Friday, 10 May 2013

Encouraging words from literary agents... sent to tickle us
Conflicting words from literary agents... sent to prickle us

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Like I said, it weren’t all bad, the literary agents’ responses to my If Everyone Knew Every Plant and Tree submissions (first three chaps, synopsis, and letter). And, in case you don’t know, the agencies mentioned here, in previous posts, and subsequent ones, are top well-respected, well-established British literary agencies. Contrary to former musings, I’m not gonna lay out agents’ comments anonymously, coz there’s no point. After all, none of them wrote anything scurrilous like, ‘You’re shit; get a life’ (wouldn’t have wasted a semi-colon on me) or, ‘You’ll amount to nothing… except perhaps a notch on my bedpost – fancy a drink some time?' I just hope the comments will be of interest to would-be-published authors.

Aitken Alexander agency gave positive feedback:

‘We really liked the imagination that went into your story – the emotion library in particular – but unfortunately, we don’t feel able to represent you.’

It seems that so commonplace is it to receive standard, computer generated rejection responses, that such comments are to be treasured – actual personally directed words, from an actual pen. Anything written individually to you about your own individual work, should be taken as encouragement, as an agent wouldn’t bother to take the time to  convey these sentiments unless they thought there existed some promise… I believe.

Darley Anderson sent even more actual words from an actual pen, providing a boost to the ol’ rollercoaster confidence:

‘While your book is not commercial enough for our agency, I do hope another agent will take it on. I thought Oliver was a likeable and unusual character. As the mum of a [young] girl, I found the hospital scenes rather harrowing. You write well and I wish you luck in finding an agent.’

In this last one, you see, call me deluded, but I detect a sort of, “I wish it wasn’t all about money because I reckon lots of folk would enjoy your novel… just not enough to make us a reasonable amount of dosh and, like it or lump it, that’s the game we’re in.’  ‘Commercial enough’ means ‘enough like other books which have already made money.’ To me, there’s even a soup├žon of guilt  (delusions of grandeur now?) – ‘I do hope another agent will take you on… I wish you luck in finding an agent.’  Whatever the words truly ‘mean’, the Darley Anderson agent gave me hope and an iota of belief that maybe I had something and I’m grateful for that. And of course, I very much get that agents need to sell a product and if they can’t perceive an obvious ‘hook’,  they won’t have much chance of selling it.

In relation to the first Aitken Alexander quote, it may be of import to a few that another highly regarded literary professional had the opposite opinion: ‘I think the Emotion Library theme doesn’t work. I really don’t. Thing is, O is very capable of explaining his feelings, and he really doesn’t need this concept. As I say, it was a sweet idea but it’s not strong enough for the amount of air-space it gets.’

For what it’s worth, the emotion library gets very little airspace in my view, and appears in the prologue as an example of Oliver’s quirky cogitations. Nevertheless, I accepted the criticism and agonised over whether to ditch the idea or even the entire prologue. People seem to view prologues like weeds – inherently bad and in need of exterminating without a second thought. I don’t agree.

Since If Everyone Knew Every Plant and Tree is written in the first person, I found the prologue a useful tool: Ollie could speak directly to the reader who, with any luck, would gain an early insight into who he was before the story began and learn of upcoming characters and conflicts.
Another instance of two experienced and discerning professionals offering conflicting advice was indeed  re the prologue.  One suggestion was,

The beginning – it’s weak. I don’t think your prologue works. Why not just start right in at Chapter 1? I know you are setting the scene and voice but you do too much scene-setting and digression into whimsy.’

This contrasts thoroughly with the words,

‘I have to say that I love the prologue.  Short, pithy.  The way it introduces four main characters in just a few short lines is great and it promises humour and intrigue.’

Again, for what it’s worth and at the risk of sounding narkily defensive, the MC is indeed whimsical and I wanted to show this. Yet I accept the validity of the comment.

As a writer receiving eagerly awaited feedback, you have to look inside yourself and decide which suggestions reflect intrinsic flaws in the work, and which are down to personal predilections. More importantly, you must decide, in your heart, which aspects of the work you are attached to and will not part with, and which you don’t feel that strongly about. These editing decisions are weighty, as their outcome could be the difference between gaining an agent or not.

It gets to be a real mine field, deciding which advice to take and which to ignore (more of that in the next post…).

Anyone else have examples of tantalisingly positive comments in the form of a rejection? Or conflicting advice from agents and the like?

[Here's the link to my *top ten Amazon best-seller* book (grab a copy for just £2.99!):]

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