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3: Vain Fusspots

My novel was finally done and ready to submit to a choice selection of literary agents.

Well it was kind of done. I'd been working on it nearly seven years, had written four drafts: time to get it out there, find a like-minded industry champion to help me perfect it – it still needed a little work, I was aware. Online advice was: don't send out anything not one hundred percent ready, submitting too early is for bumpkins, maybe pay for a professional edit (would Octavia Butler, would Ursula Le Guin, would Michel Houellebecq?).

But the meat, bones and heart of my epic were in place. And I was sick of typing away alone in coffee shops, only amusing myself. It was ninety percent there, time to set it free on its journey into the world. I wanted people to be entertained and riveted by my book, and perhaps a little bit changed forever. And for my enemies, if I had any, to be floored and frothing as I swanked about town hunched by gems and it-bags. Looking forwards v much.

Plus I was getting big energy from my first readers, most of them. Who were my pals, OK, but pals with taste. Who'd been told to be frank. Even my mum, a stern judge, said my book was compulsive, though she had notes – and I was aware that such family endorsements meant nothing. But I'd had (mostly) good feedback from near-strangers too at the writing group I attended for a year. And – ace in my pack – I was getting major kudos from an actual bestselling author: my friend the Celtic detective novelist, who'd read my novel and told me it was a goer.

"You're going to have a devil of a job finding someone with the balls to take it on in the current climate," he warned. "But you'll get there."

Course I would. If something's good, it's good. Right?

Still, I was trying to tamp down visions of international publisher auctions, imminent Netflix deals, swimming pools. Despite the high-fives of blood relatives and boon buddies, there'd also been some last-minute discouragements as I approached the finishing line. A suave agent offering face-to-face chats at a York event had turned me down (didn't even want to chat to me!). But then I'd termed my book a literary thriller in the first sentence of my email to him. A later, more thorough, check through what he was looking for found he was strictly genre and commercial, nothing literary. And these categories mattered a lot to agents, I was learning. They seemed to ply their trade by close personal connections to different publishers whose specialisms they knew.

Mr Suave would have trashed my email soon as he'd seen the genre mismatch, wouldn't have given the rest of my package the chance to enchant him, so it wasn't strictly speaking a true rejection. I decided. And it would have been expensive hassle to go to York anyway, just to shoot the breeze.

A similar administrative error got me a quick no from a US agent, the first US agent I'd tried. Bored one day and amused by something he'd tweeted, I sent him my cover letter and first pages before my book was finished, a toe in the water. I soon received a form rejection. A couple of days later later he tweeted his disgust at the very structure of cover letters like the one I'd sent. This young pup didn't like it when people jumped straight in with their plot blurb in the first paragraph of their email, saving the salutation and 'housekeeping' (title, manuscript length, genre etc) for later. He immediately discarded all such-formatted queries without reading further, he informed us followers, despite well-known sources insisting this was the structure preferred by US agents. He then tweeted his desire for all supplicants to give a list of exactly which of his many pronouncements and perceived qualities had caused them to approach him. I unfollowed this vain fusspot, as I was beginning to do to anyone who rejected me.

The moral of both stories was: better upfront research to avoid more disqualification on technicalities when I sashayed out for real. They were rigid, some of these agents, behind the cat pics. Any excuse to fend off the unwashed. But I guess you have to feel for literary gatekeepers. What other profession invites, as the bedrock of their business, any old loon to send in their fantasies for the possibility of cash and fame?


Read my rejection odyssey from the start here.

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Jason Nicholls
Jason Nicholls
Feb 06, 2020

Rejections are part of the creative process and need to be embraced. I satisfy my short term needs to be published by submitting shorts to newspapers. And often they get published.

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