I sent it to my Top Ten favourite agents first before turning to the WAAYB.
And every time it’s different. I remember feeling absurdly excited when I started subbing my first novel, 8 years ago now (*gulp*…excuse me while I peel myself off the floor… Jeez was it REALLY that long ago?) and how naïve I now realise I was in my thrill to get it Out There. I did everything I’d read a writer should do when submitting a novel to a literary agent: I found a published author who wrote in a style similar to my own, looked them up, found out who represented them, printed off a letter, synopsis and first three chapters, posted them off and waited.
Sometimes for 8 months.
Then, when it came back with either a cursory ‘Sorry, not for us’ or even with a scrawled-in-red “NO!” across my original enquiry letter (seriously), I’d try another.
I'd send off the same printed chapters and synopsis with a new letter addressed to somebody else… and wait.
That waiting I did back then, now feels earnestly raw. And looking back at those 'wilderness' years, I actually squirm at how immature I was with my ridiculous expectations and blinkered patience. It took me three years and a whole file-full of rejection slips (yes, I kept them all) to appreciate that this book was going precisely nowhere.
I won’t say that I was blasé by the time I started subbing my third book, 5 years later, but I had sussed out a different approach. For a start I no longer printed off chapters and sent self-addressed envelopes with return postage unless I was specifically asked for a hard copy. And I was already starting to notice which agents were answering me personally, commenting - albeit briefly but that’s still a result in agent-terms - on why it wasn't 'suitable', and I felt a lot less ignorant.
One agent said “you can certainly write.." which will stay with me forever ( followed by the inevitable but...). And another agent told me I should drop the part of my enquiry that said: “I submitted my last book to you, 18 months ago ….” because if they hadn’t liked that one, they were going to be suspicious of further submissions. I remember taking silent umbrage to this at the time but soon realised how sensible that suggestion was. Now, even though I don’t ever tell an agent I’ve subbed to them in the past, this time round I was delighted to be asked recently "I recall you sent something to us before, can you remind us what it was..." - which means they're beginning to remember me!
Another said “I remember your last book being a close call…” which I was mightily encouraged to hear even though this, too, was rejected.
And nowadays I only e-mail my initial enquiry. I don’t attach the chapters and synopsis any more and I don’t paste anything into the body of the e-mail, which is something else I did with the last book. I’ve learnt that if an agent is interested enough then they WILL mail back and ask for sample chapters. One even telephoned me this time round and asked me to post her some chapters. Subsequently rejected by e-mail, but still… a telephone call - from AN AGENT!
So every time it feels different and I learn more stuff and I DO get better rejections… in fact some of the agents I sub to, I’m on first name terms with, which I never thought I’d be able to say!
But now, not only has my subbing stopped, my writing's frozen too. I feel like I've wrapped a protective cloak around myself and my book so we can't be hurt again. We're sitting this one out. In fact we're even contemplating going home, putting on our pyjamas and eating a whole tub of ice cream... each.
What is equally true, however, is that if I don't fling off this cloak, reveal our party frock and paint on a smile then nobody's going to ask us to dance either.
So, party or pyjamas..... ? they're both so compelling and scary for entirely different reasons.