Monday, 24 September 2012

The end of the slushpile?

Saturday the 22nd September saw nearly 250 aspiring authors queuing around the shelves of Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross waiting to meet one of Curtis Brown's agents. All of them nervous and anxious and muttering their pitches under their breath.
Standing in the line for Children's authors I asked myself repeatedly why I was putting myself through such torture. It had seemed like a good idea at the time - practice my pitching, meet an agent, get a little feedback on my work and all for free etc etc.
 But now I was here, minutes away from going in I was deciding it was actually a very bad idea, I had visions of a) falling over as I approached the agent, b) my mind going completely blank, c) being told by the agent that I should not give up my day job and d) crying.
 I'm very pleased to say that none of those things did happen and in fact the whole process was far less traumatic than I'd been imagining. There was no small room with a stern faced agent across the desk looking bored as I stumbled through my words, instead there was a long gallery space filled with about eight to ten desks behind which sat agents, all of whom were friendly, welcoming and very considerate of the nervous and trembling authors they were meeting.
 I was slightly disappointed not to be able to meet their Children's agent, Stephanie Thwaites but her assistant Catherine Saunders was lovely, charming and very easy to talk to. I managed to pull off my pitch without any disasters and was hugely relieved when she told me it was "Well delivered." She then read the first page of my novel, gave me her thoughts and then asked me lot's of questions about what happened next. We spent about ten minutes chatting and when we were finished I felt a large sense of relief that a) it was over and b) she hadn't laughed at my idea.
 Next we were directed to the cafe where we had ten minutes to ask more general questions to some more very friendly agents. It was here that I discovered that the Discovery Day linked in with the launch of Curtis Brown's new website
 Here you can look at their writing school, where many courses are on offer including one on writing for children which starts at the end of this month and includes a one to one with Stephanie Thwaites as well as several workshops. It costs £900.
 They are also claiming to have got rid of the slushpile by asking authors to use their new submit on line tool which they claim is "quick, efficient and responsive." Rather then send in attachments they want you to answer a few questions and then copy and paste in a covering letter, a synopsis and the first three chapters of your work. There are short biographies of each agent as well as info about their new writing team (made up of agent assistants) so you can send your submission to the most appropriate person. They promise to reply to everyone within six to eight weeks.
 There is also a blog where you can read posts about the industry and what the agents are looking for and the new writing room offers insights into the craft of writing, interviews and guest blogs from agents and authors.
 Of course how this all works in practice remains to be seen but I was impressed by the effort that had gone into the day and by their passion for new work and now I've survived that pitch I do feel more confident about doing it all over again  at the SCBWI agents party on Thursday. That is until I get there when no doubt the nerves and anxiety will kick in and I'll wonder why I keep doing this to myself...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A visit from the "What's the point?" Fairy

"What's the point?" She asked me.
"The point is I want to get published."
"But you'll never get published. Look at the statistics!"
"I have but they're not really representative. I mean, they apply to the masses, not to people like me who take it seriously. After all I've done courses and workshops and read books and blogs and booked a place at the SCBWI conference, that must improve my chances!"

 The fairy raises her perfect eyebrow at me.

"Maybe slightly but it's still nearly impossible so why are you bothering?"
"Because I want to see my books on shelves in bookshops that's why."
"But that's a dream and how many people actually get to live out a dream? Hardly anyone that's who."
"But it could happen one day, if I work hard."
"Not necessarily. You could do everything right, you could work hard for years and years and STILL never get published so what's the point of trying? Why don't you just give up? Make your life easier, save yourself from the pain..."

She smiles at me beguilingly and a small part of me responds. Maybe it would be better?

"But I came close, I nealy found an agent, I must have a chance surely?"
"But you failed. You messed it up. You weren't good enough then and you'll probably never be good enough."

In case you thought fairies were cute you were wrong. They're mean.

"I need to keep trying, every time I write something I get better and I learn from the rejections and I think I'm improving."
"But even if you do get published you probably won't make any money and your book might flop and no publisher will take you on again and really why put yourself through the heartache?"
"Because I want children to read my books, I want them to love my books."
"But most children would rather play computer games and books will probably die out soon."
"Oh just shut up you annoying fairy!"
"Oh that's nice that is! I'm just trying to help. Trying to save you time and effort and pain, trying to help you face the facts about getting published,"
"I know the facts! I know it's hard and painful and I might never ever get there but I'm doing it anyway alright!"
"But what's the point?"
"The point is I enjoy it. So there. Now B****r off and annoy someone else!!"

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Split Personality Author Disorder

 It seems to me that attempting to become a published author can be somewhat dangerous to our mental health.
 When I'm writing I'm filled with excitement and joy. I'm thrilled with my own brilliance, the perfection of my story, the beauty of my dialogue and convinced that very soon agents and publishers will be queuing to sign me up. I call this stage - confidence dismorphia - a distorted sense of confidence brought on by the creative surge.
 Next, it's the revision stage, and now you become convinced that your work is absolute rubbish. You are riddled with self doubt, you wonder why you ever started and you know that no one will ever want to publish such dross. This stage is psychotic doubt and can lead to tears, tantrums and over indulgence in ice cream and chocolate.
 The submission cycle is a source of real anxiety, a roller coaster of excitement and depression I like to call the email paranoia stage.
 But it doesn't stop there. Once an author has finally found an agent/publishing deal they need to change from an introverted loner to a gregarious salesperson so they can market their books, visit schools, talk at fairs etc all while going through the above stages with their new book.
 It's not easy. Coping with the highs and lows of a creative life is a difficult emotional journey and yet, I sometimes feel as if it's an addictive thing. When I don't have anything on submission I almost start to crave some drama in my life,  am I masochistic I wonder? Are we all? Or simply so in love with writing that all the pain and doubt and fear become unimportant when compared to the excitement and the joy and the hope?
 All I know is that my life has become richer since I started writing and the journey has been  remarkable so whether I ever each my dream destination or not I won't ever regret my choice to set off in the first place!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

What's the rush?

I am ashamed to admit that I am a hypocrite. Why? because I tell my son to have patience. When he can't do something first time and he get's annoyed and fed up I say to him in a motherly tone - "You can't expect to do everything first time. It takes practice. Just have patience."
But do I follow my own advice? No. I have no patience.
I get cross in queues, I get fed up in restaurants and I always want things to happen straight away. And when I finally made the decision to write a book I was the same way. I wrote my first novel and sent it off in a rush of excitement, imagining publishing deals and fame and fortune. It was of course rejected, by everyone and rightly so. It was rubbish.
The next time I managed to hold off a little but still sent it off to agents before anyone else had even read it. Yes, I admit it, I sent off a first draft. Why? Because I wanted it out there, I wanted things happening, I wanted an agent and a publishing deal and everything else before I even really knew what I was doing.
It was rejected again.
Slowly I started to learn that I needed to work on my ideas. More then I ever thought possible. And I have learned about patience.
Each time I submit something  I must practice patience as I wait for the torturous process to move to the next stage, each time I finish a draft I must practice patience as I put it aside and let it rest before I rework it yet again and I think it's working. I believe I can see improvements in my work and in the responses I get but it's hard.
It's hard for my son and it's hard for me.
We live in a culture that promotes instant success, got a talent? Go on a talent show and find instant fame and fortune instead of striving for perfection and working for years to improve your craft. Don't have a talent? Get on the telly somehow and become a celebrity famous for having no talent.
Working for years to achieve what you want almost seems to be an outdated concept but I wonder what method is really more fulfilling?
Does instant success make you happier? Probably not. Being thrust into a world you barely understand, being asked to perform beyond your capabilities and possibly failing to live up to the expectations are all possible pitfalls.
Achieving that success after years of effort though, that's the ultimate rush and the benefits are huge. The experience you've gained, the battle scars you've earned mean that you understand what you're doing and you have the skills necessary to sustain a career.
So, really, what's the rush? The agents and editors aren't going anywhere. Send in your best work, work that shines like a polished gem. That's my new motto.
Can't guarantee not to get annoyed in queues though...