14: Preliminary Reconnaissance

23 July 2010

In the early noughties, I worked for a consultancy called Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson). At one point during my time there Accenture (not really a competitor, but a comparable organisation) started advertising on the London Underground. At an internal meeting, someone asked a senior partner why we didn’t do the same. He responded that such advertising was expensive and time-consuming and that, with resources limited, the rational way to proceed was to concentrate on the immediate goal: getting in front of potential clients.

Good point, I thought.

Time remains my central concern. There are lots of networking and book-marketing related tasks I’d love to be getting on with. But the driver to what tops my to-do list isn’t good ideas (plenty of them) but the number of free hours per weekend. Life isn’t as mental as in the run up to 7 February 2010. Nevertheless, as well as trying to get The Jolly Pilgrim published I’m at my desk in the City for 10 hours per weekday; orchestrating my Dad’s move (from the house he’s lived in for 40 years); assisting my aunt sell said house; and coping with a bunch of nasty (that is: time-consuming) family-related legal and financial entanglements. There’s a lot happening. It’s all happening at the same time.

The clamour is rising for me to embrace a twenty-first century attitude, lose the middlemen and self-publish. There are arguments both ways (which I’ll come back to), but for now I will stick to my three-point plan.

Using literature as a vehicle to disseminate a more expansive assessment of the human world? Need a product which people can hold in their hands? Attempting to launch a massively ambitious piece of art via the publishing industry? Step one: get a literary agent.

Here’s the deal: there are 171 agents listed in the Writers and Artists Guide (the standard industry Bible). Narrative non-fiction (the broad category into which The Jolly Pilgrim fits) is listed as an interest in 106 of them (I built a spreadsheet).

Every man and his dog reckons they’ve got an idea for a book. Most agents receive 10+ submissions per day. Inevitably, they rarely engage new clients. In addition, such agents take on projects because they meet their individual and subjective tastes, so there’s large elements of luck and timing built in to the process. What’s more, it’s not like any of these people are waiting for real-life adventure stories which spin new syntheses of the human experience to land on their desks.

First task: getting a grip on their world. That meant spending a lot of time on the internet: googling agents, checking-out their websites, going through their author lists, reading reviews of their authors on Amazon and, finally, studying the websites of other writers. That was an educational experience.

Lesbian detective romances, detective Elizabethan thrillers, superhuman spylets, Harry Potter takeoffs, time travelling ghost stories, ‘seductive tales’ of ‘fate and magic’ or ‘survival and self-discovery’, a shocking quantity of literary masturbation and even a ‘fusion of astrology and psychotherapy’.

The following point was thus illustrated to me: a person generally chooses to write a book (or sometimes a blog) because that person is a writer. It’s a vocation; a craft; a career choice. They are therefore looking for things to write about.

My driver is that humans (I have found) are intriguingly unable to contextualise the events unfolding around them in the context of the historical perspective now available. I’ve learned that it is mostly futile to explain nuggets of a larger world view without setting out your framework (because everything connects). The problem I spent a large part of my adult life wrestling with is: how to deliver that framework?

The experience of visiting Chartres Cathedral led me to conclude that literature was the only available vehicle. I then worked backwards: conceive a book, work out how to construct it, construct it, polish it, have it reviewed, test it; then figure out how to distribute it, hence the website, three-point plan, blog and these words you’re reading right now.

‘A fusion of astrology and psychotherapy’? God forbid one should exploit this interconnected world to combine the cerebral and experiential into something spontaneous, organic, coherent, mould-breaking, playful, global and true.

Watch this space.

‘Great things are not achieved by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.’ – Jack Kerouac

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6 Responses to “14: Preliminary Reconnaissance”

  1. Mark Snare Says:

    You need to expose the red meat (last four chapters) of this book to the industry you flirt with to get noticed. Put your best worm on the hook.

  2. katherine Manners Says:

    Also frustratingly this may be the part that takes the longest of all, far longer than the book’s creation. Sorry to keep relating it back to acting but some actors train for 3 years then take 5 to get an agent and their first job. Aileen Atkins didn’t work for 5 years after graduating then was so nervous on her first night that she vomited onstage. What a legend! Understanding the beast is the best way to conquer! Don’t give them a moment’s peace as well, get inside the office and sell it to their faces.

  3. Mark B'Stard Says:

    I’d just go into porn, both of you.

  4. Anne Bowers Says:

    I’m sure it will all come together with perseverance – Rome wasn’t built in a day as they say. Good luck.

  5. Charlotte Eaton Says:

    Keep goin boyo. And maybe consider putting a picture of yourself in with your sample. I think you’re quite tasty.

  6. Mark Snare Says:

    I’ve just been sick on chapter seven

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