16: Submission

31 August 2010

Back in April I looked at the traffic stats on the website for the first time in months. They described a j-curve from October through March – by which point the site was getting 1,500 hits a day. On the 28th I was informed that my work was being discussed in Vanuatu. By then I was getting a stream of requests – and increasingly impatient demands – for the published product. Clearly, it was time to find an agent.

I joined two data-gathering websites ‘Publishers Marketplace’ (for industry info) and ‘WriteWords’ (writers talking to each other) to add resource to my informational armoury. Concurrent to that I finished soaking up the received wisdom regarding how one deals with literary agents – a soaking up which ended just after best practise stopped and just before self-help started. Then I began applying myself to the next stage.

Identifying appropriate agents

I want an agent based in London. Five-continent travelogue extravaganza it may be, but the intellectual firewater at the core of The Jolly Pilgrim was fermented in the trans-cultural whirlpool of the great metropolis. Call me a soft-hearted romantic, but I’m looking for an agent based in the West End not the West Country.

Believe it or not, some of these guys use hotmail as their contact address or even don’t have websites. Seriously? This is a book about reaching forward into the third millennium. I write/market/submit between holding down a 55-hour-per-week City job; helping my Dad relocate from a home he’s lived in for 40 years; and managing the erratic, emotional and time-consuming behaviour of one of my uncles. I have a website, a Facebook group, a mailing list, a testimonials page and an on-line gallery. I’m networked, LinkedIn, I haven’t even got started on the YouTube videos and I only spend a few hours a week on this.

If it’s their full-time gig and they don’t have a website, then it’s not computing.

The physical submission

My practical task is to get an agent to absorb why the product is a commercial proposition. That product is complex, packed with original features, works on several levels and is, to quote my reviewer Mrs Russell, so out there’. Getting agents to grasp it is a non-trivial feat of communications.

On approaching an agent, one sends them a sample – a taster to induce them to spend some of their valuable time asking questions. Problem: a standard element of agency’s submission guidelines is ‘the first three chapters’. But in the case of The Jolly Pilgrim that could mean 2,500 words (too little) or 35,000 words (too much) depending on one’s definition of ‘chapter’. I made the call at 8,000 words – a miscalculation I’ll come back to.

I drafted the sales documents last summer, then bounced them off 10 people, re-drafted them, discussed them with a marketing person and re-drafted them again. They ended up sober, factual and down-to-earth. Then I had them copyedited. Then I went to Rymans, stocked up on 1,000 sheets of the poshest paper they sell and had everything professionally printed.

The envelopes I sent off consisted of a four-paragraph letter, a two-page book pitch (with a 280-word synopsis) and the 8,000-word sample. The sample and sales documents went into (expensive) plastic wallets, into which I also tucked a business card so that ‘enlightenment 2.0’ underlined the phrase ‘message of hope’. Then I posted them.

Hooks in the water.

Proportion of people who write books who subsequently secure an agent: 1%

Fun thing: since 2005 I’ve been proud to have helped inspire a number of travelogues. This one is by two filmmakers, Kian and Jim, who are travelling around the Indonesian archipelago in search of the singing doves of Java.

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5 Responses to “16: Submission”

  1. Prospector Says:

    “I made the call at 8,000 words – a miscalculation I’ll come back to.” just not n this particular blog?

  2. Ash Says:

    If you’re so damn futurist, why do you persist in pursuing a publishing model that should have died last century, and is now doing just that.

    Of course those nobheads only have the time for 1% of writers: how can they possibly keep up with the mass of excellent writers in the world.

  3. Mark Snare Says:


    I rather agree with you, I hope the Jolly Pilgrim finds its way to market via the traditional routes, but I fear its a dusty industry caught between austerity and finding the next Harry Potter. The epoch that we are in is exciting, quality can find its way to the surface under its own merits like never before.

    Though none of this will explain the popularity of Justin Bieber to me.

  4. Mark Snare Says:

    “If it’s their full-time gig and they don’t have a website, then it’s not computing.”

    I agree, you may be banging your head on distracted morons. But they are holding the reigns to the fast forward button. Young thrusters in almost any arena meet this boundary layer of progress arresting crusties, don’t ask these f*cks, TELL THEM. Then be ever so careful that you don’t become one yourself.

  5. P. T. Bakermarsh Says:

    First, this is not an exercise in getting a book published. This is an exercise in spreading a bunch of ideas around the world. The book is a vehicle for that.

    In order for the book to do its job, it has to reach as many people as it can. My feeling remains that the most effective way to achieve that is through a publishing house. The physical product is important. I have a clear ideas regarding what it needs to look, and feel, like. Outsourcing the physical production to professionals gives me access to skills (for example: book-layout skills) that will facilitate the book achieving its mission. If I publish it myself, I have to do things like get all the permissions and licence the cover art. That’s a lot of faff.

    Getting the book into the world is a logistical task. The fact that persuading an agent to read the manuscript is proving tricky is a minor thing. I never expected it to be easy, but it’s just another hoop. If I had more time to apply myself to this, things would move faster, but life’s dealt me the cards it’s dealt me.

    My eyes are on the endgame. The point of all this is not a clever marketing campaign, a clever website, the satisfaction of doing it, the pride in having published a book, or a sense of personal fulfilment. The point is to put a really amazing book into people’s hands. Publishing the book is not window dressing. It’s the beginning of the next stage.

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