This week, I have been mostly polishing my comedy novel, Proper Job, in preparation for submission. Not to a publisher at this stage, but to a literary agency. There are squillions of how-to articles that tell the budding (I hate that word) writer how to go from pitch to publication. What’s more, I’ve just received an email from an agent thanking me for my enquiry but, no, she does not have any more room at her agency, and would I like to buy her book about how to pitch to agents? A curious reversal, I thought, but fair enough. I can’t fault a person for trying to sell a book.
So here I am, playing the submission game. The usual questions abound. How many agents should I submit to? Should I keep the tone of the letter informal or professional? Write the synopsis in blurb style or blow-by-blow?
I confess to an unusual emotion as I seal envelopes and calculate postage. The last time I went through this procedure (surgical overtones intended), I felt very confident in the manuscript. My independent readers, who have been known to be sharply honest in their opinions, gave me unusually good feedback for an early draft. I received rejections from five agencies, but one agent wrote that Proper Job was ‘fresh, lean, original and inventive’, but ‘humour is difficult to market’. Cause to celebrate? Somewhat, but this confirmed my jaundiced opinion of the submission game; it is not sufficient to write a good book. The book must be marketable. Yes, I’ll grant you; this is an obvious point. But the demonstration shook one of my writerly crutches. At the back of my mind, I had the old Stephen King quote ‘class always tells’. That is, if you’re good, you’ll get published eventually. From the moment I received that letter, I understood that the process was even further beyond my control than I had admitted to myself. (As a writer, you can’t let the real world get to you; it’ll ruin your concentration.)
So I confess to a gnawing indifference based on the expectation that the present draft of the manuscript — several drafts improved of the version one agent called ‘original’ etc. — will not find a home with an agent. The likelihood is that I’ll be hawking the book this time next year, trying to find a publisher who is willing to publish a book on its quality alone (like the UKA Press). Not so easy, given that a publishing house is a business. But as long as the book is in print somewhere, it will be read — and that’s why I write.
I hope I don’t sound too pessimistic. The important lesson, for me, is that the submission/publishing game is just that; a game. There’s no point getting worked up about it. Still, games can be fun. You start by rolling the dice…
PS I’ve updated the Proper Job page with the latest draft of the first chapter, if you’re of a mind.