It might be time for a re-write…

After my latest post, and the small amount of discussion that followed on WordPress and Twitter, it really does seem that agents are focusing on plot, characterisation, voice, etc., when addressing a query, and are not so bothered about the little things.

That’s pretty much what I thought, but it was good to have a chat with others to confirm it anyway.

Of course the upshot of that, I fear, is the prospect of undertaking a re-write as opposed to a simple bit of tweaking and tightening here and there. The overriding majority of agents ask for the first three chapters and – I have to admit – it’s my first three chapters that are probably the weakest of the lot. Hence, I think I’ll need to have a long, hard look at them before the next batch of queries go out.

My blog-buddy D.R.Sylvester has kindly offered up his beta-reading services, so I shall wait and see what his advice may be before proceeding, but then I imagine it’ll be nose-shoved-hard-into-the-gridstone and time for some serious re-drafting.

D.R. did remind me, however, that an agent once told me it was simply the marketability and niche-ness (niche-ness…?) of my concept that put him off, whilst another told me the writing was of a high quality, but lacked urgency. So the task ahead may not be too bad.

By the way, the agent didn’t use the word niche-ness. That abomination is all mine.

Oh, and one other thing; did anyone notice that in my latest post I wrote, “I found myself scrutinising the text perhaps a trifle more than is required,” but rather ironically misspelled scrutinising. Idiot. (Don’t bother looking. I already corrected it). Almost even worse was the fact that it was my dad who spotted it. Doh!

Anyway, thanks for reading.

What DO agents see in your manuscript?

So, I have just been tweaking my first three chapters prior to embarking on another round of querying agents. Naturally, this involved doing all the usual stuff that gets done at this juncture: swapping adjectives, tightening up the text, removing adverbs, changing ‘that’ to ‘which’ and then ‘which’ back to ‘that’ again before eventually getting rid of the ‘that’ because it’s unnecessary. You know the drill.

Anyway, apart from making the changes that really need to happen, I found myself scrutinising the text perhaps a trifle more than is required at this point in the proceedings. For example, I changed the name of a starship from HMS Clevland simply because the word that follows HMS Cleveland  is ‘and’. And that didn’t really work.

Yes, yes, I know this may be finicky and a little over the top… but that’s exactly what got me thinking on the question posed in the title: What do agents see in a manuscript? More to the point, are all of these little changes really worth the effort? I mean, I’ve been rejected by about 30 agents so far (which is only to be expected) but will minuscule tweaks of my work really make a difference? I’m sure that many agents don’t even get past the query letter and synopsis before they reject a submission. Fair enough; they’re busy people with a slush pile the size of corruption allegations against FIFA. Of those that do actually read what we’ve sent them, is it really that important that the work is as impeccable as can be, including those teeny-weeny details such as an ‘and’ following Cleveland. Aren’t any books accepted by a publisher going to be given a whopping great dose of the red-pen treatment by an in-house editor anyway?

The answer to this is no doubt, yes. But then again, do all of the tiny adjustments we make between sending stuff off in queries actually have an impact. I believe they do. Granted, when an agent reads those proverbial “first three chapters”, they’re looking primarily at the marketability, the concept, the voice, etc. But I do think that the general finish and sheen is important. Even if an editor is going to have a go at your pride and joy later on on the process, it must still blow the agent away by how much it has been polished.

Or should it…?

Agents are astute readers. They can tell when a huge amount of work has gone into a draft, and this must have an impact on their overall view of you as an author.

Or does it…?

Oh, I don’t know. Anyone who does know, please get in touch.

In the meantime, I shall carry on querying with the very best that I can offer… only to subsequently refine that very best that I can offer when I go back, re-read it and realise this wasn’t in fact the best I can offer and start making more changes. Circle of life.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Sorry if you read this thinking that I was going to impart some wisdom as to what agents see in your manuscript. I wasn’t. The title wasn’t rhetorical and I really am seeking the answer to this question.

So I got something published…

I’ve not been posting on here as frequently as I would like, and whilst I’m not going to apologise (after all, the only person that really affects is me) I will tell you that I shall endeavour to keep future postings a little more frequent than of late.

So then, trying to get an agent to take on my debut novel is proving about as impossible as I expected. In response to that I’m currently rejigging my story – especially those notorious “first three chapters” that agents ask for – and will be embarking on a second wave of attack in the near future. Right now, though, at least I have some good news to impart…

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 18.02.24It turns out that The New Accelerator magazine took a liking to a short story of mine and has decided to publish it.

The adventure is set in the same swashbuckling sci-fi world as my novel, and centres around a young lad who is pressed into service onboard a starship. Life aboard a solar-sailing ship tuns out to be nothing like he expected, and we follow his subsequent attempts to get away.

This short story was, in part, an experiment to see if I could convince readers of my maritime sci-fi world… and it appears that I can. Great. Additionally, it has given me confidence in the concept of my novel and the faith to go and get that published.

The New Accelerator is a bi-monthly compendium of sci-fi shorts, ten in each issue, written by authors from around the globe. My story appears in Issue 3, just in case you’re interested.

The magazine is only recently launched (which probably helped my case a lot!) but a few of the writers are excellent. I am incredibly proud to share the pages with some of these guys and certainly chuffed that somebody took up one of my stories.

This is definitely a feeling I could get used to…

Thanks for reading

Ready to surrender… but an agent’s rejection stalled the white flag

So I’m at that joyous point of the querying process where the rejections are rolling in thick and fast. Now, I’m tough enough to accept rejection, but the hard part here is that, without exception, every email from an uninterested agent comes across as – and most probably is – a generic response with my name merely pasted to the top (although I did get one “Dear Author” email too. Nice). And even though us novice writers are told to expect rejection, it does knock your confidence a little when it’s relentless. Hence, these rejections and their detached nature began to make me feel a little despondent.

As a consequence of this (and the fact that I’m slowly running out of agency options) I was about ready to give up on a traditional publishing deal and head down the self-pub route instead (or just head down the pub). Whilst self publishing was always a plan B for me, it was still a prospect I’d hoped to avoid… and it was knocking the wind out of my follow-up novel too.

However, in the space of just a single email, my faith in my book was restored. Continue reading

Why do kids’ Christmas films insist on promoting the idea there is no Father Christmas?

With the festive season fast approaching, I thought I’d get into the spirit of things and write a post about Christmas.

And in the spirit of that classic Yuletide tale, A Christmas Carol, I’m going to get a little Scroogey and have a bit of a moan.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 23.30.36My beef (or should it be turkey?) is with the film industry and their sometimes misguided efforts to persuade us that Father Christmas is real. Continue reading

What’s in a title? (Apart from words, that is)

We all know that covers sell books. But what about titles? How important is it that we get the right title? A title that invokes the spirit of the story; a title that describes the story; a title that grabs the readers’ attention?

To highlight the impact of a good title, I’m going to recall a story that happened to me recently. But it doesn’t involve books; it involves music.

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 17.57.20 Continue reading

Don’t quote me on that…

Author quotes. Who doesn’t love ‘em, eh? After all, who better to write a quote, than a writer? As natural wordsmiths, authors no doubt find it effortless to pen a short, profound, funny, or even disturbing quote – a quote that may spend the next few decades, or even centuries, being repeated in polite, intellectual conversation, or perhaps gracing Twitter and the blogoshpere with its concise ingenuity.

But the thing is (I’ve often wondered), where do these quotes originate from? Are they utterances from writers who strike literary gold when asked a question, or are they simply small chunks of text taken from their papers, journals and novels?

I suspect it’s the latter.

Screen Shot 2014-11-06 at 11.17.04 Continue reading