Each step along the path to publication throws up fresh dilemmas. I had assumed, once I’d sent off my opening chapters to agents, that I’d have no more decisions to make in the submissions process. But this was not the case. Almost immediately, I began asking myself questions like, how long I should allow for a response and what action should I take when I receive one.
The advice I gave myself to the first question was to be patient. Agents are busy people, as we all know. They will always prioritise their existing authors over any potential newcomers. But, they will get around to reading my work eventually, because they have to find new authors too. It just takes time. Most agents post guidelines on their websites as to how long you should allow before chasing a submission. I would be inclined to allow longer. I know, in my own life, that targets are often missed and it can be annoying to have this pointed out.
Next question: how do I respond to the responses? When I do receive something back, what action, if any, do I take? Let’s say my first round of submissions elicits a full complement of rejections, for which I have of course fully braced myself, do I change tactics, or simply throw salt over my shoulder and send off the next round?
The answer depends, of course, on the content of the rejections. In the face of a standard form rejection there is not much I can do, other than carry on as before. People say these are the most hurtful rejections but, in a way, they are the most easily discarded. You can make up your own mollifying explanations for them: the agent probably has too many clients already, or they had a bad day, or whatever. In any case, these simply have to be tossed aside.
But, what about those personal rejection letters which proffer some critical comments? The ones that say, whilst I really enjoyed X, I wasn’t sufficiently convinced by Y. Should I, upon receiving one of these kind, but deadly, missives, run straight to the computer and attempt to address the Y issue by re-writing my entire MS?
No, I should not. This is one agent, one opinion. They may be experts in their field, but agents are also subjective and human. Agents can be just as contradictory and at odds with one another as any other kind of reader. In response to a previous novel submission, a few years ago, one agent told me she thought I had a great story, but that she didn’t fall sufficiently in love with the writing, whilst another agent said she loved the writing, but felt the story was weak. (In hindsight, I reckon both the writing and the story could have been a lot better, but let’s not go there).
So, if and when I receive that first personalised rejection, I shall be thankful that the agent has taken the time to offer their opinion. I shall take comfort from the positives they’ve given and log the negatives in the back of my mind. Only if a further two or three agents raise the same, or similar, issues will I consider making any changes. Especially so if their criticism strikes a chord: if it awakens a doubt of my own, a little worrying niggle that I hadn’t previously dared give voice to.
If I decide major changes are in order, I may also decide that the book needs sending back to my trusted readers, or to a literary critique service, before submitting to any more agents. And so the decisions go on.
The quest for publication isn’t as simple a process as you might assume and certainly not a relaxing one. The main thing is to remain calm, focused and professional so as to be well equipped to make the right decisions along the way. A bottle of wine can help, along with a few fistfuls of salt.
Claudia Cruttwell is currently seeking representation for her psychological suspense novel entitled, ‘A Piece of Broken Sky.’ She has an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University and writes short stories on a variety of themes. She blogs about her journey to publication on her website and can also be found on Twitter @cscruttwell.