I should have written this post months ago but since the website has been undergoing some technical upgrades I never got round to it so it’s quite a long post but hopefully informative for anyone who is about to submit their precious manuscript to agents.
I finished my manuscript in March of 2013 – or so I thought! Cautionary note here: It wasn’t as ready as it should have been or I thought it was!
Having decided it was ready to send out I sent it to the Andrew Lownie Agency. They were growing their fiction list and it seemed a good time to submit. I got a great response and was asked to send in the full MS. It was ultimately rejected.
There followed almost a year of submissions to various agents in the UK and the US. Most of them didn’t bother to reply (not a complaint – just an industry standard) but those that did gave me some very encouraging comments and feedback. Quite a few asked for either a ‘partial’ (the first three chapters or first 50 pages), others asked for the full MS. Each time, I got my hopes up only for them to be dashed. (If you’re interested they appear at the end of this blog.)
I was becoming increasingly frustrated with so many ‘near misses’. It was such a rollercoaster life. Finally, I began to ask the agents for feedback. I guessed if they’d been interested enough to ask to read more surely they wouldn’t mind giving me some feedback. And they didn’t mind.
It became obvious to me that although they liked my book there seemed to be 2 main reasons why they felt they couldn’t represent me:
- The manuscript was too long. I discovered the average length of a publishable book is between 60 – 90,000 words. Anything above 90,000 words is considered uneconomical to print. Mine was 135,000 words.
- I was an unknown writer without a previous track record in book sales. In this increasingly commercial industry no agent was going to take a risk on publishing an unknown author whose book was too costly to print.
I did go back and re-edit the manuscript down to 120,000 words but there was no way I could reduce it further without taking away the plot!! So, I was stuck with a manuscript that was too long but one which I felt in my heart needed to be read by a wider audience. I couldn’t put it in a metaphorical drawer and forget about it.
Around this time I came across two articles. One was a blog about author’s royalties, the other about an author called Darcie Chan who had made a decision to self publish and found success. This was the moment I made my decision.
I would self publish and get on with writing my next novel which is exactly what I’m doing. I’m enjoying promoting my book in Gloucester and get a real buzz when someone posts a book review or gets in touch via social media and tells me they enjoyed reading the book. It makes it all worthwhile.
Here are the links to the 2 articles which influenced my decision…
Here are the agents comments in chronological order. I’ve highlighted the good bits:
“Many thanks for this, it’s a terrific opening. May I have a full
proposal, as outlined on the website, and the full MS? Has anyone else
in publishing seen it, and if so what was the response?”
This was the rejection:
“Many thanks for this. You certainly write well, and this is very
impressive in many respects, however I’m afraid I didn’t love it quite
enough to take it on. There’s lots of terrific historical detail, you
craft nice scenes, and I like the sauciness. However, I think the
shape of the narrative needs work… Sorry not to be more positive, good
luck with it, and I’d be glad to look at any future projects.”
“As promised, I’ve looked at your novel immediately, after having inadvertently kept you waiting for six months. And after all that, I’m really sorry that we’re going to disappoint you. Although we are interested in historical crime and on the lookout for it, even so it’s a bit of a long shot for us. So we would have to be 100% certain of being able to handle it successfully. You’ve made good decisions with your novel, not least to set it in Gloucester, an interesting city with a well-documented mediaeval past that hasn’t been overused as Oxford and Glasgow have. Or indeed used much at all. So it’s entirely possible that another agent will feel more sanguine of this novel’s chances in today’s hugely crowded crime marketplace, and of their own ability to sell it successfully, and of course we truly hope that that proves to be the case.”
“I really wanted to like this. The passion you impart for the city, and the period in which the story is set and the good writing are a very appealing mix. However, as I read through, the emphasis on sex, sex and more sex (of different varieties) was a bit too much for me. I’m not a prude! And sex sells. But I’m afraid it’s not for me. I do hope you have better luck with another agent.”
“Thank you for giving the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency a chance to consider your work. Both Clare Wallace and I read your submission with interest and we agreed that your concept had potential commercially. Sadly, we did not feel quite gripped enough by the opening chapters of your work to absolutely fall in love with your concept I am afraid. We feel that it is immensely important for new writers to have an agent who believes completely in the potential of their work to sell and who can therefore take that enthusiasm to the publishers. Accordingly, we need to feel really passionate about a writer’s work before we sign them onto the agency.”
“Thank you for thinking of us in regards to City of Secrets. We appreciate your patience as we reviewed your submission, which we have now completed. I’m afraid that, despite the project’s obvious merits, we are unable to offer you representation at this time. I’m sorry not to have a better answer for you, but as you know, the marketplace is very crowded and we really need to be passionate about any new projects we take on.”
“Many thanks for sending us CITY OF SECRETS. I enjoyed reading it and think it has potential but I’m afraid we are not able to offer your representation. As I’m sure you’re aware, the market is currently exceptionally difficult so we have to be very selective in which new authors we take on.”
I asked for some specific feedback and this is what they said:
“Firstly, I felt that the text was too long – novels are generally around 90,000. A book much longer than this has an impact on the production costs, and therefore can stop an editor from taking it further. Overall, I liked the general plot and pace of the writing but felt that aspects of the story lacked due detail or build up; I know that’s frustrating advice given the need to cut it down! I also think that as a work of historical fiction there needs to be slightly more authentic historical detail, speech and turn of phrase are a good way of polishing this. I hope that’s helpful. Good luck!”
It was too long so I re-edited it from135,000 to 120,000 words and sent it out again…
“Thanks for sharing your novel Christine. It was an intriguing read but I’m afraid that in the end I didn’t think this was right for my list. I wish you all the best with placing your novel.”
“Thank you so much for sending us your manuscript. Unfortunately, I don’t think that we would be able to give this manuscript the attention and push it would need to be published. We have recently taken on a number of clients and we simply wouldn’t be able to give your story the time it requires. I did read it with interest and I do believe you have a compelling story, beautifully set. Your use of historical details is excellent and one of the manuscript’s strongest point. I was particularly fond of the scene where Emmelina discovers Severin’s work. It was delicate and a good example of how to make historical details feel very individual and actual so readers can relate to it. Emmelina is indeed a relatable character and I like the idea of an empowered protagonist but I do feel that she, as are some of the other characters, is a bit inconsistent… You do build up mystery quite well and I was always curious to know what happens next. I did invest in the characters/story.”
“Thank you for being so patient and for giving us the opportunity to read your work, but I’m afraid that, on this occasion, we will not be offering you representation. The world that you drew us into was very compelling; I loved the threat of plague and disaster and how difficult it was for an independent woman to involve herself in the business world of men. You are clearly very knowledgeable about this period, and it really shines through in your narrative.”
“Many thanks for this. I can see that the writing is accomplished and the subject matter intriguing.Sorry to say, historical fiction is not a genre with which we have much experience, so sadly I am going to recommend you find a more suitable agent. I wish you every success.”
A crushing rejection after asking for the full MS
“Thank you again for thinking of ESA in connection with your novel. It’s certainly an interesting premise and you seem to know your history but I’m afraid I was not convinced the quality of the writing was strong enough to sustain the narrative.”
“Although this sounds like an interesting project, I’m afraid it isn’t right for xxxxxxx. Her client list is very full right now, forcing her to be extremely selective about taking on anyone new. I encourage you to continue submitting your query to other agents, and I truly wish you all the best in finding enthusiastic representation.”
“Many thanks for your submission, which I’ve now had a chance to consider. There’s much to like here, but I’m afraid that I just didn’t engage with it enough to feel I’d be the right agent for you. I wish you all the best in securing representation elsewhere.”
So I asked the question why?
“It’s hard enough for a debut to get published, but harder still for a lengthy one. Perhaps I’m alone in this, but I’m certainly of the opinion that most stories could and should be told in less than 300 pages, unless of course one ventures into the realm of epics.”
I was starting to get the picture…
“Many thanks for being in touch regarding CITY OF SECRETS, which xxxx shared with us all here at HHB. We thoroughly enjoyed reading your sample material but, having discussed it here in the office, I’m afraid that, in the end, we didn’t feel that the concept of the work was strong or unique enough to be confident of placing it with a publisher. Of course, this is such a subjective business that it may well be that another agency feels completely differently – so I do hope you’re not too disappointed.”
“Thank you for sending me City of Secrets for a complete read. I’m afraid I am going to have to turn it down. It starts out as an intriguing read, but something about Emmaline’s (sic) character doesn’t feel genuine enough to me, and the plot just doesn’t move along as I would like it. I’m sorry, but I appreciate you taking the time to submit your novel to us, and we wish you all the best for the future and in your writing career.”
Even so, they then suggested I enter this:
“No worries. I understand the frustration. Since you have a mystery novel you may want to submit it to the CWA’s Debut Dagger. Even some people not shortlisted for it have gotten publishing deals in the past. It’s possible you could still enter this year but probably need to do it soon: http://www.thecwa.co.uk/daggers/debut/”
“Thank for this. It has a lot to recommend it, but ultimately wouldn’t be something we could handle ourselves. I wish you the best of luck elsewhere.”
When I asked why I was getting so many ‘near misses’ and this is what they said:
“It’s all a matter of instinct with any (good) agent – they have to feel something in a particular way to be able to represent it successfully. We’re not literary critics (or ought not to be) and our opinions aren’t really worth anything unless we’re are prepared to engage with the work professionally. I like your writing enough to be happy to see more, but I need to be turned on by the whole thing – the writing, the plot, the characters, the setting. I can’t tell you how to make that happen, nor should I. You should write what you want to write, and let the chips fall where they may.”