The Submission Game

Mine's a big oneThis 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.

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

2 thoughts on “The Submission Game”

  1. Hi, Ian.

    I think the best way to secure an agent is through per­son­al recom­mend­a­tion, rather than sub­mit­ting on spec. Do you know any oth­er writers, or even pub­lish­ing staff, who would be happy to pass your ms onto an agent?

  2. That’s a good point, Neil. I’ve sub­mit­ted twice on per­son­al recom­mend­a­tion — but each time it didn’t get any fur­ther. One agent was con­tac­ted by Scott Pack on my behalf, and I’ll be con­tact­ing him shortly.

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