Literary agent

Suffering the arrows of outrageous fortune

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Me, except I've got eleven of the Uruk Hai's black arrows sticking out of me...
Me, except I’ve currently got eleven of the Uruk Hai’s black arrows sticking out of me…

It seems obvious to me now, that writing Charlie’s Worries was akin to making the dread journey through the Mines of Moria – battling the goblins of procrastination, the cave-troll of doubt and then the ultimate enemy, the Balrog of pernickety editing. It’s almost as if JRR Tolkien wrote that section specifically to highlight the perils and torments of writing a novel.

So, after two years of scribbling and typing, I emerged from the fusty tunnels of imagination into the bright light of hope and Lothlórien. Galadriel took me to a clearing and showed me some things that have not yet come to pass. I expected to see money raining from the sky and awards and publishers prostrating themselves before me, yet strangely all I saw was fire and ruin.

“I know what it is you saw, for it is also in my mind.” Galadriel’s voice echoed in my head, somewhat smugly.

“I cannot do this alone.” I replied.

“You are a writer, Simon. To be a writer is to be alone.”

So I screwed up my courage and sent out missives to the Gatekeepers of Amon Hen (I think this is what most people call Literary Agents). Then I set out onto the river of rejection with only some biscuits for sustenance.

Gatekeepers of Amon Hen - A cross between an orc and a Nazi.
Gatekeepers of Amon Hen – A cross between an orc and a Nazi.

I could sense the Gatekeepers chasing me down the banks of the river. Somehow I knew they were there, just out of sight, but always in my thoughts. I imagined them reading my work, gasping at its audacious originality, crying at the pathos, laughing hysterically at the funny bits and then falling over themselves to send me an Email of Acceptance.

But this utterly failed to happen. Instead gnarly, black arrows of rejection thumped into my heart. Each one chipping away at my self belief, until now, two weeks after I sent the first email, I lie breathless against a tree with eleven slivers of despair protruding from my soul.

Then, once again, I hear Galadriel’s voice in my head. It says: “The quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail to the ruin of all.”

So, slightly heartened by these somewhat ambiguous words of encouragement, I determine not only to stagger to my feet and suffer the inevitable sting of bad news, but to write more. I’ve already written nearly 15,000 words of The Book of Lies and I shall use this as a shield against the depressing times ahead.

So bring on Sauron, what’s the worst that can happen?

And so it begins…

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Theoden-so-it-beginsLike Théoden standing atop the battlements of Helm’s Deep I have, once again, decided to test my courage and my resolve against a dark army of malignant evil. Unlike the King of Rohan I can do it indoors and without getting too wet.

King Théoden’s enemy was a host of orcs and Uruk Hai armed with jagged iron and armoured with a fanatical hatred for mankind. They were forged beneath Isengard, twisted from the mud with no concept of compassion or mercy. To them beauty is abhorrent. Something to be crushed beneath their dirty boots. The hopes and dreams of the men, women and children huddling in the caves behind Helm’s Deep mean naught to them. Indeed all human life is but a scourge upon their sight.

Serves you right for trying,
Serves you right for trying,

My opponents are the gatekeepers, a clandestine clan of shadowy powerbrokers known throughout this kingdom of ours for their ruthless willingness to destroy a dreamer’s dream with a cut and pasted paragraph of bitter truth. They are, of course, the Literary Agents.

They have been created in the bars and coffee houses of Bloomsbury, authored by cynicism and spite with no concept of compassion or mercy. To them hope is abhorrent. Yet it is that same hope that gives them their power. It is something to be enjoyed before squashing it from a middle-aged writer’s heart.

And yet against my better judgement I’ve gone and prodded the dragon.

I’ve chosen a handful of carefully selected agents and sent them a synopsis and the first x number of chapters of “Charlie’s Worries”.

I want to know, I really do.
Me for the next few weeks.

And now I feel sick. The familiar feeling of needing to check my emails every few seconds has returned. And I still get that horrible lurching in my stomach when I see one that might be a response to one of my queries.

Just as a quick addendum to this post, if you are a literary agent and you’re reading this, please understand that I most certainly don’t include you in the aforementioned shadowy clan. No, I’m sure you’re lovely.

Twitter… Now I understand!

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Something rather marvellous happened yesterday. Something similar to a technological fairytale, or perhaps the beginning of one anyway.

Over the last month or two I’ve started to stalk literary agents and publishers on Twitter as part of my overall scheme to get a novel published. I’ve replied to a few of their tweets, injecting as much wisdom, humour and professional writing skills as I can into each 140 character missive as is logically possible.

No one has replied so far.

But I don’t take this to mean that my wisdom, humour and professionalism have been ignored. No. I think I’m inching into the minds of these gatekeepers like a mental parasite. When they next read a piece from me, a tiny trigger might click and they’ll realise that I’m the very same person who corrected their spelling or told them how wrong they were to like something. Check! Connection made.

Some tweets, though, don’t need correcting. Photos posted from literary events. Announcements that a client’s book has been placed. Publishing dates published… All proof that beyond my study, writerly things are happening.

One such post caught which caught my attention had an agent sounding comment on it from @someoneididntrecognise. After clicking through to her details and then to her blog, it did indeed turn out to be someone in the literary world. In fact an agent who was about to restart her agenting career.

Attaching my best Twittering fingers, I fired off a tweet, asking whether it was a secret where she was about to work and also a note saying how good her blog was. As usual, this led to much time wasting as I checked my Twitter feed once every three seconds.

Three hours and 3,600 checks later, @someoneiwasrecognising twet back saying thanks and “Not long til I can let you know now x” (note the kiss). A genuine message from a soon to be literary agent.

I grabbed the bull by the horns and replied immediately.

Are you accepting sneaky pre-officialagentedpostion submissions? #cheekygrin#rapaciousselfpromotion

(Hashtags are always funny and relevant)

Everything was on show within this tweet. I’ve heard of hashtags. I can make up words. I supposedly know what rapacious means. And I’m being funny about it. She’ll think I’m a genius.

Amazingly, she got back to me straight away. The great thing about twitter is you can read the whole tweet before you get nervous about what it might say. Not that those horrific rejection emails. And this was not a rejection at all. This was an acceptance. She was going to DM me my deets. Which sounded good.

Mere moments later (and these were moments expanded by the time-slip law of anticipation) her deets were indeed DMed to me. (I got her email address via the medium of direct messaging)

So, I dusted off my query letter, cunningly rewrote it to incorporate reference to our Twitter exchange, and sent off the first three chapters and the hopelessly dry synopsis of “The Clockwork Butterfly”.

She, a person not a automatic response, replied back and I wished her luck when she finally revealed her secrets in the future.

So, all in all, it’s just one more query to one more agent. But this one feels like it has a much more personal touch. I made tenuous contact first and I’ve read all of her blog so I do feel I know a bit about her. And she sounds nice.

Fingers crossed.

There’s a postscript to this which is both inspiring and terrifyingly intimidating.

I follow this secret agent on WordPress now and her latest post is in reply to a challenge she must have received on Twitter. I think it’s amazing, but I didn’t want to come across as too sycophantic, so I feel a bit silly “liking” it on her blog. If you want to see it I’ve added the link below…

Utter Torture

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I have now received 15 rejections from various literary agencies for The Clockwork Butterfly. And each one hurts like the crushing of a childhood dream.

There is a pattern to it now.

I check my emails every few minutes. It doesn’t matter what time it is. In my mind agents beaver away reading unsolicited material twenty four hours a day and my writing is so good that they won’t be able to wait a second to send me a gushing email telling me how great I am. And how they would sell their diamond encrusted pants for the chance to represent me.

So I check. And (very, very occasionally) there is an email from an agent. I am immediately paralyzed. This is it. This is the one. Someone has finally recognised my genius. But I am unable to open the email because a tiny part of me knows that it’s another rejection. My mouse hovers over the email. And then, holding my breath, I click on it.

The first time I read it I don’t understand any of the words. It must be a defence mechanism to stop the excitement or hurt destroying my soul.

I calm down. Exhale. And read it again. And it turns out that perhaps I’m not a genius. I’ve been rejected.

A few minutes later, I read it again, just to make sure I haven’t misunderstood what they’re saying. But I haven’t. I’m still a reject.

Then I get cross. And I stamp about and complain that they obviously didn’t read it properly. And that they’re stupid. And fat. And smell. How could they not realise how brilliant it was? I’m going to write back and tell them how wrong they are. About everything.

Then I’m stomach churningly sad and I mope.

This whole process has now happened fifteen times. It’s a positive yet horrific thought to think that it could happen another thirty or forty times before I’ve exhausted my list of potentials. I am unsure if I’ll be able to cope.

Of the fifteen rejections thirteen have been bog standard, copy and paste daggers through my heart. The other two have been ever so slightly more encouraging. Jamie Cowen from The Ampersand Agency said:

You can clearly write, and there is a good deal of imagination on display in terms of the plot. Sam is cleverly thought-out and will appeal to a broad audience, and the cast of supporting characters is remarkable in its scope.

Which is nice and fairly specific to my novel. The other one, from Clarie Wilson at Rogers, Coleridge and White was less specific and now that I’ve read it again may just be a standard reply (disguised for the willingly gullible). I read it the first time and felt enthused though so I’ll still count it as encouraging…

The most confusing email I got was from Madeleine Milburn. I was on holiday (which I mistakenly thought would make the waiting easier) and we were out and about, but that didn’t stop me checking my emails every few minutes. And I went through the process mentioned above. Now Madeleine Milburn is one that I have high hopes for so I was even more excited about this and deliberated for longer than usual before opening it.

And… its title was “Celebrating SOULMATES publication with the Madeleine Milburn Agency” Now, my book is not called SOULMATES, which is a clue that this was not about me, but it didn’t stop me thinking that it was. For the best part of a minute my addled brain tried to wrestle the words in the email into an order that said they wanted to represent me… I failed. It was an email telling me about a new blog post from Madeleine Milburn. And I felt like a reject once again. (Heartfelt congratulations to Holly Bourne though – now that I’ve recovered)

The First Fresh Rejection and the Solution

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On Sunday night I had a discussion with my better half about how many submissions I should be sending out at a time.

“I’ve read in my books on writing,” I pointed at the bookcase, hoping it would lend weight to my argument, “that I should send out three or four at a time and see what they say .”

“I’d send out loads. To everyone.”

“You can’t do that. It’s just not done.”

“Why?”

“It’s just not.”

“Why?”

“Well. What would happen if two agents I’d approached got talking to each other at one of their many gala dinners or money counting parties and they found out that I’d submitted to both of them?”

There was a slight pause. I think it was to let the sheer idiocy of the question sink in. “That’d be brilliant!”

“No… but…”

“Two different agents talking about your book at a party. Surely that’s exactly what you’d want.”

It was exactly what I wanted. “Ah, but what if one of the agents that I don’t want to be represented by offers me representation before one of the ones I do want to be represented by?”

“Firstly,” she said, “if you’re going to be a writer you need to make your writing clearer. Secondly, don’t approach any agencies who you don’t want to work with.”

“I’ll send more out.” I said.

So, this week I’ve sent more out. Loads more. But I have always made sure that each agency is willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts and I’ve followed their submission guidelines to the letter.

And my reward?

At quarter past one this afternoon I received the first rejection. This was from The Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency although I commend them on their speedy response, I curse them for their lack of speedy acceptance. Even though I didn’t, I thought I had a connection with Penny Holroyde because she’d rejected “Entering The Weave” eight years ago.

The email I got was just a standard reply. Which is FINE. Honestly.

No, really. It is fine. I understand that there is no point in spending any more time than is absolutely necessary on work that is not going to be accepted. But, although it was entirely standard, they still said that they “enjoyed reading my material”. This is politely encouraging and suitably vague which means that it can be used for almost any reply. That doesn’t help me, and, in the long term, I don’t think it actually helps the agencies, either. I’m sure many aspiring writers will hang onto the fact that this agent “enjoyed reading” their work, and hold it up as testament to their own skill, therefore prolonging the hope/agony when ruthless honesty would have been kinder and more helpful.

I think they should be more structured. I propose that the next agents’ banquet they all get together and adopt a formal method of response which should include a rating out of 10 for how much they liked it or how close to accepting it they were. It wouldn’t take long to add that. And even if they really liked it and gave 10/10 they wouldn’t need to actually take it on. I understand how very few writers get to be represented. But a simple scoring system like this would be useful to everyone. If a writer was getting consistent 9s and 10s, then she’d know she was close; whereas if all the agents returned 1s and 2s he’d know there was something seriously wrong with what he was submitting, and he would know that the next thing he wrote would have to be different.

It would also help the agents in the long term. Even the most stubborn writer would learn to target his audience and begin to submit to agents who were giving him higher marks, rather than submitting across the board.

Second Foray

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So, Friday evening probably isn’t the best time for me to send submissions out because I’ve got to wait until at least Monday morning before anyone gets to read anything. So I’m almost certainly making life more difficult for myself, by giving myself a whole weekend to fret about everything without an iota of a chance that anything’ll happen… This will not stop me from checking my emails regularly though, just in case someone creeps back into their office to do some moonlighting.

One of the most promising rejections I got from “Entering The Weave” was from Sarah Manson. So I picked her agency as one of my three. Looking at the website though, I was disappointed to see that they were not accepting new submissions. So rather than submitting anything I thought I would introduce myself.

Dear Sarah

I’m just starting the long process of submitting my second novel for consideration and as part of my research I’ve looked through all my previous correspondence to see if there were any in particular that seemed more hopeful or personal than the standard rejection slip. And although you rejected my submission at the time, you gave me some handwritten feedback which was most appreciated.

It was for “Entering The Weave” on 2nd September 2005 (I’m sure you remember it well) and you said: “I loved the idea of the Weave running alongside the internet, but I’m afraid the narrative just didn’t work for me. Good luck with it!”

“Entering The Weave” was eventually picked up by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd, and I thought I’d really made it then. But the publishers thought otherwise and so it was never released upon the unsuspecting world. It took me some time to get over it, but I started working on a new novel soon after and now, finally I’ve finished.

I checked with your website and you unfortunately it says that you’re not accepting new unsolicited material. So I thought a short(ish) introduction might turn the unsolicited into the solicited… Would you mind if I sent you my new novel?

Kind regards,

It took some time to compose this, and I thought it was succinct enough, that it might just tickle some interest. I sent it at 5:19.

I received this at 5:21:

Sorry, I’m not taking any submissions.  Good luck!

Ah, well. I guess she knew I didn’t like waiting…

But it goes to show that there really is no point in sending something to people who say they don’t want that thing. Lesson learned. On to the people who might want it…

Submission 1 – Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency

Caroline Sheldon-Entering The WeaveWhen I sent them “Entering The Weave” I garnered the response on the left (Click it to bigify)

This implied a proper read of the material and the fact that Penny had been kind enough to give some tips on improvement as well as saying “it’s promising but not quite ready yet” was decidedly encouraging.

On their website they seem to encourage new writers:

The Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency is always looking out for exciting projects by début authors in both adult and children’s books, but out of the enormous amount we see, we select very few. On occasion we do make detailed editorial suggestions and comments but we only do so when we see real promise in the work.

They’ve also published a page with their 12 pet hates. Which I particularly liked because I don’t think any of them apply to me:

  1. Lacklustre submission emails including little information about yourself or your work. This is your opportunity to pitch your book—use it.
  2. Humorous submissions that aren’t funny.
  3. Proposals for fictional novels – what other sort are there?
  4. Submission emails without representative material to read attached. We want a one hit submissions process – to read about you in your email and to read your work immediately afterwards.
  5. Query emails, telephone calls or letters about what we want to read from unpublished authors. We welcome submissions but we want to read your work, not engage in phone calls or correspondence. We think all the necessary information for submissions is included in this website.
  6. An invitation to follow a chain of website links to find your work. Please don’t make us have to dig it out – the delete button beckons.
  7. Artists’ submissions of original work. We much prefer an email submission with attachments or a link to your website (a link to a website is an easy way to view work but please don’t make us trawl through a complicated string of links to get there).
  8. Inclusion of non-consecutive chapters e.g. 1, 13 and 26. Always send the first three. If you’re not confident in them, revise before sending out.
  9. Picture book submissions that state everything depends on the illustrations. The words are what you are supplying—if it all depends on the illustrations, why are you necessary?
  10. Submissions to more than one agent in the agency – this just wastes our time. Plump for one,
  11. Submissions that say your mum loved it. (My mum loves everything I do, so perhaps I have fallen for this one)
  12. Submissions that are obviously carpet-bombing the whole of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. We don’t love the ‘send all’ approach.

(Reproduced from Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency – Pet Hates)

I attached the first three chapters, a synopsis and, in a cynical but far-fetched ploy to be remembered, a scan of Penny’s rejection letter for “Entering the Weave” to this email:

Dear Penny,

Please find attached the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel “The Clockwork Butterfly” for your consideration.

This is my second YA novel and the second time I’ve submitted to the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.  You, personally, rejected my first submission, “Entering the Weave” but you explained your reasons and you were very encouraging about the imagination and accessibility of the novel.

“Entering the Weave” did eventually get taken on by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd, but she couldn’t get it published and I think that led to her retirement.

I don’t have any professional writing experience, but I am an ardent lover of books. I’ve never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones (The Power of Three). More than anything, this novel is an attempt to recreate those feelings for my own children.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” is a pure hearted fantasy story about a young girl who travels to another world where she is drawn into an ancient struggle against an eternal evil.

[ A very brief outline of the story here, more like a blurb but giving away some of the plot ]

My next book is for younger readers called “Charlie’s Worries”, then another YA/Crossover novel called “The Motley Life of Edison Swift”

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kind regards,

Submission 2 – Aitken Alexander Associates

I received a fairly standard rejection letter from Gillon Aitken Associates when I sent them “Entering The Weave”, but it was printed on nice, yellowish embossed paper and they did say that it was “an interesting idea, fluently written”, and their website implied an openness to new submissions and an almost terrifying professionalism.

The process was different to a normal email submission. It was done via a web-form, including a field to write your covering letter and one for your synopsis. It also asked if the work was finished, whether you’d submitted to them before and which of their agents you’d like to target. I liked this high tech approach and spent a lot of time on my covering letter:

Dear Gillie

I hope you find the first 33 pages and a synopsis of “The Clockwork Butterfly” attached to this letter, but I’m only on page two of the submission process so I’m sure plenty can go wrong from here…

This is my second YA novel and the second time I’ve submitted to Aitken Alexander Associates (although before it was Gillon Aitken Associates) My first submission, “Entering The Weave” was rejected but Kate Shaw said (as she probably did to everyone) “It’s an interesting idea, fluently written…” It went downhill from there. “Entering the Weave” did get taken on by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd, but she couldn’t get it published and I think that led to her retirement.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” now needs representation and when I read through all the profiles of the Literary Agents at AAA yours was the one that caught my eye. Obviously you’re in the right genre, but it was the fact that you published Diana Wynne Jones that really grabbed my attention. In all my previous covering letters I’ve said:  “although I don’t have professional writing experience, I am an ardent lover of books and I’ve never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones story (The Power of Three)”

So, how could I not choose you? And you looked the kindest.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” is a pure hearted fantasy story about a young girl who travels to another world called Lyonesse.

[ A very brief outline of the story here, more like a blurb but giving away some of the plot ]

I’ve written it because I love writing things like this. And I’ll continue to write them. My next book is for younger readers called “Charlie’s Worries”, then another YA/Crossover novel called “The Motley Life of Edison Swift”

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kind regards,

Simon

This all went swimmingly until the final SUBMIT button appeared. It seemed to work, but then returned straight back to the first page. Which was blank. I didn’t get an email or any other notification that it had worked, so I did it again. And again. So, either they haven’t got it at all, or I’ve made the same submission three times…

I’ve emailed them, asking for clarification about what’s supposed to happen at the end of the submission process and until then I won’t send it again.

Submission 3 – Darley Anderson

I got a completely standard rejection letter from this agency the first time, but when I looked them up on line I was impressed by how easy they’d made it for unpublished writers to submit their work. And they even have a special email address to send to for children’s/YA submissions.

So I attached the first three chapters and the rather long synopsis to an email and wrote:

Dear Clare and Camilla,

Please find attached the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel “The Clockwork Butterfly” for your consideration.

This is my second YA novel, written seven years after my first “Entering The Weave”. This was taken on by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd. Unfortunately she couldn’t place it with a publisher and I think this led directly to her retirement…

I don’t have any professional writing experience, but I am an ardent lover of books. I’ve never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones (The Power of Three). More than anything, this novel is an attempt to recreate those feelings for my own children.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” is a pure hearted fantasy story about a young girl who travels to another world where she is drawn into an ancient struggle against an eternal evil.

[ A very brief outline of the story here, more like a blurb but giving away some of the plot ]

My next book is for younger readers called “Charlie’s Worries”, then another YA/Crossover novel called “The Motley Life of Edison Swift”

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kind regards,

So, fingers crossed. Switching to waiting mode…

A not-so-brief history of “Entering The Weave”

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My first novel, and the foot that wedged a door open.

Here’s a list of the literary agencies I sent it to:

Company Date Sent Postcard Returned Response Days waiting
Darley Anderson 22/12/2004 Never 12/01/2005 21
Curtis Brown 9/6/2005 11/6/2005 7/8/2005 59
PFD 22/6/2005 24/6/2005 7/7/2005 15
Gillon Aitken 22/6/2005 5/7/2005 15/8/2005 54
Greene And Heaton 28/6/2005 Never 20/7/2005 22
Antony Harwood 30/6/2005 2/7/2005 6/7/2005 6
A.M. Heath & Co. 7/7/2005 13/7/2005 26/7/2005 19
David Higham Associates 8/7/2005 Never 20/7/2005 12
The Inspira Group 21/7/2005 Never 23/7/2005 2
LAW Ltd 21/7/2005 23/7/2005 3/8/2005 13
Christopher Little Agency 23/8/2005 25/8/2005 13/9/2005 21
The Agency 23/8/2005 Never 4/1/2006 134!
London Independent Books 26/8/2005 2/9/2005 27/10/2005 62
Andrew Mann Ltd 26/8/2005 31/8/2005 16/9/2005 21
Sarah Manson Literary Agent 26/8/2005 2/9/2005 2/9/2005 21
Marjacq Scripts 5/9/2005 19/10/2005 19/10/2005 7
Marjacq Scripts 5/9/2005 19/10/2005 19/10/2005 44
Maggie Noach Literary Agency 26/9/2005 Never 14/10/2005 18
Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency 27/10/2005 29/10/2005 18/11/2005 22

With it I sent a covering letter that ran something like this:

Dear Anne,

Having been fifteen for the past twenty years, I feel that I am now eminently qualified to write an adventure story that will entertain my peers. So please find enclosed the first twenty pages, a synopsis and the contents page of my novel, ‘Entering The Weave’. I’ve also enclosed a stamped addressed envelope and a self addressed postcard.

The novel combines magic and computers together in such a way as to create a virtual fantasy world that mixes traditional enchantment with alien science. I’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible and hope that, by turns, it is exciting, frightening and funny. The themes and ideas are suitable for everyone.

I have not included a bio or CV because I found it impossible to make computer programming sound remotely interesting, and I have a whole host of IT skills which are so technical that they actually hamper creative writing. Also, I have no professional writing experience other than several short stories which have all been pleasantly rejected by the sci-fi magazine ‘Interzone’.

I am, however, an ardent lover of books and I have never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones novel (The Power Of Three) and the bittersweet feeling I got when I realised that I only had a few pages left to read. More than anything, this novel is an attempt to recreate those feelings for my children’s generation.

I look forward to hearing from you (sort of),

So from 22/12/2004 until 16/9/2005 it took 18 submissions to get two requests for the entire manuscript. The Inspira Group rejected it after a single day.

Anne’s email requesting the entire manuscript was laconic but so exciting…

Dear Simon

May I see the rest, please..

Anne

I waited for 2 hours and 11 minutes before sending it…

Then two weeks later I made a potentially fatal error. I hadn’t heard anything, not even an acknowledgement of the fact that they’d received the full manuscript. So I printed out the full novel, double spaced on 100gsm paper, wrapped it up in bubblewrap and brown paper and sent it to Anne, with a postcard for receipt and this letter:

Dear Anne,

And they say that no news is good news.

How can six words inspire such joy and abject fingernail-biting hopelessness? ‘May I see the rest, please…’

No news really means waiting around feeling sick and impotent, watching my letterbox and wondering whether e-mails actually do get to their intended recipients. And did you mean for me to send an electronic copy or hardcopy? Was two hours too long to wait before replying? Has there been a horrible epidemic among Literary agents that has struck you all incommunicado, and you’re desperately trying to get in touch with me to say how you want to represent my work but…

What to do about this? Should I ring and ask politely how everything is going? But I don’t think that would do any good, surely it’s not going to work in my favour and I run the risk of a live rejection from an actual person which would obviously end with embarrassing tears.

So, cunningly and cowardly, I reckon that if I send the whole thing tidily printed out, along with a postcard for receipt, I can answer all the previously mentioned questions.

I’d also like to add how nice I think you all are.

At the time I thought it was the perfect plan. I wasn’t being pushy but I was making contact. I’ve read many times that too much pestering is unlikely to help your cause. And a few days later, on 4th October I found out how true that is when I got this email:

Dear Simon

It was a very bad move to send me that large t\s., and I am afraid you are not going to consider me nice at all after this!

The thing is we are positively besieged by would-be writers, as well as having the new books by our established clients to read. Hence the desire only to see first 3 chapters first of all. Our list is so full that we have to really fall in love with a book to take on a new writer. I have one day a week at home to read, which is not nearly enough and also therefore have to do some at weekends and evenings when possible. This can be a pleasure but it can also be a chore. I had printed out a tranche of Weave and it sits on my pile waiting for me to get to it. I can only avert my eyes from the whole fat t\s for the time being. I am afraid this also means that we can’t correspond madly with everyone. I know it is agonising waiting, but I fear that writers do have to develop patience and rhinosceros hide. So, please, either come in and collect your t\s and forget about me, or be prepared to wait. sorry.

Unnice Anne

All the good work I’d done up to this point had been ruined by my impatience. I read and reread the email trying to find some silver-lining, but there was none. I had scuppered myself. And I was unable to bring myself to send it out again to other agencies. It all seemed so pointless.

Then on the 22nd of October 2005 I received the postcard back that I’d sent with the monstrous typescript… And it had a hand written message on it. “+ am enjoying reading it so far.” Oh rapture. Perhaps, just perhaps I hadn’t destroyed my literary career. Perhaps it wasn’t useless. Perhaps I wasn’t useless.

And then, three days later I got this email:

Dear Simon

I don’t normally read books like this – my only other sci-fi type books are fantasy, so I embarked on The Weave rather expecting to be negative. Instead I was completely gripped, and found myself reading in bath and bed! I think it is terrific. Full of interesting ideas and characters and excitements. One criticism only, that towards the middle of the page 300s I began to feel that the narrative had become a little too erratic – darting from person and place too often so that the compulsion lagged a bit. One needed to know about Toby’s dream journeys, for example but a page of them and then back to Josh and then back to Toby was too much of a jumpy process. I had the feeling that you were accelerating to get to the end, and had lost some of your literary rigour en route. I also felt that the final confrontation was not quite tremendous enough, and the actual ending a bit quick. Not that I think you should add to the length of the book, just that the last quarter or so could do with a bit of sorting and vamping up!

I don’t know how you would feel about this – as I said, I am far from an expert in this genre and can only give you my personal reaction to the book and to say that if you, yourself, felt there was some sense in what I have said, and were prepared to do some work, then I would love to reconsider it, with a strong feeling that I would offer to take it on, though at this stage I can’t give a guarantee – only something close to it!

Let me know

Anne

I replied:

Dear Anne

Thanks for such positive feedback.

This email has been so difficult to write. Not only because I’m so excited that I can hardly paw the keyboard properly, but mainly because I don’t want to sound too desperate or fawning, and also I’d like you to think that I have at least some artistic integrity.

The upshot of all this rambling is that I’d be more than happy to rework the last part of the book. I really believe in the novel and am proud of it, but I am not so arrogant that I can’t take on board what other people think about it, especially when it is mainly a question of style.

I will most certainly be in touch…

Simon.

So I re-edited it and sent it back on 24th November, with fingers firmly crossed. Anne replied immediately saying “I look forward to reading version 2 but I am afraid that I won’t be able to start reading for a month, probably…”

A month? Oh my goodness. There was some respite as Anne emailed me on 7th December asking me which was the latest version I’d sent, so I knew she was on the case and surely now we were making progress.

A month later, on 9th January 2006 I was forced to send this email:

Hi Anne,

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to find that I’ve shed my rhinoceros skin. I had no idea that it was only temporary. It’s particularly annoying because I was really beginning to get the hang of using my horn when dealing with traffic wardens or belligerent school children.

Just as implausibly, I’ve managed to convince myself that my first response to this e-mail has been lost in the electron-ether of cyberspace and you are avidly waiting for an answer from me. So my response is thus:

You are correct, I sent the latest t/s on the 24th November via e-mail.

Simon.

PS. I am under instructions to write this e-mail. My colleagues at work are now totally sick of me worrying about whether the Internet works or not..

Would this be the final straw with anne’s patience. Looking back I’m surprised I had the nerve to send this after the admonition I got from sending the entire manuscript. But there is only so much anticipation the human body can tolerate and so I guess my nerves got the better of me.

And this time it worked. A day later I got this:

Simon – I am so sorry! Look, I re-read and loved it – thought you had done a good job, but I still found myself marginally confused. Thinking this probably down to my old troutness I gave Weave to Louise, our new young recruit to read. She is, so far, completely unmuddled and loves it, so I think I can l say that I would like to take you on. Could we make an appointment for next Wednesday perhaps – 4-ish? By then Louise will have finished and I will have my thoughts in order.

Will the skin toughen up for that long?

Anne

So, who knows what the rules are?

Marie and I both went down to London and had lunch and wandered around the West End and I spent the day being incredibly nervous. We found the offices at about 2 o’clock and then spent two more hours wandering around.

The meeting went well. Andrew Mann have got a room for meetings, some might call it a meeting room, that is decorated sumptuously with old book shelves and an elegant chaise longue. I sat on that and Anne and Louise asked me questions. I have no idea what they asked, but I do remember rocking back and saying something like “I can’t believe this is happening” Hardly the actions of a cool, professional writer. Still, they both managed to overlook this and gave me some suggestions from Louise and I went away full of excitement and enthusiasm.

The changes were difficult and at one point I remember becoming a bit mardy about the whole thing, stamping around and deciding that I wasn’t going to make any changes because it was fine as it was.

I made the changes and sent it back on 20/2/2006. And waited again.

Until the 21st March when I could wait no longer:

Hi Anne,

I have just dispatched an email to the US Department of Defence outlining a new form of humanitarian torture that they should use for extracting information from people they suspect of having different views to them.

All they have to do is force the detainee to write a novel and then submit it to an agent for their consideration. I would estimate that his resolve would crumble after about four weeks, without the need to resort to physical methods.

Simon

PS. I hope you had a nice holiday.

In a short apologetic note Anne promised to get back to me in the following week. Which she did:

Dear Simon

At last! At last! I had a good browse at the weekend and think you have done a great job and let’s go! I look forward to submitting if we are all in agreement. I attach a copy of our agents agreement for your approval. I propose to get 2 photocopies made from the t\s I have printed out – our printing arrangements are too puny to stand multiple stuff. I will send alone to Bloomsbury but making it a sole submission only for 2 weeks, and then submitting another probably to Orbit/Atom(Time Warner Books)if they haven’t answered, or two if they have negatively.

As you know absolutely no guarantees but I am rather excited about trying something so very different from almost everything else in my stable.

Let me know if you are happy with the agreement. And congratulations on all your hard work, and above all that talent!

Anne

Obviously I was pleased. The first battle had been won. I dug my trenches and settled in to peer over no man’s land at the grim facade of all the great publishing houses.

Waiting for them was just as hard as waiting for the agencies, and then for Anne. Except I seemed to have even less control over my fate.

Here’s a list of the literary agencies I sent it to:

Company Date Sent Response Days waiting
Bloomsbury 28/3/2006 24/5/2006 57
Random House Children’s 24/5/2006 25/7/2006 62
MacMillan 24/5/2006 5/9/2006 104
Orbit/Atom 24/5/2006 22/9/2006 121
Simon & Schuster 5/9/2006 30/1/2007 147
Harper Collins 5/9/2006 12/1/2007 129
Walker 27/4/2007 ? ?
Scholastic 27/4/2007 4/5/2007 7

So far it’s never been published. And I suspect I may have missed the window of opportunity. It was fairly prescient when I finished it in 2004, but the ideas of virtual worlds and ecology have moved on. So, perhaps, Entering The Weave will stay in limbo forever…

It’s a shame, but I’ve learnt a lot about everything to do with writing because of it. Not just the nuts and bolts of getting words onto the page, but the publishing process and the literary industry.