Well, I’ve been and gone and done it. I’ve submitted my novel – or at least part of it – to an agent. A writing friend of mine doesn’t like using the words ‘submit’ and ‘submission’ as they imply servility, but it seems to me that submitting is exactly what I’m doing: to the agent’s opinion, to the vagaries of the market, to a probably discouraging outcome.
The possible responses, in order of preference but not likelihood, are: a) the agent asks to see the whole manuscript and agrees to take it on; b) they see the whole manuscript and don’t take it on, but give detailed feedback that will help improve it for future submissions; c) they reject either the whole manuscript or the initial submission with a brief but reasonably constructive comment; d) they reject the initial submission with either a standard put-down such as “this is not something we could possibly represent with any measure of success” or else an equally devastating one-liner. One of my friends was told simply, “I don’t like the tone,” which was honest but not what you could call confidence-building. Although I can’t stop myself having fantasies of a), I would in fact be very happy with b) and not too unhappy with c).
Alongside this, I still cherish in some corner of my mind a belief that this agent is going to be The One: that they will love my book and think it’s wonderful and do their very utmost to sell it, particularly as I’ve worked my kishkes* out (nothing less than the Yiddish word will do) to give them all that they ask for. This includes a full c.v., listing all my irrelevant qualifications, and a detailed account of the number of drafts the book has been through and the people who have read it – not least two tutors, both winners of prizes, who have said nice things about it. Oh – except that the agent asks for the submission in 1.5-line spacing, and I’ve sent it double-spaced. Which may well mean they don’t even read it at all…
Several of my friends have already got agents, or are about to get them. I can see what it is that makes their books special and can only hope there might be something equally special about mine. Most of us have some sort of desire to be special, to someone or something. Getting an agent would mean that my book was considered special enough for them to take time and trouble with. It would be even more special, of course, if it actually got published – which is what the agent is there for. I’ve never found out how many of the books that agents take on don’t get published, but I know publication is by no means guaranteed. At the moment, though, that still seems a long way off. The important thing is to get over this hurdle and actually find an agent. If the first one doesn’t want my novel, I have a list of five or six that I’m going to try next, and then I’ll move on to a second list and a third list, modifying the book, making it more presentable, being ever-hopeful that someone somewhere might think it’s worth selling.
And if they don’t? Well, at least these days there are other options. I could send it to a small press that takes submissions direct from authors, I could try to publish it online – I know at least one good website – or of course I could self-publish. That might feel like an admission of defeat, but at least it would move the book from my computer out into the world. Self-publishing is a perfectly normal thing to do, even if it does tell everyone that nobody else has wanted to publish your book. But I won’t give up yet. Even if this submission is perhaps premature and certainly wrongly spaced, I’m getting ready to submit again. And again.