To Estimate or Not To Estimate

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I was trying to explain the difference between my job and my better half’s job to my daughter when she pointed out that the company I worked for was quite small.

“There’s only about nine people at your work, isn’t there?” She said.

“Yes. There’s ten.” I replied.

“Well,” she said, fixing a beady eye on me and crossing her arms. “I said ‘about nine’, didn’t I?”

“Yes, darling. You did. I was just pointing out that there were exactly ten.”

“And does it make a huge difference?” He arms were folding themselves tighter and tighter and her eyes becoming beadier.

“No.” I said. “Not really. But if you’re giving someone an estimate, you would usually round it up. In this case to ten.”

“Really.” It was not a question.

“Yes. Really. You wouldn’t say :’There are nine hundred and ninety five thousand, four hundred and thirty somethings’ if you thought there were about a million somethings, would you?”

“I would.”

“Well that’s silly, darling.”

“Ask me how many minions Gru has in Despicable Me.”

I fought back a sigh. “How many minions does Gru have?”

“Nine hundred and ninety five thousand, four hundred and thirty… one.”

“Exactly?”

“No. About nine hundred and ninety five thousand, four hundred and thirty one.”

“Well that’s about a million, isn’t it?”

“Yes. But it’s also about nine hundred and ninety five thousand, four hundred and thirty one.”

“This is true, darling. But isn’t it easier to just say, about a million?”

“No.”

“OK.”

There was a bit of a silence.

Then she said: “How many dads are there in the world?”

The question was asked without particular menace, but after a quick calculation I’d worked out that there were a lot of potential replacements for me.

“About two and a half billion.”

Another silence.

“And how did you work that out?”

“Well, there’s about seven billion people in the world…”

“Are there exactly seven billion?”

“No, of course not.”

“HA! Then why not say ten billion people? Are you an idiot? You’ve just told me that if you’re estimating something you should round it up. And now you say seven!”

She was not interested in the rest of my calculations.

She is about twenty years old. But exactly eleven.

Is “Huge” bigger than “Massive”?

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One of my friends at work  (and by friend I mean annoying colleague) gave me some advice about writing the other day. He basically said that good writing didn’t repeat the same word over and over again when referring to the same thing. It was better to trawl through a thesaurus for another word that had a similar meaning, rather than repeat one he’d used before.

For example:

The sailor gazed up at the colossal ship. He watched the mariners aboard the gigantic vessel, busying themselves with seafaring duties. The enormous craft’s massive masts soared high above them, immense sails, huge against the midday sun.

I have resisted the urge to punch his face until now, but I can feel my ire stirring again.

Stephen King says in his book On Writing that the aspiring writer should never use a thesaurus. Ever. I may be misquoting him, but I think he means that your writing should flow from your own personal font of words, not contaminated by someone else’s subjective list.

Sometimes I (to my eternal shame and probable literary damnation) do use a thesaurus. It occasionally gives me the inspiration I need when I’m searching for just the right word or phrase to express my exact meaning.

But it  has to be used wisely.

Go to thesaurus.com and look up Majestic. You’ll find a marvellous list of synonyms from august to superb. Click on Lofty and you’ll link through to another list containing Tall. Click that to find Lanky. And that to find Meagre.

So, Majestic sort of means Lofty, which sort of means Tall which sort of means Lanky which sort of means Meagre.

How can this be? How can a word sort of mean something that sort of means its opposite?

Well, the answer is that most thesauruses (thesauri?) are completely context-free. Or, to put it another way, they are only one-dimensional.

“A one-dimensional thesaurus?” I hear you say. “Have you gone completely bonkers? Are you suggesting that we should have a two-dimensional one?”

Well, sort of. Perhaps a multi-dimensional thesaurus would be more appropriate. Or better still, because it sounds more scientific and less science fictiony, an n-vectored thesaurus.

“I give up.” You say. ” I’m a writer, not a nerd and this is changing into a geekfest.”

“Don’t go!” I plead. “I promise not to use n-vectored again.”

What I’m trying to say is that a thesaurus doesn’t understand the context of the word you’re looking up.

I’m not only talking about the fact that words can have many different meanings. In the sentence “Time flies like an arrow while fruit flies like a banana”, both “flies” and “like” mean two different things. “Like” means both “similar to” and “enjoy”; “flies” means both “the act of flying” and “those pesky, six-legged things that do the flying thing”.

What I want to draw attention to is the fact that to an adept reader most words convey more information than merely their defined meaning.

Mary stood, unaccompanied, at the orphanage door.

To me, there is little to infer from “unaccompanied” other than the fact that she’s the only person there. It’s a very matter-of-fact word that seems to hold very little emotion.

Mary stood, alone, at the orphanage door.

Now we start to get subjective. I think there is slightly more pathos in this sentence. She’s not milking the scene, but alone probably pulls on the reader’s own memories of feeling alone rather than being unaccompanied.

Mary stood, forlorn, at the orphanage door.

Now, forlorn’s main dictionary definition is “desolate or dreary” and so the reader is forced to assume that while Mary might be on her own, she is definitely sad. And this is what I mean by vectors of meaning. Forlorn has (at least) two in this context. “Desolate and dreary” and “Unaccompanied”

Mary stood, forsaken, at the orphanage door.

This implies someone has left her alone there, which adds a third vector. I would also read a level of sadness into it too. But is it less sad, or more sad than “forlorn”? What is the sadness vector’s magnitude?

This is a hugely subjective question that probably depends on all sorts of factors: what you’ve read, where you were brought up, general outlook on life. It could even be that you’ve seen one specific usage of that word that struck a particular chord with you. But the point is, changing one word for another that sort of means the same thing can change the emotional context of your writing.

It gets worse too.

Mary stood, isolated, at the orphanage door.

In this case Mary could be surrounded by people, but distinct from them for some reason.

All these words are synonyms for alone on thesaurus.com and each one serves a different, specific purpose.

So, beware!

I was listening to Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs where the guest was Daniel Kahneman  He’s obviously a hugely intelligent chap, and he chose a thesaurus as the other book he would take to the island. The reason he gave was to play a game with it to while away those endless castaway days. And the game was to identify the differences between the words put forward as synonyms for each entry…

Procrastination, Professionalism or Cowardice…

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Since coming home from Crete and getting back into mundane swing of normal life I have done very little actual writing. There are a few reasons for this, ranging from crippling curiosity about how my prospective agents are getting on, to genuinely urgent work projects or home tasks, and, of course, procrastination.

Ah, procrastination! My mortal enemy. If it were not for you I would be the emperor of Northamptonshire… if not the world. Why does the insignificant always take on such a fascinating sheen when I should be embroidering a blank page with magic? Why am I drawn to frivolous diversions like a chubby, flightless moth to the intoxicating flame of distraction?

Who knows?

So, today I have:

  1. Sent off another query to one other agent
  2. Added a little widget to my Excel spreadsheet of agent queries which now counts how many replies I’ve had on each day of the week… (5 for Mondays and Tuesdays, 2 for Wednesdays, 3 for Thursdays and 1 for Friday, Saturday and Sunday)
  3. Rejoined FirstWriter.com
  4. Written this blog entry
  5. Completed level 181 of Candy Crush
  6. Made my twitter page look lovely – (The photo of the sky is from the Scillies, the land from Crete)
  7. Spent a while looking up procrastination on the web… this is meta-procrastination.
  8. Sorted out my seldom used apps on my iPad
  9. Decided to do NaNoWriMo, so spent some time pondering what that novel should be about

Maybe 1 and 3 are prodding my writing career slightly forwards, but even though I’ve spent some time trying I don’t believe the others are. If I’d spent the time writing instead of doing these things perhaps I wouldn’t have got another rejection. This one from Gillie Russell at Aitken Alexander Associates. This rejection may have come out of cowardice though: I wimped out of writing that I’d chosen her because I thought she had kind eyes. So I’ll put this failure down to being too professional.

A Tiny Ray of Sunshine from an Unexpected Direction

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One of my test readers for The Clockwork Butterfly is the son of my best friend. And when I say friend, I really mean that I tolerate him as an acquaintance, but I’d like to keep him sweet because his son is useful.

This test reader is a young man of impeccable taste, renowned intellectual rigour and piercing wit. He’s also eleven. My “friend” has informed me that his son is enjoying the book and was knocked out when he realised who wrote it. This was encouraging but could easily have been a white lie to keep the pretence of our friendship alive.

However my daughter has been speaking to my young test reader and has elicited a little gem of information that has alleviated some of the crippling melancholy laced around my heart.

He said to her that it was the second best book he’d ever read. She told me this with a straight face. I did a little dance and then made her repeat what he’d told her.

Awesome.

My next course of action is to find out what is his favourite book and spoil it for him somehow so that mine becomes his all time favourite.

Utter Torture

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I have now received 15 rejections from various literary agencies for The Clockwork Butterfly. And each one hurts like the crushing of a childhood dream.

There is a pattern to it now.

I check my emails every few minutes. It doesn’t matter what time it is. In my mind agents beaver away reading unsolicited material twenty four hours a day and my writing is so good that they won’t be able to wait a second to send me a gushing email telling me how great I am. And how they would sell their diamond encrusted pants for the chance to represent me.

So I check. And (very, very occasionally) there is an email from an agent. I am immediately paralyzed. This is it. This is the one. Someone has finally recognised my genius. But I am unable to open the email because a tiny part of me knows that it’s another rejection. My mouse hovers over the email. And then, holding my breath, I click on it.

The first time I read it I don’t understand any of the words. It must be a defence mechanism to stop the excitement or hurt destroying my soul.

I calm down. Exhale. And read it again. And it turns out that perhaps I’m not a genius. I’ve been rejected.

A few minutes later, I read it again, just to make sure I haven’t misunderstood what they’re saying. But I haven’t. I’m still a reject.

Then I get cross. And I stamp about and complain that they obviously didn’t read it properly. And that they’re stupid. And fat. And smell. How could they not realise how brilliant it was? I’m going to write back and tell them how wrong they are. About everything.

Then I’m stomach churningly sad and I mope.

This whole process has now happened fifteen times. It’s a positive yet horrific thought to think that it could happen another thirty or forty times before I’ve exhausted my list of potentials. I am unsure if I’ll be able to cope.

Of the fifteen rejections thirteen have been bog standard, copy and paste daggers through my heart. The other two have been ever so slightly more encouraging. Jamie Cowen from The Ampersand Agency said:

You can clearly write, and there is a good deal of imagination on display in terms of the plot. Sam is cleverly thought-out and will appeal to a broad audience, and the cast of supporting characters is remarkable in its scope.

Which is nice and fairly specific to my novel. The other one, from Clarie Wilson at Rogers, Coleridge and White was less specific and now that I’ve read it again may just be a standard reply (disguised for the willingly gullible). I read it the first time and felt enthused though so I’ll still count it as encouraging…

The most confusing email I got was from Madeleine Milburn. I was on holiday (which I mistakenly thought would make the waiting easier) and we were out and about, but that didn’t stop me checking my emails every few minutes. And I went through the process mentioned above. Now Madeleine Milburn is one that I have high hopes for so I was even more excited about this and deliberated for longer than usual before opening it.

And… its title was “Celebrating SOULMATES publication with the Madeleine Milburn Agency” Now, my book is not called SOULMATES, which is a clue that this was not about me, but it didn’t stop me thinking that it was. For the best part of a minute my addled brain tried to wrestle the words in the email into an order that said they wanted to represent me… I failed. It was an email telling me about a new blog post from Madeleine Milburn. And I felt like a reject once again. (Heartfelt congratulations to Holly Bourne though – now that I’ve recovered)

The First Fresh Rejection and the Solution

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On Sunday night I had a discussion with my better half about how many submissions I should be sending out at a time.

“I’ve read in my books on writing,” I pointed at the bookcase, hoping it would lend weight to my argument, “that I should send out three or four at a time and see what they say .”

“I’d send out loads. To everyone.”

“You can’t do that. It’s just not done.”

“Why?”

“It’s just not.”

“Why?”

“Well. What would happen if two agents I’d approached got talking to each other at one of their many gala dinners or money counting parties and they found out that I’d submitted to both of them?”

There was a slight pause. I think it was to let the sheer idiocy of the question sink in. “That’d be brilliant!”

“No… but…”

“Two different agents talking about your book at a party. Surely that’s exactly what you’d want.”

It was exactly what I wanted. “Ah, but what if one of the agents that I don’t want to be represented by offers me representation before one of the ones I do want to be represented by?”

“Firstly,” she said, “if you’re going to be a writer you need to make your writing clearer. Secondly, don’t approach any agencies who you don’t want to work with.”

“I’ll send more out.” I said.

So, this week I’ve sent more out. Loads more. But I have always made sure that each agency is willing to accept unsolicited manuscripts and I’ve followed their submission guidelines to the letter.

And my reward?

At quarter past one this afternoon I received the first rejection. This was from The Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency although I commend them on their speedy response, I curse them for their lack of speedy acceptance. Even though I didn’t, I thought I had a connection with Penny Holroyde because she’d rejected “Entering The Weave” eight years ago.

The email I got was just a standard reply. Which is FINE. Honestly.

No, really. It is fine. I understand that there is no point in spending any more time than is absolutely necessary on work that is not going to be accepted. But, although it was entirely standard, they still said that they “enjoyed reading my material”. This is politely encouraging and suitably vague which means that it can be used for almost any reply. That doesn’t help me, and, in the long term, I don’t think it actually helps the agencies, either. I’m sure many aspiring writers will hang onto the fact that this agent “enjoyed reading” their work, and hold it up as testament to their own skill, therefore prolonging the hope/agony when ruthless honesty would have been kinder and more helpful.

I think they should be more structured. I propose that the next agents’ banquet they all get together and adopt a formal method of response which should include a rating out of 10 for how much they liked it or how close to accepting it they were. It wouldn’t take long to add that. And even if they really liked it and gave 10/10 they wouldn’t need to actually take it on. I understand how very few writers get to be represented. But a simple scoring system like this would be useful to everyone. If a writer was getting consistent 9s and 10s, then she’d know she was close; whereas if all the agents returned 1s and 2s he’d know there was something seriously wrong with what he was submitting, and he would know that the next thing he wrote would have to be different.

It would also help the agents in the long term. Even the most stubborn writer would learn to target his audience and begin to submit to agents who were giving him higher marks, rather than submitting across the board.

Second Foray

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So, Friday evening probably isn’t the best time for me to send submissions out because I’ve got to wait until at least Monday morning before anyone gets to read anything. So I’m almost certainly making life more difficult for myself, by giving myself a whole weekend to fret about everything without an iota of a chance that anything’ll happen… This will not stop me from checking my emails regularly though, just in case someone creeps back into their office to do some moonlighting.

One of the most promising rejections I got from “Entering The Weave” was from Sarah Manson. So I picked her agency as one of my three. Looking at the website though, I was disappointed to see that they were not accepting new submissions. So rather than submitting anything I thought I would introduce myself.

Dear Sarah

I’m just starting the long process of submitting my second novel for consideration and as part of my research I’ve looked through all my previous correspondence to see if there were any in particular that seemed more hopeful or personal than the standard rejection slip. And although you rejected my submission at the time, you gave me some handwritten feedback which was most appreciated.

It was for “Entering The Weave” on 2nd September 2005 (I’m sure you remember it well) and you said: “I loved the idea of the Weave running alongside the internet, but I’m afraid the narrative just didn’t work for me. Good luck with it!”

“Entering The Weave” was eventually picked up by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd, and I thought I’d really made it then. But the publishers thought otherwise and so it was never released upon the unsuspecting world. It took me some time to get over it, but I started working on a new novel soon after and now, finally I’ve finished.

I checked with your website and you unfortunately it says that you’re not accepting new unsolicited material. So I thought a short(ish) introduction might turn the unsolicited into the solicited… Would you mind if I sent you my new novel?

Kind regards,

It took some time to compose this, and I thought it was succinct enough, that it might just tickle some interest. I sent it at 5:19.

I received this at 5:21:

Sorry, I’m not taking any submissions.  Good luck!

Ah, well. I guess she knew I didn’t like waiting…

But it goes to show that there really is no point in sending something to people who say they don’t want that thing. Lesson learned. On to the people who might want it…

Submission 1 – Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency

Caroline Sheldon-Entering The WeaveWhen I sent them “Entering The Weave” I garnered the response on the left (Click it to bigify)

This implied a proper read of the material and the fact that Penny had been kind enough to give some tips on improvement as well as saying “it’s promising but not quite ready yet” was decidedly encouraging.

On their website they seem to encourage new writers:

The Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency is always looking out for exciting projects by début authors in both adult and children’s books, but out of the enormous amount we see, we select very few. On occasion we do make detailed editorial suggestions and comments but we only do so when we see real promise in the work.

They’ve also published a page with their 12 pet hates. Which I particularly liked because I don’t think any of them apply to me:

  1. Lacklustre submission emails including little information about yourself or your work. This is your opportunity to pitch your book—use it.
  2. Humorous submissions that aren’t funny.
  3. Proposals for fictional novels – what other sort are there?
  4. Submission emails without representative material to read attached. We want a one hit submissions process – to read about you in your email and to read your work immediately afterwards.
  5. Query emails, telephone calls or letters about what we want to read from unpublished authors. We welcome submissions but we want to read your work, not engage in phone calls or correspondence. We think all the necessary information for submissions is included in this website.
  6. An invitation to follow a chain of website links to find your work. Please don’t make us have to dig it out – the delete button beckons.
  7. Artists’ submissions of original work. We much prefer an email submission with attachments or a link to your website (a link to a website is an easy way to view work but please don’t make us trawl through a complicated string of links to get there).
  8. Inclusion of non-consecutive chapters e.g. 1, 13 and 26. Always send the first three. If you’re not confident in them, revise before sending out.
  9. Picture book submissions that state everything depends on the illustrations. The words are what you are supplying—if it all depends on the illustrations, why are you necessary?
  10. Submissions to more than one agent in the agency – this just wastes our time. Plump for one,
  11. Submissions that say your mum loved it. (My mum loves everything I do, so perhaps I have fallen for this one)
  12. Submissions that are obviously carpet-bombing the whole of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. We don’t love the ‘send all’ approach.

(Reproduced from Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency – Pet Hates)

I attached the first three chapters, a synopsis and, in a cynical but far-fetched ploy to be remembered, a scan of Penny’s rejection letter for “Entering the Weave” to this email:

Dear Penny,

Please find attached the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel “The Clockwork Butterfly” for your consideration.

This is my second YA novel and the second time I’ve submitted to the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.  You, personally, rejected my first submission, “Entering the Weave” but you explained your reasons and you were very encouraging about the imagination and accessibility of the novel.

“Entering the Weave” did eventually get taken on by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd, but she couldn’t get it published and I think that led to her retirement.

I don’t have any professional writing experience, but I am an ardent lover of books. I’ve never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones (The Power of Three). More than anything, this novel is an attempt to recreate those feelings for my own children.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” is a pure hearted fantasy story about a young girl who travels to another world where she is drawn into an ancient struggle against an eternal evil.

[ A very brief outline of the story here, more like a blurb but giving away some of the plot ]

My next book is for younger readers called “Charlie’s Worries”, then another YA/Crossover novel called “The Motley Life of Edison Swift”

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kind regards,

Submission 2 – Aitken Alexander Associates

I received a fairly standard rejection letter from Gillon Aitken Associates when I sent them “Entering The Weave”, but it was printed on nice, yellowish embossed paper and they did say that it was “an interesting idea, fluently written”, and their website implied an openness to new submissions and an almost terrifying professionalism.

The process was different to a normal email submission. It was done via a web-form, including a field to write your covering letter and one for your synopsis. It also asked if the work was finished, whether you’d submitted to them before and which of their agents you’d like to target. I liked this high tech approach and spent a lot of time on my covering letter:

Dear Gillie

I hope you find the first 33 pages and a synopsis of “The Clockwork Butterfly” attached to this letter, but I’m only on page two of the submission process so I’m sure plenty can go wrong from here…

This is my second YA novel and the second time I’ve submitted to Aitken Alexander Associates (although before it was Gillon Aitken Associates) My first submission, “Entering The Weave” was rejected but Kate Shaw said (as she probably did to everyone) “It’s an interesting idea, fluently written…” It went downhill from there. “Entering the Weave” did get taken on by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd, but she couldn’t get it published and I think that led to her retirement.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” now needs representation and when I read through all the profiles of the Literary Agents at AAA yours was the one that caught my eye. Obviously you’re in the right genre, but it was the fact that you published Diana Wynne Jones that really grabbed my attention. In all my previous covering letters I’ve said:  “although I don’t have professional writing experience, I am an ardent lover of books and I’ve never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones story (The Power of Three)”

So, how could I not choose you? And you looked the kindest.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” is a pure hearted fantasy story about a young girl who travels to another world called Lyonesse.

[ A very brief outline of the story here, more like a blurb but giving away some of the plot ]

I’ve written it because I love writing things like this. And I’ll continue to write them. My next book is for younger readers called “Charlie’s Worries”, then another YA/Crossover novel called “The Motley Life of Edison Swift”

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kind regards,

Simon

This all went swimmingly until the final SUBMIT button appeared. It seemed to work, but then returned straight back to the first page. Which was blank. I didn’t get an email or any other notification that it had worked, so I did it again. And again. So, either they haven’t got it at all, or I’ve made the same submission three times…

I’ve emailed them, asking for clarification about what’s supposed to happen at the end of the submission process and until then I won’t send it again.

Submission 3 – Darley Anderson

I got a completely standard rejection letter from this agency the first time, but when I looked them up on line I was impressed by how easy they’d made it for unpublished writers to submit their work. And they even have a special email address to send to for children’s/YA submissions.

So I attached the first three chapters and the rather long synopsis to an email and wrote:

Dear Clare and Camilla,

Please find attached the first three chapters and a synopsis of my novel “The Clockwork Butterfly” for your consideration.

This is my second YA novel, written seven years after my first “Entering The Weave”. This was taken on by Anne Dewe at Andrew Mann Ltd. Unfortunately she couldn’t place it with a publisher and I think this led directly to her retirement…

I don’t have any professional writing experience, but I am an ardent lover of books. I’ve never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones (The Power of Three). More than anything, this novel is an attempt to recreate those feelings for my own children.

“The Clockwork Butterfly” is a pure hearted fantasy story about a young girl who travels to another world where she is drawn into an ancient struggle against an eternal evil.

[ A very brief outline of the story here, more like a blurb but giving away some of the plot ]

My next book is for younger readers called “Charlie’s Worries”, then another YA/Crossover novel called “The Motley Life of Edison Swift”

I look forward to hearing from you,

Kind regards,

So, fingers crossed. Switching to waiting mode…

The Foot Firmly Crushed

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For an aspiring writer, the one thing worse than waiting is not waiting any more because you’ve received a rejection.

I’ve been compulsively checking my emails since Tuesday half hoping/half dreading to see a response from Louise. And at 1:15 I checked and found one:

Dear Simon

Thank you.  I’m sorry I took a while to respond. I represent a small and focused list and my reading days are few.   You have the trappings of an interesting story with potential,  but it needs work, and I can’t take on the editing process as overall I didn’t fall in love.  The storytelling  is quite traditional in tone and narrative, and I’m afraid  the dialogue doesn’t ring true. I’m sorry, but I am unable to grasp the world you create, and this is so vitally important.  You hint at what you’re trying to achieve, but I don’t follow why Sam’s sister and Grandma think they are someone else.  To suddenly have grandma “your majesty,” feels contrived, much like the bizarre moment with an old man and a petal; it just forces the plot along. I realise you have been working on this novel for some time, and the market has moved on.  It’s difficult to keep up with the current commercial big-sellers, and yet these are what set the bar.

I hate to be a disappointment but of course I am but one subjective view. Another agent might very well have a different opinion. I am sadly not the right agent.

With very best wishes

Louise

It’s not what I’d hoped… I have been imagining her reading the book avidly, chuckling at the funny bits, sobbing uncontrollably at the sad bits and smiling wryly at the wry bits. Occasionally she’d look up from her kindle and shake her head at the fact that this new author had spent so long in the wilderness. I imagined her imagining just how ridiculously successful this novel would be, a defining moment in her career, a world changing publication… Perhaps I was getting ahead of myself.

It’s easy to be bitter, to disagree with what she’s saying, and dismiss her, in her own kind words, subjective opinion. But I won’t be bitter and I’ll take the criticism on the chin. And “grow” stronger.

Today I’m going to print out the first three chapters and send them off to three agencies. I shall go through my previous rejections and find which ones seemed most receptive to my previous advances with Entering The Weave and cross reference that with their response time. I also need to write a snappy synopsis to go with my submission and an engaging covering letter.

So, now that this cathartic rant is over, to work.

A not-so-brief history of “Entering The Weave”

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My first novel, and the foot that wedged a door open.

Here’s a list of the literary agencies I sent it to:

Company Date Sent Postcard Returned Response Days waiting
Darley Anderson 22/12/2004 Never 12/01/2005 21
Curtis Brown 9/6/2005 11/6/2005 7/8/2005 59
PFD 22/6/2005 24/6/2005 7/7/2005 15
Gillon Aitken 22/6/2005 5/7/2005 15/8/2005 54
Greene And Heaton 28/6/2005 Never 20/7/2005 22
Antony Harwood 30/6/2005 2/7/2005 6/7/2005 6
A.M. Heath & Co. 7/7/2005 13/7/2005 26/7/2005 19
David Higham Associates 8/7/2005 Never 20/7/2005 12
The Inspira Group 21/7/2005 Never 23/7/2005 2
LAW Ltd 21/7/2005 23/7/2005 3/8/2005 13
Christopher Little Agency 23/8/2005 25/8/2005 13/9/2005 21
The Agency 23/8/2005 Never 4/1/2006 134!
London Independent Books 26/8/2005 2/9/2005 27/10/2005 62
Andrew Mann Ltd 26/8/2005 31/8/2005 16/9/2005 21
Sarah Manson Literary Agent 26/8/2005 2/9/2005 2/9/2005 21
Marjacq Scripts 5/9/2005 19/10/2005 19/10/2005 7
Marjacq Scripts 5/9/2005 19/10/2005 19/10/2005 44
Maggie Noach Literary Agency 26/9/2005 Never 14/10/2005 18
Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency 27/10/2005 29/10/2005 18/11/2005 22

With it I sent a covering letter that ran something like this:

Dear Anne,

Having been fifteen for the past twenty years, I feel that I am now eminently qualified to write an adventure story that will entertain my peers. So please find enclosed the first twenty pages, a synopsis and the contents page of my novel, ‘Entering The Weave’. I’ve also enclosed a stamped addressed envelope and a self addressed postcard.

The novel combines magic and computers together in such a way as to create a virtual fantasy world that mixes traditional enchantment with alien science. I’ve tried to make it as accessible as possible and hope that, by turns, it is exciting, frightening and funny. The themes and ideas are suitable for everyone.

I have not included a bio or CV because I found it impossible to make computer programming sound remotely interesting, and I have a whole host of IT skills which are so technical that they actually hamper creative writing. Also, I have no professional writing experience other than several short stories which have all been pleasantly rejected by the sci-fi magazine ‘Interzone’.

I am, however, an ardent lover of books and I have never forgotten the sense of wonder I felt when I read my first Diana Wynne Jones novel (The Power Of Three) and the bittersweet feeling I got when I realised that I only had a few pages left to read. More than anything, this novel is an attempt to recreate those feelings for my children’s generation.

I look forward to hearing from you (sort of),

So from 22/12/2004 until 16/9/2005 it took 18 submissions to get two requests for the entire manuscript. The Inspira Group rejected it after a single day.

Anne’s email requesting the entire manuscript was laconic but so exciting…

Dear Simon

May I see the rest, please..

Anne

I waited for 2 hours and 11 minutes before sending it…

Then two weeks later I made a potentially fatal error. I hadn’t heard anything, not even an acknowledgement of the fact that they’d received the full manuscript. So I printed out the full novel, double spaced on 100gsm paper, wrapped it up in bubblewrap and brown paper and sent it to Anne, with a postcard for receipt and this letter:

Dear Anne,

And they say that no news is good news.

How can six words inspire such joy and abject fingernail-biting hopelessness? ‘May I see the rest, please…’

No news really means waiting around feeling sick and impotent, watching my letterbox and wondering whether e-mails actually do get to their intended recipients. And did you mean for me to send an electronic copy or hardcopy? Was two hours too long to wait before replying? Has there been a horrible epidemic among Literary agents that has struck you all incommunicado, and you’re desperately trying to get in touch with me to say how you want to represent my work but…

What to do about this? Should I ring and ask politely how everything is going? But I don’t think that would do any good, surely it’s not going to work in my favour and I run the risk of a live rejection from an actual person which would obviously end with embarrassing tears.

So, cunningly and cowardly, I reckon that if I send the whole thing tidily printed out, along with a postcard for receipt, I can answer all the previously mentioned questions.

I’d also like to add how nice I think you all are.

At the time I thought it was the perfect plan. I wasn’t being pushy but I was making contact. I’ve read many times that too much pestering is unlikely to help your cause. And a few days later, on 4th October I found out how true that is when I got this email:

Dear Simon

It was a very bad move to send me that large t\s., and I am afraid you are not going to consider me nice at all after this!

The thing is we are positively besieged by would-be writers, as well as having the new books by our established clients to read. Hence the desire only to see first 3 chapters first of all. Our list is so full that we have to really fall in love with a book to take on a new writer. I have one day a week at home to read, which is not nearly enough and also therefore have to do some at weekends and evenings when possible. This can be a pleasure but it can also be a chore. I had printed out a tranche of Weave and it sits on my pile waiting for me to get to it. I can only avert my eyes from the whole fat t\s for the time being. I am afraid this also means that we can’t correspond madly with everyone. I know it is agonising waiting, but I fear that writers do have to develop patience and rhinosceros hide. So, please, either come in and collect your t\s and forget about me, or be prepared to wait. sorry.

Unnice Anne

All the good work I’d done up to this point had been ruined by my impatience. I read and reread the email trying to find some silver-lining, but there was none. I had scuppered myself. And I was unable to bring myself to send it out again to other agencies. It all seemed so pointless.

Then on the 22nd of October 2005 I received the postcard back that I’d sent with the monstrous typescript… And it had a hand written message on it. “+ am enjoying reading it so far.” Oh rapture. Perhaps, just perhaps I hadn’t destroyed my literary career. Perhaps it wasn’t useless. Perhaps I wasn’t useless.

And then, three days later I got this email:

Dear Simon

I don’t normally read books like this – my only other sci-fi type books are fantasy, so I embarked on The Weave rather expecting to be negative. Instead I was completely gripped, and found myself reading in bath and bed! I think it is terrific. Full of interesting ideas and characters and excitements. One criticism only, that towards the middle of the page 300s I began to feel that the narrative had become a little too erratic – darting from person and place too often so that the compulsion lagged a bit. One needed to know about Toby’s dream journeys, for example but a page of them and then back to Josh and then back to Toby was too much of a jumpy process. I had the feeling that you were accelerating to get to the end, and had lost some of your literary rigour en route. I also felt that the final confrontation was not quite tremendous enough, and the actual ending a bit quick. Not that I think you should add to the length of the book, just that the last quarter or so could do with a bit of sorting and vamping up!

I don’t know how you would feel about this – as I said, I am far from an expert in this genre and can only give you my personal reaction to the book and to say that if you, yourself, felt there was some sense in what I have said, and were prepared to do some work, then I would love to reconsider it, with a strong feeling that I would offer to take it on, though at this stage I can’t give a guarantee – only something close to it!

Let me know

Anne

I replied:

Dear Anne

Thanks for such positive feedback.

This email has been so difficult to write. Not only because I’m so excited that I can hardly paw the keyboard properly, but mainly because I don’t want to sound too desperate or fawning, and also I’d like you to think that I have at least some artistic integrity.

The upshot of all this rambling is that I’d be more than happy to rework the last part of the book. I really believe in the novel and am proud of it, but I am not so arrogant that I can’t take on board what other people think about it, especially when it is mainly a question of style.

I will most certainly be in touch…

Simon.

So I re-edited it and sent it back on 24th November, with fingers firmly crossed. Anne replied immediately saying “I look forward to reading version 2 but I am afraid that I won’t be able to start reading for a month, probably…”

A month? Oh my goodness. There was some respite as Anne emailed me on 7th December asking me which was the latest version I’d sent, so I knew she was on the case and surely now we were making progress.

A month later, on 9th January 2006 I was forced to send this email:

Hi Anne,

Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to find that I’ve shed my rhinoceros skin. I had no idea that it was only temporary. It’s particularly annoying because I was really beginning to get the hang of using my horn when dealing with traffic wardens or belligerent school children.

Just as implausibly, I’ve managed to convince myself that my first response to this e-mail has been lost in the electron-ether of cyberspace and you are avidly waiting for an answer from me. So my response is thus:

You are correct, I sent the latest t/s on the 24th November via e-mail.

Simon.

PS. I am under instructions to write this e-mail. My colleagues at work are now totally sick of me worrying about whether the Internet works or not..

Would this be the final straw with anne’s patience. Looking back I’m surprised I had the nerve to send this after the admonition I got from sending the entire manuscript. But there is only so much anticipation the human body can tolerate and so I guess my nerves got the better of me.

And this time it worked. A day later I got this:

Simon – I am so sorry! Look, I re-read and loved it – thought you had done a good job, but I still found myself marginally confused. Thinking this probably down to my old troutness I gave Weave to Louise, our new young recruit to read. She is, so far, completely unmuddled and loves it, so I think I can l say that I would like to take you on. Could we make an appointment for next Wednesday perhaps – 4-ish? By then Louise will have finished and I will have my thoughts in order.

Will the skin toughen up for that long?

Anne

So, who knows what the rules are?

Marie and I both went down to London and had lunch and wandered around the West End and I spent the day being incredibly nervous. We found the offices at about 2 o’clock and then spent two more hours wandering around.

The meeting went well. Andrew Mann have got a room for meetings, some might call it a meeting room, that is decorated sumptuously with old book shelves and an elegant chaise longue. I sat on that and Anne and Louise asked me questions. I have no idea what they asked, but I do remember rocking back and saying something like “I can’t believe this is happening” Hardly the actions of a cool, professional writer. Still, they both managed to overlook this and gave me some suggestions from Louise and I went away full of excitement and enthusiasm.

The changes were difficult and at one point I remember becoming a bit mardy about the whole thing, stamping around and deciding that I wasn’t going to make any changes because it was fine as it was.

I made the changes and sent it back on 20/2/2006. And waited again.

Until the 21st March when I could wait no longer:

Hi Anne,

I have just dispatched an email to the US Department of Defence outlining a new form of humanitarian torture that they should use for extracting information from people they suspect of having different views to them.

All they have to do is force the detainee to write a novel and then submit it to an agent for their consideration. I would estimate that his resolve would crumble after about four weeks, without the need to resort to physical methods.

Simon

PS. I hope you had a nice holiday.

In a short apologetic note Anne promised to get back to me in the following week. Which she did:

Dear Simon

At last! At last! I had a good browse at the weekend and think you have done a great job and let’s go! I look forward to submitting if we are all in agreement. I attach a copy of our agents agreement for your approval. I propose to get 2 photocopies made from the t\s I have printed out – our printing arrangements are too puny to stand multiple stuff. I will send alone to Bloomsbury but making it a sole submission only for 2 weeks, and then submitting another probably to Orbit/Atom(Time Warner Books)if they haven’t answered, or two if they have negatively.

As you know absolutely no guarantees but I am rather excited about trying something so very different from almost everything else in my stable.

Let me know if you are happy with the agreement. And congratulations on all your hard work, and above all that talent!

Anne

Obviously I was pleased. The first battle had been won. I dug my trenches and settled in to peer over no man’s land at the grim facade of all the great publishing houses.

Waiting for them was just as hard as waiting for the agencies, and then for Anne. Except I seemed to have even less control over my fate.

Here’s a list of the literary agencies I sent it to:

Company Date Sent Response Days waiting
Bloomsbury 28/3/2006 24/5/2006 57
Random House Children’s 24/5/2006 25/7/2006 62
MacMillan 24/5/2006 5/9/2006 104
Orbit/Atom 24/5/2006 22/9/2006 121
Simon & Schuster 5/9/2006 30/1/2007 147
Harper Collins 5/9/2006 12/1/2007 129
Walker 27/4/2007 ? ?
Scholastic 27/4/2007 4/5/2007 7

So far it’s never been published. And I suspect I may have missed the window of opportunity. It was fairly prescient when I finished it in 2004, but the ideas of virtual worlds and ecology have moved on. So, perhaps, Entering The Weave will stay in limbo forever…

It’s a shame, but I’ve learnt a lot about everything to do with writing because of it. Not just the nuts and bolts of getting words onto the page, but the publishing process and the literary industry.

So the waiting begins in earnest…

Posted on

Finally, after almost six years of editing, I’ve sent a draft of The Clockwork Butterfly to Louise Burns at Andrew Mann Ltd. My previous handler, Anne Dewe, has retired and so my fate has been passed on into the delicate, all-powerful hands of Louise.

In my covering email I outlined, very briefly, the path I hoped my literary endeavours would be taking in the foreseeable future. And I also mentioned that if she didn’t read this submission soon my next tactic would be to follow her around and read my book at her using a loudhailer. I thought it sounded humorous and I hoped she’d take it right way. I then set to worrying that I was being too cheeky and she’d immediately strike me off her books for being a jerk.

I got an email back almost immediately. I’ve mentioned before how the yellow envelope of hope makes my stomach contract with fear. And this was no exception. I could barely bring myself to look. She must have skimmed over my neatly hilarious email and decided I was not worth any more effort and this was undoubtedly a quick rejection note.

I looked.

It was an automated out of office message, saying she was away from her emails and she’d read them all on Tuesday 23/7. Tomorrow.

It was 12:29 and I settled down to wait. Twenty four hours is such a long time. Gallantly, my better half tried to distract me by almost losing her job, and our home in the process, but these things seem trivial when I’m waiting for a response from one of the gatekeepers of dreams.

I had to wait more than 24 hours. 27 hours and 24 minutes in fact. In this intervening eternity I had all the usual thoughts: she hates it, my email has been inadvertently deleted, these suspicious tropical storms we’re having have prevented her from getting into work, she hates it, London has been overrun by plague/zombies/aliens/eggmen, and she hates it.

But then, at 15:53 on Tuesday afternoon, I got another email from her. One that she’d written. And it said:

Dear Simon.
I am sorry.  This was a misunderstanding on my part.   I have sent to my kindle– allow me two weeks? I’ll let you know my initial thoughts, otherwise I will prepare for the warranted megaphone treatment.
Best,
Louise

Oh, joy of joys. All is going according to plan. I think she even appreciated my joke. She’s got my novel on her kindle and she’s given me a timescale to work to. Two weeks!! I can’t wait that long. I shall surely expire long before these 20,160 minutes have elapsed.

In a moment of sheer madness, to alleviate the stress I thought I’d pen back a jocular email. So I sent this:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Pyle-Pro-PMP30-Professional-Megaphone-Bullhorn/dp/B002PAZZIK/

It’s also got a siren…

Why? Why did I do this. Everything was going OK. I didn’t need to prove to her that I really am a jerk. Why didn’t I keep my sending finger in my pocket? Now I am convinced that I’ve gone too far and any goodwill I may have garnered by being gently, mildly funny has been ruined.

These next two weeks are going to be hard.