I’ve just got hold of the new Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook which means it’s time to start hustling again. I don’t know anyone who loves doing this sort of thing.
I’m no expert but over the years of pitching, pleading and proposing I have committed plenty of rookie errors, and also made a few discoveries which I thought I’d share so you can point and laugh benefit from my experiences.
One size probably doesn’t fit all
If like me, you write lots of different things (prose, scripts, poetry) you might like the idea of just getting one agent to handle it all. Unfortunately it is unlikely you are going to find an agent who is interested in EVERYTHING IN YOUR COMPUTER.
Even if an agency stupidly encourages you by stating that they will consider submissions in all formats I suspect that they don’t mean all at once from one person.
The one time I enthusiastically sent a poor agent my entire back catalogue (each part conforming to the agency’s submission criteria I add)… well, I got the fastest rejection ever. Seriously, I think the woman looked at the confusing mass of attachments and went “nope” on principle. There literally wouldn’t have been time for her to open the attachments, so fast was that rejection. It was like SEND. NO THANKS. oh, that’s a pity. *lifts finger off send button*
However appealing it is to imagine selling all your wares wholesale, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is better to choose your best work and target it narrowly and precisely. Make sure the person you are sending it to is documented as being supremely enthusiastic about the exact sort of thing you have written. Stacks of agents have chatty profiles on their websites where they tell you exactly what they’re looking for so it is worth looking through their profiles and seeing if there are some clear matches.
A consequence of this is that you might target your screenplay to one agent over here and your novel to a completely different agent over there. I think that’s okay. It might even increase your chances and you’ll look less like a hyperactive schizophrenic. Even if you are. If you are, of course that’s great. Obviously. Well done.
You don’t always have to have finished writing the whole thing
Although generally agents only consider novel extracts which are part of a completed whole, I was surprised to find that some agents don’t actually mind if you haven’t actually finished writing it yet. Unfortunately it’s quite hard to work out which agents take this stance. In one instance I chatted to an agent after a talk she gave for writers and found that she really didn’t mind even though the agency website claimed otherwise. Maybe she was just messing with me. It meant I could pitch something I was developing. She was kind enough to tell me it sucked, so that was nice because it that saved some time I would have spent writing more sucky prose. Obviously I had a little cry before I said thanks.
Of course you could wing it, send it your submissions and neglect to mention that the book is incomplete and only worry about it when they ask to see the rest. All I will say is that I’ve written a mass of chapters in a weekend one time to make reality meet an agent’s expectations and the mental strain of forcing so many words out of my eyes at speed nearly killed me so good luck with that. (Then they said it sucked).
And whilst honesty is important, if you do state that the novel is not quite complete, maybe don’t go on to explain that the trouble is that you’re struggling with the plot, or you’re not sure the idea is strong enough and what do they think?
If it’s incomplete and the agent’s OK with that just state how many words are down, how many more you expect to write, and leave it there. I cringe when I see some of my cover emails and letters from years back, babbling on about all sorts of irrelevant shite. Less is more. Apart from where words in the actual book are concerned in which case, um. more is probably more. But you knew all this already right?
You don’t have to have written anything
More seasoned writers, especially those from journalistic backgrounds have known this one for ever. It was a surprise to me. I’m not very bright though. With Non-Fiction works it is possible to sell the idea to an agent before you’ve written the book. This is often the case where the backing of a publisher and an advance would be necessary to fund the research for the work. It’s sort of obvious when you think about it.
The newish book category of Creative Non-Fiction means even liars writers of fiction can in theory at least try to exploit this way of getting a deal. If you go down this route you’ll need a kick-ass book proposal where you explain precisely what you have in mind, where it fits in the market, who’s going to buy it and why you are the right person to write it. And probably a sample chapter or two.
It’s a shame Non-Fiction is about the only genre I’m not interested in writing because it sounds like a much more efficient way of doing business.
A Writer’s CV isn’t like a like a CV
Sometimes agents seem to want a CV but what they mean is a Writer’s CV. Whether or not you have a driving licence and A-Level English probably isn’t relevant. You knew that already too? Jeez you’re so much better at this than I am.
Explore other sources of humiliation
There are loads of writing competitions out there for almost every type of writing from flash fiction to full length screenplays. Contests run all year round, many with large cash prizes and the opportunity to get some feedback. Some require an entrance fee and some are better respected than others.
Don’t forget journals, magazines and online blogs; there are lots of avenues to sharing your work.
I think it’s nice to enter a few comps and so forth, as well as targeting agents so that you can experience crashing disappointment in all its various forms. Also it’s a special thrill to keep an anxious eye on social networks and see other people announce they’ve been shortlisted when you haven’t. When you do get a bit of luck though, it is the best feeling in the world.
So ends this round up. Like I said my meagre triumphs hardly make me an expert but if it prevents even one person from looking like a twat then I consider it worthwhile. You’re welcome.