I finished my first novel Not Falling Off in October and began the submission process. I drew up a shortlist of agents who represented authors whose work I love, read the Writers and Artists Yearbook carefully so I knew how best to approach the process (and what I needed in terms of synopsis, covering letter etc) and waited to be snapped up.
Now, seven months later, I can tell you there has been no snapping. I managed to get a few agents to read the first three chapters and got standard rejections from most. A couple came within 24 hours of me following up on the original submission so I'm sure they hadn't read it. Most, however, I think had. You can't blame agents for using standard templated letters with the amount of stuff they have to read.
Four asked for and read the whole thing. The response was pretty good overall. Words used included: interesting, authentic, well-crafted, evocative, engaging, touching - yet nobody wanted to take it on. I even bumped into one of the agents a month or two later and, unprompted, she introduced herself and spent 15 minutes telling me (in detail) all the things she loved about the book. I was a bit baffled. Still, onwards and upwards. Luckily I had an idea already bubbling away for book 2 so threw myself into that in the meantime while I waited for the last agent to get back to me.
The final 'no thanks' came early this week and, oddly, I was rather pleased. Let me explain why. A month ago I was lucky enough to do a three day Intensive Fiction Workshop course at the Faber Academy. By the end of the first day my head was spinning with all the insight we'd been given and I immediately knew my book was weak in places. That came as a bit of a shock. On the second day I explained this to one of the course tutors (Trevor Byrne) who said, if he was in my position, he'd just crack on with the book I was now writing. He was right. I already know this book will be better based on what I've learned since I finished the first and I'm actually glad nobody took me on.
Even better, a couple of the agents who read Not Falling Off and liked it have said they're happy to read book 2 when it's finished.
I will go back and look at Not Falling Off once I'm finished with this book but not before.
So, patience is the key. If you want a sustained career in writing (and we all do, right?) it might just pay to wait til your writing catches up with your ambitions. Maybe not, you might write a splendid first book - I hope so.
I've also listened to a couple of podcast interviews with other writers recently whose first novel (or novels) didn't get published and are, with hindsight, rather pleased. These include Chris Cleave and David Mitchell (not that I'm in any way comparing myself to two such amazing writers).
Lesson learned. I'm now 15,000 words into the new book so we'll see where that takes me.
Thanks for reading