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.