Friday, 21 July 2017

We Are Not Alone

For a long time, I thought I was a sad lonely freak.

Surely no one else had such a burning ambition to be a writer, yet had achieved a gaping zero in terms of publication? Throughout my life, whenever the urge to be a novelist has resurfaced, I’ve felt a crushing panic that I still don’t have a paperback with my name on it.

I left full-time work and set about writing with new commitment. I had a few articles published and wrote a commissioned book on the history of a school. My novel, Unspeakable Things, went to an excellent literary consultant. I could tell it was getting better and better. I was growing as a writer.

From agents, though, a deafening silence (cue tumbleweed shot) or ‘I am not sufficiently excited about the work…’

Then I met my neighbour, Sylvia. We discovered we are both editors, and both working on novels. I told her I was sending off to agents and not hearing back.

 ‘No, you won’t,’ she said, sagely.

I was intrigued. My experience wasn’t unique, then?

Syliva knows a lot of writers. She began a Writing Group, and I joined – something I had spent many years avoiding, through fear of… I’m not sure now. Crushing criticism? Pretentiousness?

The small group of writers who met for a convivial meal all seemed to have good projects underway. They clearly knew what they were talking about. I assumed they had all had work published.

They hadn’t. There are more of us. I may be sad and a freak, but I’m definitely not alone.

I have worked in publishing for over 30 years. I know that some works don’t reach a standard suitable for publication. I was convinced that if I didn’t find an agent, it meant my novel wasn’t good enough.

Gradually, I have changed my mind. I began to hear about self-publishers who write well, sell well and enjoy the experience.

I was not enjoying the wilderness where agents fear to tread. 

Traditional publishing is increasingly risk-averse. You have to be a dead cert for a number of sales for them to take the risk. That’s what ‘not sufficiently excited’ means.

Sad lonely freaks unite and fight!

Sylvia and I have started an imprint, Holden Park Books. We review one another’s work, having consulted the professionals earlier in the process. Sylvia is very dynamic and has published a Kindle version of her novel, The Jacaranda Letters. I have read it, and it’s excellent. The paperback will be out soon.

With Unspeakable Things in the self-publishing pipeline, I am writing a second novel, The Year of the Ghost, about a boy who is being haunted on the annual family holiday to Wales.

My dream of clasping that paperback is still very much alive, but as the dance teacher said to the students in leg-warmers and leotards, ‘Fame costs, and right here is where you start paying!’

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Advice for Agent Hunters

If you're looking for a literary agent, vague, poorly targeted submissions can waste you precious time and lead to soul-destroying rejections. You can of course trawl through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, but these days we are all more geared up for online searches, so the AgentHunter website ( is the perfect solution.

They list every agent and agency in the UK for fiction, non-fiction and children’s writing and give quick, well-informed overviews. They also feature useful biographies of agents and specify their all-important literary preferences. For many, you get a further insight from a detailed interview.
You begin your search by specifying genre (e.g. women’s, crime, literary fiction, thriller etc.), and then further refine it, for instance by typing in key words that characterise your work, such as family drama, suspense mystery, dark psychological thriller. You can filter agents according to the size of the agency, how open they are to taking on new clients, how long they have been in the business and how active they are on the festival scene and social media.

You then get a list of suitable agents that you can save – and off you go on your round of submissions. You can later start new searches by changing some of the criteria.

The site was perfect for me, especially when I showed the submission material I had been sending to agents for my psychological thriller Unspeakable Things to my writing group. To my great surprise, the group were unanimous in the view that the novel isn’t a psychological thriller at all. We settled on the descriptions ‘dark family suspense mystery’ instead. With AgentHunter, I was able to remove the description ‘psychological thriller’ and type in the new key words. This led to a shorter but hopefully more relevant list of potentially interested agents.

AgentHunter have a variety of subscription options: £5 gets you access to the site for a month, £18 gets you 12 months and for £27 you also get a free cover letter and synopsis review (which can be expensive if you go to a literary consultancy). The platinum subscription, for £195, gives you 12 months plus a free query letter and synopsis review and a professional editor’s review of your opening 5,000 words, with detailed, constructive advice.

Anything that helps us writers to refine our work or access professional help can cost a fortune, but AgentHunter seems to be the exception, and is therefore well worth a go if you are ready to send your work out and want to go down the agent route. Good luck!