Louise Burns

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


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..


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


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…


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.


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?


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.


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!


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…

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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.

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:


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.