Friday, 2 March 2012

Ready to Go

The book is done. Sorted and ready to submit.

Strangely, it isn't relief I feel, but an odd sense of loss, the writing equivalent of empty nest syndrome. The last time I went out on submission, I conjured up this amazing blog post. Sadly, I feel the same won't be true this time, because I am exhausted.

Knowing when a book is ready to send out has become increasingly difficult. Agents and editors expect work to be highly polished before it reaches them, and I have heard the term "market-ready" from several sources. At first glance, this might imply that publishing people are lazy, and want to be delivered perfection on a plate - the real reason is time and market pressure. In a recession, everyone is busier as fewer people have to cover more work. Although agents and publishers would dearly love to do extensive editorial work, they simply can't afford to. This is an especial problem for agents, because a lot of their revenue has traditionally been generated from advances – and these are still dropping like a stone. Publishers can't afford to pay them, not only because of lower sales volumes, but also because of the high discounts that retailers demand to stock their books.

Other writers are a problem too. With ever more people flooding onto the market, many prepared to do a lot of work just for the prestige of "being published," agents are spoilt for choice. I'm sure we can all moan about being nurtured and having the chance to grow creatively, but would we handle the slushpile any differently? Given the choice of a marginal work that might be brilliant after another three drafts, or something polished that can be sent out to publishers in a fortnight, which would you choose?

Editorial agencies like Cornerstones have sprung up to fill the gap, offering to critique and polish your work before it goes out on submission. Of course, they charge a fee for this service, and if you get taken on as one of their special clients they may also take a percentage of any deal you get from a publisher (on top of the percentage your agent commands). This might seem unfair, but they have a business to run as well, and like an agency, you don't have to use them. But, they are a useful weapon in the arms race that is fiction publishing.

There are also creative writing courses, and many of these produce an anthology of graduating authors' work. These anthologies are sent around to agents and are another useful route to exposure. The downside is that writing styles can become homogenised by the academic restrictions of these courses, and this is never more evident than when several students' coursework is put together in a book.

I feel a little like I'm taking the very hardest route, editing and polishing the novel myself, deciding when it's "good enough" for me to let go. But I've actually had input from lots of brilliant writers in my two critique groups, as well as my lovely wife who read the whole thing through again last night to make sure it still made sense. Aside from my own feeling that I was reaching the limit of what I could do to make the book better, I was also getting progressively less critical comments back from critique partners. When people start saying things like "I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to find much wrong with this," you know that another round of critique will probably be wasting their time. Next time, I'll have to throw them a bone and send out a first draft – that'll give them something to get their teeth into.



  1. Know exactly where you're coming from Nick as I'm going through exactly these emotions myself having submitted back to my agent ready for the publishers. I likened it to sending one's child out into the world by itself for the first time. A strangely empty feeling indeed.

  2. Great post, Nick. Good luck and God speed with your submissions. I'm always anxious about sending things out, too, and fret when they're gone. Now I'm sending material back to agent and editors, thankfully, but there's still that worry annoying busy professionals by returning slipshod drafts. Anyway, all fingers crossed!!

  3. Good luck! I'm such a long way away from the sending out stage but have been there in the past. Sounds as if you're ready for this though!

  4. Good luck Nick! Hope you get a swift and positive result. I must say I find it incredibly hard to press the send button. Have everything crossed for you.

  5. All that's left to do is the naked moonlight dance for luck.

    That might just be me though...

  6. I'm crossing everything for you, Nick. I felt very vulnerable when my first one went out. Also remember how drained I was afterwards. Enjoy having a break from it!

    A very interesting point about creative writing courses. I did an MA in English Literature with Creative Writing at the UEA in Norwich. In one seminar, I was told not to write children's, sci-fi, horror, fantasy ... you get the picture! My teacher held up a copy of Brick Lane and said I should be writing books like that, i.e. award winners. Ironic really, given that the UEA's motto is 'Do different'!

  7. Oh, I'm right there with you Nick! Good luck!

  8. Good luck, Nick! Keep us posted...