Friday, March 23, 2012

Greatest hits: The fiction submission rant

I just rediscovered this post, and it all still holds true three years later. Plus there are points involved, so it's kind of like a game!

***

There is no question for this post - I'm writing it because I want to whinge. For there are many days when I just want to never, ever, ever look at fiction submissions again. And it's not because I don't find clients that way - I do - but it's because so much of my time is wasted doing it that I find it hard to justify reading the subs. And why is my time wasted? Because 99% of fiction submissions aren't ready to be seen. (That percentage is an approximation, and possibly influenced by my snarky mood.)

So let's play a game. Let's say I grant every submission 100 points to start with. I'm going to list some common things I see in submissions. Certain things will take off points; certain things will add. If the submission still ends up with around 100 points, then I'll ask for a full manuscript. (In reality it's not that scientific, but maybe I'll change my ways.)

1. Sending in your first draft. LOSE 50 POINTS
1. (a) It's your first novel. LOSE ANOTHER 25 POINTS

2. Asking your best friend or mother to read your novel and then believing what they say and THEN telling me that I should read your novel because your mother loved it. LOSE 20 POINTS

3. Putting your novel away for a while - weeks, if not months - and then revisiting it and doing some more work. ADD 20 POINTS

4. Telling me that if I don't take you on I'll be missing out on the greatest novelist who ever lived. LOSE 10 POINTS

5. Taking the time to understand that to write a novel is to tell a story and that means you can't write 50 000 words of beautiful prose with no plot and no character development. ADD 20 POINTS

6. Being completely unrealistic about your abilities as a writer - everyone may have a novel in them but that doesn't mean everyone should write that novel. If you failed to read any novels in high school, there's a good chance you're not cut out to be a novelist. LOSE 20 POINTS

7. Reading lots of novels, particularly in your genre. ADD 15 POINTS
7. (a) Comparing yourself to those novelists when you submit your manuscript. LOSE 10 POINTS

8. Sending in a half-baked submission 'so you can give me some advice on where my writing should go from here'. LOSE 40 POINTS

And, at the suggestion of one of my authors (some of them know I write this blog - well, only the handsome ones):
9. Mentioning it's a literary novel. LOSE 15 POINTS (he suggested 1000 and used swear words - I'm not going to be that forceful - and please bear in mind that he actually writes literary fiction)
9. (a) Mentioning it's a literary novel set in Melbourne, and you're from Melbourne, and all the characters are from Melbourne too. LOSE ANOTHER 15 POINTS (and before you take umbrage, remember that my name is Agent SYDNEY - that gives me licence for a little fun,non?)


I've just run out of ideas, but there's every chance I'll add to this list in future. And you can probably tell there are more 'lose' than 'add' items. Believe me, I WANT to love every submission I read. I want there to be so many brilliant novels of all stripes out there that Australians only ever want to read Australian novels and forget about overseas authors. But the bitter truth is that I despair. I read the submissions and I see novelists who could turn out to be great but who will get rejected by me - and probably everyone else - because they were impatient. I read other submissions that are truly awful. I read a lot that are just tepid. All of this wastes my time, and when my time is wasted I grow cranky and I'm more and more tempted to never read fiction submissions again.

The biggest problem is that novels are submitted well before they're ready. If this blog achieves nothing else than to make novelists think hard before they submit to anyone, I'll be happy. Because while people like me spend too much time reading submissions that will never get published, we are not spending time on developing and supporting Australian talent.

In the past I have received several emails whinging - yes, whinging, how dare you! - about agents closing submissions and asking why. Well, now you know. We're not a public service - we run businesses. We can't work for nothing. So if we detect that something is wasting our time - and our money-making capabilities - we'll stop doing it. The one thing writers can do to ensure that doesn't happen is to make sure their submissions are up to scratch. Agents do not exist to give you advice unless you're a client. We are looking for writers we can get published. If you can free us up by not sending us your undercooked novel, we'll be more able to look at it when it IS cooked.


7 comments:

Susan May said...

I hear you because I review novels for a US mag, though I'm based in Perth. Lately I've read for review a few indie novels which were below par. What is more concerning is that I then read some novels from independent publishers which were just as bad. There are thousands of these independent publishers springing up everywhere who give the author the thrill of publishing a book but actually don't have the editing expertise of the bigger houses.
I've had to stop taking in books from anything but the bigger houses or their imprints because I was losing the love of reading.
So I cannot imagine how you can read through your subs & not complain. I would add, repeating the same plot line for 150 pages so that even though I'm skipping 25 pages at a time I'm still following the plot -1000

Bonnee Crawford said...

I like this game, it's a good idea, and I understand what you mean by making it, I see the point of it :)

3. Putting your novel away for a while - weeks, if not months - and then revisiting it and doing some more work. ADD 20 POINTS

Do we get another 20 points every time we repeat this process? Should we tell the agent or publisher we're submitting to how many times (if we've been counting) we've revised the novel, or how long ago we wrote the first draft? Will bigger numbers earn us bigger points in this department?

7. (a) Comparing yourself to those novelists when you submit your manuscript. LOSE 10 POINTS

I've read on some blogs by other agents and whatnot that you should name books that are 'like' yours, is that a completely different and good thing or ...? I read that step of the game and was a little confused, so I thought it would be best to ask. :)

skink said...

I wanted to comment about the previous post about agents' rates, but there seem to be no facility to do that.
I am a first-time author who recently signed with an agent. His terms were that he asked for 50% of his expenses up front as a lump sum on signing, but if he placed teh book his cut would only be 10%.
I asked around and was warned that you should never pay and agent up-front, but he came highly recommended, had a good rep and I got on well. I don't regret the decision, but wonder whether, reading your post about the risks inherent in taking on a new author and the scant rewards on offer, this heralds a change in the order of things.

Vicki said...

Bonnee said:

"I've read on some blogs by other agents and whatnot that you should name books that are 'like' yours, is that a completely different and good thing or ...? I read that step of the game and was a little confused, so I thought it would be best to ask.

Agreed. It is confusing.

From Allen & Unwin's Friday Pitch page:

What book would you see as a comparison title to yours?

William Dye said...

On the other end of the line (I submit pretty regularly) I want to thank you for things like this. My job is to give the agent what he/she wants. Things like this help me to do that.

Thanks for the post,
William Dye

Teresa Cypher aka T K CypherBuss said...

Interesting post; I enjoyed the points game.

I did wonder about this: "7. (a) Comparing yourself to those novelists when you submit your manuscript. LOSE 10 POINTS"

Thanks for the informative post.

Adina West said...

To those confused by the whole comparing-yourself-to-known-authors caper, if I might offer what I think is a clarification?

It's fine to say that your book "may appeal to readers of book X or Y", which gives an idea of genre and/or anticipated audience.

It's NOT okay to compare your book to the aforementioned well-known novel, or yourself to a famous novelist. It sounds kind of immodest.

I know it's a subtle difference, but an important one.

HTH!