Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Nice Girls Aren't Pushy

How to self-promote when you’re a new writer? This is tricky. When I still had a day job, my repeated mantra to diffident colleagues looking to improve their prospects tended to be, “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will." And I still believe this to be true, a real shame then I can’t take my own advice.
    At the risk of being controversial, there are times when I should just ditch my mother, not the real one of course, but that ‘censoring voice of mother’ that whispers in my ear, “Norma dear, nice girls aren’t that pushy.”
    Take last Thursday as an example. I’m at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Industry Panel event. three speakers have finished answering our questions and we’re having tea and a chat. There’s a really approachable agent and I’m dying to talk to her, but it is sooooo hard. I saunter up, she’s talking to another so, trying my hardest not to look like I’m waiting in line, I admire the paintings on the wall behind her head. Fiddling with a biscuit, I make inconsequential conversation with another writer, who’s also trying to look like she just admiring the paintings.
    Both of us fully know the truth. We really want to tell this guardian of a gateway to successful publication, our books are, ‘the next best thing,’ and she’d be mad not to grab us while she can.
    And when I get to speak to the agent, what do I say – not  a practised hard sell about my brilliance as a writer, or even that I’ve a finished book – oh no, I mumble something about how awful it must be to be approached by yet another pushy author. The agent, newly arrived from New York, where I guess they do things differently, gives me a quizzical look. I make some weakish joke about having my mother on my shoulder – she looks at me again as if I’m mad and I retire - to kick myself. In a previous existence I’ve actually run assertiveness training courses, I’ve advised others what to do, I know all the theory – so why the hell can’t I do it for myself. Eh?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Passion in the Potato Patch, or the art of finding an agent and other assorted writing trials

Anyone will tell you nowadays, a writer who wants to be published needs a literary agent. So where to begin? Online is an obvious place to start, or possibly a troll through the Writers’ and Artists’ Year book.
With rookie optimism I try both. Hours later and the only thing I’m certain about - writing the book’s the easy bit. Okay, I already knew sending an unrepresented baby off to a publisher, is a sure way straight to the shredder bin. But agents are tricky customers to catch and surprisingly few are in the least bit interested in Romantic Fiction.
I sort out a handful of hopefuls who look like they might be sympathetic. Treat it as a job application says one bit of advice, 'I'm only human so  spell my name right,' the plea from another. I only take electronic submissions says a third, I only take paper submissions, a forth. Some like particular fonts or a writing C.V. All want a one page synopsis. None of them seem likely to respond to a bribe of homemade blackberry jam or a basket of vegetables from my allotment, which is a pity as I seem to have a glut of both.

 And then there is something called The Agent’s Letter. This is the key. No matter how good your manuscript is, if you don’t catch their eye with your letter, you’ll never get off the slush pile. Start with a sure fire hook is the advice I find on the internet. But what exactly is a hook? A sentence or a phrase, or possibly a single word (if it's exactly the right word) that sums up the book. Which is where ‘Passion in the Potato Patch,’ comes in – sometimes I think that husband of mine doesn’t take my writing as seriously as he might – you wait, one day I’ll be signing copies in Waterstones ... and then who’ll be laughing? Eh! 

I have to write a Short Bio about myself. I look a few up to get some idea what to write. Have you noticed that no writer is ever run of the mill? One I find describes herself as being the sole child of a teacher and a circus clown. But I am ordinary. About the most exciting thing about me is that I’ve actually written 93,000 words in book form. I was a special needs teacher at one time, and I love gardening. I was feature of the month in a publication called Hot Stuff a while back, but don't get excited, it was only because I make lampwork glass beads as a hobby.  

Now my letter is written. I’ve got together my first three chapters, a synopsis and neatly compiled a writer’s C.V (at least with two short stories published I’ve something to put in it now, though it still looks like the shortest C.V ever) But even thus prepared, current wisdom says I might not get my manuscript read. With thousands of hopefuls sending off novels every year, finding an agent is starting to seem actually harder than getting published. But if you can’t get published without an agent ... I feel a ‘Catch 22’ situation coming on.