Over the last few weeks, I’ve submitted my latest brainchild to the mercy of a few literary agents. I decided to go down this route rather than self-publish again because self-publishing is, basically, vanity publishing, and while it made me a tidy packet after I first released my book last year, sustaining the revenue was next to impossible. Not only was I writing about a subject which many people aren’t interested in (ie. Georgia), but promoting the damn thing is an expensive and often fruitless task (how many times do you see adverts every day? Even if the product looks decent, how often do you actually buy something? If you’re like me, you content yourself to a ‘oh, that looks cool’, while keeping your wallet firmly shut). Besides, I’m one of these chaps who hates to read something that he himself wrote, but I forced myself to re-read my manuscript this year, and in all honesty I hated the bloody thing. Amateurish, poorly developed…I could go on.
This summer, however, I finally produced something that I am actually happy with, having forced myself to read the thing from start to finish after having finishing writing it. I can honestly say that I’m pleased, and that’s a first; I didn’t cringe when I read the draft over again, and I sent the first few chapters around to a few friends who told me (apparently honestly) that they enjoyed it. I don’t want to talk about the book itself, but since I’m about to rant about originality (or lack thereof) I’ll have to disclose a few details. Suffice it to say that the plot is something like every zombie film you’ve seen…but without the zombies. That threw you, eh? I wouldn’t class it as science fiction, since the disaster in my new novel is semi-plausible…sort of.
Anyway, I submitted it to a few literary agents over the last few weeks, and have been on tenterhooks ever since. My nerves don’t stem from fear of rejection; literary agents and publishers don’t seem to know any words apart from ‘no’, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Just go and look at any writers’ forum, or read about how many times bestselling novels got passed over by agents. Rejection is to be expected and not at all to be taken personally. That’s not why I’m nervous. I’m worried because one of them said ‘yes’ and asked for the full manuscript.
Now, as happy as I am with this achievement (if, indeed, achievement it is. A lot of these writers on the forums seem to think so, since they apparently write for years and years and never get asked for their full MS to be sent), I am fully aware that it does not mean success, especially as the person who enjoyed reading my submission is not the one who will make the final decision. It’s more than likely that I’ll ultimately face rejection even after this victory, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find that concept a little frustrating. Here’s why.
Every agent lists on their website the clients whom they represent and the works they have published. I’m an open-minded sort of man, and even though I have my own preferences when it comes to literature, I’m more than prepared to try works that I wouldn’t normally consider (usually, admittedly, due to the lack of anything else). But after browsing the titles and summaries of novels published thanks to the hard work of the agents and their clients, I marvel that a lot of it is taken on. To my eyes, very little of it is original, with the classic love stories, generic SAS thrillers (yawn) and of course, the painful erotica destined for the coffee tables of sexually frustrated housewives.
Now, I appreciate that one of the advantages of non-original content is that it is guaranteed to sell. The majority of people are, of course, inherently stupid (these being the same people who made 50 Shades of Grey a success, for God’s sake), and since stupid people inevitably demand more of the same since ‘stick with what works’ seems to be the only mantra they’re familiar with, one can understand the reluctance of agents and publishers to run with a wildcard. I am not, before you ask, vainly referring to my own work. After prowling the writers’ forums over the last few weeks, I’ve seen many novel (literally) ideas put forward by authors which sounded as though they’d be a hit…given the chance. Like anything else, this is a business, and if something new and original fails to make money, it’ll have proven to be a bad investment; this kind of thing happens fairly frequently, apparently, so it’s small wonder that agents and publishers are so reluctant to push the boat out.
The thing is, though, many of the authors you see listed on agents’ websites don’t have the luxury of writing for their living full-time. Having looked at the kind of things they’re writing about, it isn’t hard to see why. I don’t know if anyone else does this when examining these sorts of sites, but I imagine myself in a bookshop, browsing the titles, and thinking which ones would catch my eye. Very few do, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Boring, generic, over-done…yet these are, apparently, the kind of things agents and publishers are looking for (though you can bet your bottom dollar that if you or I wrote and sent off such a piece of work, it would be rejected since it’d be boring, generic and done to death). Perhaps if we are to revitalise the literary world, these books simply should not make the shelves. I don’t know.
I’m not thinking (or trying not to, anyway) about the fact that my completed manuscript is currently under intense scrutiny by some merciless man or woman in London, casting their beady eye on the plot and character development, while I sit here languishing in regret that I didn’t include that awesome sentence I thought of, or add an extra line to my accepting email begging for justice, wisdom and mercy. Instead of thinking and worrying, I’ve already started work on my next two projects (I have little else to do this summer, before you ask), both of which I’ve completed the first few pages for. I’m indulging myself in my love of science fiction for these two; one is a sports piece, a boxing story set five hundred years into the future, and the other is about the world in a century’s time, complete with the legacies of all of today’s political and social problems. If my current submitted novel comes to nothing (which, in all likelihood, it will), I’ll carpet bomb the same agents with my next two products.
And then you can read the blog post about how much I hate the literary business.