Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back in the Saddle (or perhaps I should say, 'Back in the chair, in-front of the screen')

Yes, I am alive. ;-)

It's been a helluva long time since my last post, I know! In fact, I think my last post was a post saying that I would be blogging regularly, right? Look how that worked out... :-P

Let's get into it:

I've submitted the manuscript for Betrayal's Shadow (2nd draft, 105+k words) twice, and been rejected both times. The first time was to Ronald Irwin, one of the only agents I know about in South Africa, and he sent the manuscript off to a new eBook imprint operating under Random House Struik (Random House's SA operation). In retrospect, the manuscript just didn't fit there, so I completely understand why it was rejected. Here's an excerpt from the email:

"Dear Dave,

many thanks for offering us the chance to consider your manuscript which I've had a chance to discuss with our publisher. We've decided, unfortunately to decline it. We've published just five books this year and need to wait and see how they do before publishing any more full-length works. In addition, as one of the first five novels was a fantasy epic itself, we're unwilling to try another one at this stage. We're likely to give priroty to shorter works next year, which will be less expensive to edit and produce.

I wish you luck in placing your work with another publisher, and I think you'll be better off with one with global marketing reach rather than our tiny operation at this stage."

So, not too bad, right? Sure, I was a bit down when I read it, but after having a couple of hours to think about it, I realized that it was by no means a You-Can't-Write-For-Shit-Rather-Go-And-Sell-Hotdogs rejection letter. It made perfect sense, even basically said that I waited a bit too long (which I did, for sure, just ask Ron) and helped me to make up my mind to try a bigger publisher.

So, next, I thought, "Well, Bud, before you can try a bigger publisher you need to try and get an agent who has been in the SFF game for a while now, a person who's got all the right contacts and who works hard for his / her authors. The first name that sprang to mind was, of course, John Jarrold. I get almost daily updates on the kind of stuff John and his agency are doing for their clients (for example, Rod Rees, author of The Demi-Monde saga, has already got 10 rights-deals), and I also didn't need to jump through hoops to submit my work to John. So I went ahead and sent off the MS. I got a rejection, of course, but it was an awesome rejection - a rejection that fired me up and motivated me even more. Here it is in full:

"Dear Dave

As promised, I have now read your material. I can see the imagination and intelligence at work here, and I enjoyed it, but I can’t honestly say I loved it. After fifteen years in publishing before setting up the agency, I'm all too aware how difficult it is to get a publisher interested in a new writer, so I feel that I do have to love my clients' work - personally and professionally - to do the best possible job. If I don't feel that strongly, I'm the wrong agent. Publishing is a notoriously subjective business, and every new author needs both an agent and an editor who do love their work. It's hellishly difficult getting the bookselling chains to take a new novelist seriously, so that initial enthusiasm is vital. If an author’s prose doesn’t set me on fire, first and foremost, I say no, as do editors in this situation.

Most UK editors see around thirty books every week and only take on one or two debut novels over an entire year.

The entry level for a new novelist now is 'special', not 'good'. This is partially because sales and marketing directors have so much more power than they did a dozen years ago. If they don't believe they will be able to sell a first novel into W H Smiths and the rest of the bookselling trade in numbers, they'll block the editor from acquiring it in many companies. A senior editor told me a few weeks ago that even if he loved an author's writing, he wouldn't make an offer until the book that was submitted to him was 100% right for the market - he has just acquired an author whose previous four novels he (and everyone else in London) had turned down despite liking them a great deal. Thus, I have to believe the writers I take on are truly wonderful, or it's pointless submitting them. There is nothing specific I can point at, I just wasn’t thinking WOW, which is what I look for. Another agent may feel differently, of course. So often, it's about unquantifiable gut reaction and the pricking of your thumbs.

FYI, I've taken on about forty writers as clients and turned down well over 8,000, so far...I know it can be as difficult to get an agent as it is to be taken on by a publisher. You just have to keep plugging away.

All best wishes."

Why did it fire me up, motivate the hell out of me? Well, John Jarrold didn't think it was a load of crap, that's why! :-D Also, his reasons make complete sense - just think of the plethora of awesome work out there at the moment and you'll agree. It's exactly as John said: The entry level for a new novelist now is 'special', not 'good'. And until the next draft of Betrayal's Shadow is 'special', I won't be submitting it. I'll continue working on a couple of other projects, sure, but Betrayal's Shadow 1.3 is going to be a helluva lot closer to special than it currently is.

And I've started already: as I mentioned in a post way back, I wrote 115+k words on various Fantasy manuscripts before I settled and began (and finished) writing Betrayal's Shadow, and two nights past I was going through the, looking for something -a new angle, if you will, of that little light that always motivates as it goes off in the mind- that I could read through, edit, and then carry on with. I found a piece - 8k+ words; a prologue and a full chapter. I've been going through it (started Chapter 2 this evening), and I already feel that fire, that drive. You see, I've got an entire novel in my head already (and enough info and thoughts for at least a trilogy), and now I can really experiment, change things up, throw everything in a blender, focus more and research more and have more fun. In fact, the story I actually wanted to tell is gaining even more detail and substance. :-)

So, getting a rejection letter isn't at all a bad thing - it's definately helped me to focus even more and to be even more excited. :-) Betrayal's Shadow will see print one day, that's a fact; and when it does, it's gonna knock your socks off!

Cheers to awesome rejection letters! :-)