I’ve just sent my synopsis and the first chapters of my revised novel to seven agents and am now settling in for the long wait. Of the three who read it before, one returned the submission with a standard letter – quite a nice one, as such letters go – and one read the whole manuscript and then rejected it. What happened with the third one was more confusing. When I sent the submission I forgot to attach the attachments (yes, I know – how could I?) and put them in a second email. I then realised I’d forgotten to include the word count and sent that separately as well, apologising profusely for all the messages. Not long afterwards the second agent asked to see the whole manuscript and wanted exclusivity of reading. I informed the third agent and – as I thought – withdrew the submission. Two months later I got an email saying I hadn’t attached the attachments. I explained that I had withdrawn the submission and the next day got a standard rejection. I’m still not absolutely sure whether the submission was read, or if it was rejected because the agent thought I hadn’t sent it, or whether the rejection was a response to my withdrawing the submission.
When I drew up the current list of agents I included this last one again, forgetting I had already had a rejection. (You can tell that, despite everything, I do have a certain level of optimism.) After a few cringing moments and a hasty consultation with my writing group I decided to leave it and risk a repeat rejection. At least I won’t be surprised if it comes. Apart from the fact that I don’t want to draw attention to myself, it seems to me that doing anything out of the ordinary might only create more confusion. Agents are swamped with submissions and have to keep track of hundreds, if not thousands, of them, so it seems likely they would look more favourably on someone who causes them as little trouble as possible.
As always, I’ve been alternating between glorious fantasies of an ecstatic agent and a wonderful publishing deal (highly unlikely for my sort of novel) and a sinking feeling that all these agents – whom I picked as the most suitable – will probably reject the book and I’ll then have to try a B-list and even a C-list before giving up and self-publishing. The difficult thing about having to wait so long – two months at least seems usual and I know people who have waited much longer – is that it gives the fantasies time to grow. A friend of mine has just got the kind of deal everyone dreams about – big publisher with swish offices, meeting the editor for tea at the Savoy, some foreign rights already and a good prospect of selling to the US, etc etc. She has, I hasten to add, written an unusually good and highly saleable book. I don’t know what the advance will be, but I do know of some people who have managed to secure pretty large sums for an exceptional first novel. For a more ordinary one like mine the average advance – supposing anyone were to take it on – would probably be something like £5,000, or at most £10,000. Not a huge amount if you consider the months, weeks, years that have gone into writing it. I’d be very happy with that or less, though, for the joy of seeing my book published – properly published.
Several people have already said to me, “It’s so difficult to get a publisher or even an agent. Why don’t you just self-publish?” Although I have decided to do that in some way or other if all else fails, there is a kind of snobbishness about wanting to be recognised as a serious writer. Rather than simply self-publish and have the book in print before my very eyes, I’m prepared to put myself through all this agony in order to be published commercially. It isn’t too hard to see why. If you self-publish, unless you do huge amounts of marketing you’re unlikely to sell more than a few copies and your book is equally unlikely to be taken seriously by the literary world. So what? you may say. Isn’t it enough to have written it and know you’ve done it to the best of your ability? Well, yes and no. In the past I’ve put together books for distribution to friends and there was a lot of satisfaction in doing that. And at the same time I still had a hankering to be seen as a ‘proper’ writer, someone whose work a publisher thought worth making available to the public at large.
I know there’s no guarantee at all that it will ever happen. I’m not a published writer now, so if the book doesn’t get published the status quo will simply continue. But I can become a self-published writer, which is at least a consolation prize. Oh, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if the book actually made it?