I’m asking again – do I need an agent?

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I’m sure I’ve blogged about finding an agent before: I certainly think about it ‘ad nauseam’, but until this past week I’ve done nothing about it since about 2012. Aversion, avoidance – for whatever reason I’ve put it off, until a necessary change in my route to publication has forced me to take a next step.

The change is necessitated by the retirement of the publishing partners, editor and book designer, with whom I’ve worked since I decided to self-publish several years ago. If I want to continue writing, then I need to do something to fill that gap. There are three possible options:

  1. find an editor and a book designer, preferably closer than London, establish a relationship and work with them in the same way as before. I take their advice, and pay them for it, and keep overall control of the process and of the income generated by the books. The costs are upfront and considerable, but I’m used to that, and it works, so long as there’s a reasonable rate of sales;
  2. approach a publisher direct. It would have to be one of the few who will accept ‘unagented’ projects, and ideally they would take on my backlist too, reprints, storage, orders, distribution, and so on, leaving me more time to focus on the writing. You can find independent publishers like this, but keep an eye on the small print, and on the royalties – how much and how often. Ebook only publishers are more generous, as they should be given lower costs, but if you want to produce a paperback in larger numbers, not just Print on Demand, the number of potential publishers goes down. Some are focussed only on crime fiction, which might not suit my future writing plans;
  3. Find an agent. This is the default choice these days if you want to get ‘traditionally’ published. The majority of publishers will deal only with agents, who act as a ‘first filter’ and protect the publisher from being overwhelmed with stuff they don’t want and can’t sell. Fair enough, but it still feels like you’re dealing with the doctor’s receptionist, who may or may not have the skills to recognise symptons and do proper ‘triage’.

For the time being, I’m keeping my options open by pursuing all three of these routes simultaneously. Down comes the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ from the shelf and  I start combing through, doing everything I’ve advised my aspiring writers to do in my workshops and have been so reluctant to do myself.

The list I gathered of possible agents was quite long, and of course almost all of them were in London, which always pisses me off. (I had to explain to an agent in London once that ‘Cumbria’ was actually an English county, not somewhere in Italy where Islington goes on holiday.) Because I’m interested in getting my backlist re-published rather than touting a half-finished draft, it’s a different ‘submission’ process, more factual and less aspirational, but I still feel like the ‘supplicant’ rather than a prospective partner, and I still don’t like it. I’m a mature woman with a successful career, five popular novels and an enthusiastic (local) following. I fear I’m not the kind of client many agents would want to work with – too stroppy, too old, and too far from the literary action, and part of me knows that. But here I am, deserving of attention, but I fear I will get get very little. One good response in the few days since my first exploratory emails went out, one mildly curious, and three rejections so far, worded almost exactly the same way as the rejections I received last time around.

Early days yet. I understand applications to agents take a long time to process: they have to be weighed against each other, as only a small number of new clients can be handled at once. Waiting is always a drag: patience is not one of my strengths. But I am resigned to the delay. Maybe my current circumstances are different enough from five years ago to make the outcome different too.

One independent publisher has reacted fast and positively, but they want only crime books and I have yet to see what their contractual terms might be. If the potential sales are high enough then acceptance of a low royalty might work out. But what if they’re not? Publishers talk about the quality of their marketing, but how can you substantiate that? Amazon ebooks sales figures can be manipulated, and I want my books on shelves, not just in the cloud.

Reading this, I can see why I’m an unattractive proposition. I ask questions and have clear expectations, and five books self-published in five years gives me a bit of clout. Maybe I have the answer to my question, but I keep on asking it. Apart from the first step of getting published, I want some of the extras that could come through ‘traditional’ publishing – access to reviews, to the major book-chain shelves, to radio or TV, or audio book production expertise. I write good stories that people enjoy, and I want more people to be able to find them. So I wait for the responses to my search for professional help, but I’m not holding my breath.

 

 

 

How will I react to the first review of ‘Cruel Tide’?

I’m off to London this weekend so I’ll do this post now, and hope it doesn’t get lost in the Twitter and FB clutter that seems to fill my timeline and probably yours too.

I’m surprised to say that having waited years for a decent review of any of my books, I’m both looking forward to and dreading the review that’s been promised in February’s issue of Lancashire Life, which will probably be out in a couple of weeks. First, I wonder if it will ever appear. Editing a monthly magazine must be quite a job, and whatever’s been written might just hit the cutting room floor, as they say in the film business. But if it does actually appear, what will it say, and how will I feel?

One of the hardest things about self-publishing is the absence of professional feedback in the form of reviews. The national newspapers take their books for review from the traditional publishers, apparently, to avoid being swamped by unreviewable rubbish. Understandable, assuming that much self-published fiction is indeed rubbish, and therein lies the dilemma for those of us who have chosen to take that route direct to our readers. Apart from Amazon reviews and star ratings, which are mostly welcome but don’t represent considered professional feedback, authors like me have no way of helping readers decide what’s worth buying and reading. How do you pick from the plethora of stuff out there, except on the questionable criterion of price? You could use the star ratings as a guide, but they’re pretty questionable too.

I managed to get two very kind writers to give me a ‘quote’ about ‘Cruel Tide’ for promotion purposes, but I couldn’t ask them to undertake a full-scale review. Apart from that, and some mentions in the local press, nothing about this book or any of the others. I’ve asked for reviews, of course, but have been told repeatedly that they don’t have the time to read full-length fiction, or people to do it, or space to print them. One national organisation I’m actually a member of, which has a book page in its monthly magazine, claimed that they couldn’t review my books without upsetting other members who are writers. Really?

That leaves me with no experience of getting public written feedback on my novels from a professional who reads and writes critically about books as part of their daily work. The Lancashire Life  reviewer doesn’t live in Cumbria, so the ‘local’ flavour probably won’t be of interest. I assume that the reviewer will come at ‘Cruel Tide’ cold, without reading my preceding trilogy where some of the characters have been heralded, and she has been told that this is crime fiction, and will therefore have certain genre expectations, which may or may not be satisfied. Any of these factors could have a bearing on her reaction.

I can cope with specific criticism: I generate plenty of that myself about anything I’ve written. What I fear is overall dismissal, scorn, disinterest, or the suggestion that I’m wasting my time and should find something else to do. You don’t see reviews like that very often, but they do happen, and the author must be crushed, unless they’re far more resilient than I am. I don’t expect to be told that the book is badly written, but I could be told that the structure is poor, the characters unbelievable or the ending is a let down. I’m in the early stages of the next book, and specific feedback could be useful, if I can bring myself to accept and act upon it. Or I could have faith in myself and stick to my guns. I can’t anticipate how I’ll react until it happens, and I can’t do anything about it either, so I’ll just have to wait and see. How do other inexperienced novelists cope with reviews? Are they as nervous about them as I am, and does this anxiety wear off with more experience and confidence?