Ever get the feeling no one is paying any attention to you? That the words you say are going unheard, unnoticed, unloved? I get this all the time – I’m a parent! But what I’m talking about right now is the good old slushpile – that mound of unsolicited manuscripts that gather in inboxes, or occasionally on desks, of the people we undiscovered writers desperately want to sit up and take notice of us. Agents, publishers – they all say the slushpile is an untapped source of potentially dynamite material. But how much of the slushpile actually gets read? Does it even make it to the person its been sent to, or is it read by an assistant who’s job it is to wade through the pile and pick out the good from the bad?
Unfortunately, a lot of the time it’s true your work might not even make it to the person it was intended for. Lets be honest – an awful lot of the slushpile is utter rubbish. And how do I know this, you ask? I know, because I am guilty myself of sending work which was far from ready. In fact, it was pretty much crap. But, the eager, egotistic writer I used to be, honestly believed what I’d written was great. Now I hope I know better of course, and cringe at the memory of what I sent, (although I take comfort in knowing they probably never read past my awful cover letter!).
A friend of mine recently attended a writers event in London where she got to speak to some of the other hopefuls there. There was the heavily pregnant lady, who thought she’d try turning stories she wrote as a child into picture books in order to make some money while she was at home with the baby. There was the woman who’d written a book with her husband, and had only come to ‘pick’ her agent. If only it were that simple! These are the people who are sitting in that slushpile along with you. Is it therefore unlikely your submission might somehow get overlooked? Perhaps not.
What can you do to stand out? Get a clue!!! Don’t be like these uniformed hopefuls who think all they need to do is ‘pick’ what agent they want to represent them. Sorry mate, its not often you get to ‘pick’ your agent – you need to have written something totally outstanding to be in that position! Know what you are doing. Know your audience. Research other books on the market. READ! EDIT! Make damn sure you have actually written something decent!
Be passionate! Are you writing because it’s what your soul yearns to do? Do you live and breathe your latest manuscript? Is your head constantly thinking of plot twists, or potential rhyming couplets? Yes, a lot of successful authors still have a ‘day job’ to pay their bills, but you can bet they’d write full time if they could. They aren’t just doing it to ‘make a bit of money’ while they’re in-between jobs, or on maternity leave. (Incidentally, I do know of a few authors that used their maternity leave as a chance to get really get started on their writing career. But, lets be clear – it wasn’t just a fleeting hobby. They had passion, and drive – and talent!)
Get your face and name out there! Be active on social media. Go to every agent one-to-one you can. A publisher you like is doing an event? Get there! An author you admire is having a book launch? Go! A recognisable face or name, is far more likely to get you noticed. Not that its done me any good yet, but hey, there’s still time.
And consider that there are many reasons why someone might not pick you. Yes, it might be that what you’ve written is rubbish, and you aren’t as good as you think you are. Or – it could be that the agent in question already has a very full list. Maybe they don’t think what you’ve written -although good- has current market potential. Perhaps they don’t need another author of your genre. Or it might be that its simply not to their personal taste. The same goes for publishers – they’ve already published something similar, it may not be the ‘type’ of story they publish, perhaps the story’s theme has been overdone recently. There are many, many reasons why the answer might be no.
What about the long response times – if any response at all? Yes, it totally sucks when you don’t know if you should wait, or if you should just assume they aren’t going to reply. But that slushpile – it must be humongous! I can understand why they don’t always bother. It can be particularly frustrating if you know your cover letter is most likely okay, and that the stories you are sending aren’t complete rubbish. A short response seems the least they could do in this case. But I’ve met agents face to face and had lovely conversations with them, even good feedback on my work, but yet still not had a response from them later on. So I don’t know what to say about this really….
Lastly, remember agents, (and publishers!), don’t always get it right. I was told a story I wrote about a spider wouldn’t be published because children are scared of spiders, (which was my reason for writing it!). I saw recently a ‘celebrity’ author is having her PB about a spider published, and which happens to be a very similar theme as my own story. Maybe its because she’s a ‘celebrity’… I dunno. A Christmas story I wrote had interest from a publisher, which in turn meant an agent was also immediately interested. But the agent then suggested I make the story about a birthday instead, which to do so would have meant writing an entirely different story altogether, and, errr…. did she not understand the part about a publisher already being interested?!
So what is my point exactly? Keep trying. Don’t give up! Be the best you can be, and if its not working for you, then find out why. Look for a solution. That’s what I’m planning on doing…