What Literary Agents Do For Authors

This post comes directly from my notes of the recent publishing conference I attended in Dublin. For more general info and advice from that event and another one I attended in Belfast, please click here

If you’re new to the world of writing and have heard people talk about trying to get an agent, you might well be wondering what these mystical creatures are and what they do. Well, wonder no longer, because I’m about to spell it out. And – spoiler! – it’s more than just taking a cut of authors’ earnings.

Agents are…

1 – Advocates

On the most basic level, an agent is a third party who can enhance (or engineer) an interaction between two other parties. In the literary world, they are the middle man (usually a woman, in fact) who brokers a deal between writers and publishers.

Can’t writers submit to publishers directly, though? Some of them, yes, but the ‘big five’ publishers (and their imprints, who make up most of the market) usually only take submissions sent via agencies.

2 – Buffers

Imagine the scene: you’ve managed to get a publishing deal all on your own, but something has gone wrong. Perhaps the publisher has chosen the most hideous cover. You’re upset and you have no idea how to communicate this to your publisher. You worry they won’t take your criticism well, or that they’ll change their mind, so you’re left with the choice of accepting a cover you hate or risk rocking the boat by being seen as difficult.

Well, with an agent, you don’t need to worry. They will have this conversation for you.

3 – Knowledgeable

These points are in no particular order but if I was to rank them, this would probably be first.

Publishing deals are complicated beasts involving the sale of rights in a number of regions and formats: paperback, ebook, and audio as well as film, TV, and stage. Got an agent? You don’t need to stress over the fine print of any of it! They know all about shifts in the market and changes to the going rate. Nine times out of ten, they will get you a better deal than you could on your own. Continue reading

On Lack of Success, Taboo, & Transparency

This post has been brewing for a while and, in that time, some other people have touched on similar points. Linked here you will find a post by Kelly McCaughrain (which references a thread by Claire Hennessy) which talks about rejection.

Rejection is something everyone faces, but ‘creatives’ most of all. The more art you make, the more you put yourself out there, and the more you’ll experience the full spectrum of reactions, from awe to apathy to the aforementioned rejection.

Statistically speaking, the apathy and rejections will far outway acceptance and adoration. As Kelly and Claire point out, that goes for published writers just as much as those who have never been in print. It’s something you will need to make your peace with if you’re to carry on submitting.

We all have wobbles – days where we doubt ourselves and our work – but, personally, I’ve made my peace best I can. To do this, I have two things in my arsenal: regular pep talks and a philosophy:

Lack of success does not necessarily equal failure.

What I mean by this, is that for every publication and showcase and competition and whatever else, there are a finite number of winners. There are also, almost always, an infinite number of entries.

It is literally impossible for everyone to be accepted and, therefore, when your piece inevitably isn’t accepted, it means just that: it hasn’t been accepted. What it does not mean is that you and your work have been actively rejected.

Yes, that’s a semantic difference, but it makes sense to me and – most importantly – it keeps me sane.

When I don’t win the thing I’ve entered, don’t get shortlisted, or even longlisted, I am sad. Of course I am. But I know deep down it’s not the end of the world. I really recommend forging a similar attitude and/or coping mechanism for yourself, if you can. (Yes, it’s one of those horrible ‘easier said than done’ things.)

I also have a slightly more daring suggestion: be honest when you’re struggling. Talk about your lack of success. Insecurities thrive in the dark, so drag them into public kicking and screaming. We’d probably all be better for it. Continue reading

Thoughts on #OwnVoices

I am a bi/pansexual person with non-visible disabilities. Five years ago, I hadn’t come to accept either of those things about myself. In the first case, I was repressed, and in the second I was ignorant.

Ten years ago, not only was I not the feminist I am now, I was very vocal against certain rights for women. (Yes, I hated myself. It’s a potted history.)

Do you know what helped? For the most part, educational Tumblr posts.

Seriously. From the more liberal parts of the internet I not only learned some pretty key things about myself, but also a level of self-acceptance I had never experienced before.

As I hope these points illustrate, talking about issues outside of the ‘norm’ helps real-life people in real ways. Whether it regards race, sexual orientation, disability, disfigurement, or anything else.

Perhaps ‘issues outside the norm’ isn’t the best way to word that, but I can’t think of a better alternative.* Part of the problem regarding said issues is that the terms have become politicised. People don’t always have the right words. Other people get offended. It becomes a bit of a shitshow and the main points get lost.

A prime example of this has been the recent Twitter drama regarding the ‘Own Voices’ movement. Continue reading

On Deleting the Internet

If you’ve been on social media the past day or so, you may well have seen people complaining about changes to a platform called Tumblr. I, myself, was a site user and I myself have been tweeting about it.

Before I get into my thoughts (and feelings) about what’s going on, though, I should probably explain what Tumblr is and what actually is going on with it. So. Tumblr is a social network alongside all the others — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc..

As a site, it was very visual but was not just limited to photo sharing (as Instagram is). Tumblr has its own culture. It’s own inside jokes. And until yesterday, when they announced some pretty big changes to how they operate, they had a big, thriving community.

Now people are leaving in a mass exodus, myself included.

The changes sound mostly reasonable on the surface. They claim to be about making the site safer, which I’m all for, if that’s what the new policy actually achieved.

I could go into detail about the policy and the reasons for it, but there’s already a hundred news articles out there, stating the nitty-gritty of it; alongside thousands of posts by past and present users giving nuanced reasoning for how the changes will make things worse, not better. What I want to talk about instead is what the site meant to me, personally, and what implications deleting it has had on my life.  Continue reading

10 Writers I Look Up To

It seems to me that, in most cases, the people we admire and aim to emulate often have no idea how well they’re thought of. Particularly, I think it’s true of women. We often don’t know our worth, and how would we when no one really talks about their inspirations?

I’m here to change that. Because I know that, on the occasions people have given me encouragement and/or praise, it makes a world of difference. It matters because those people you think are so great have just as much imposter syndrome as the rest of us. Sometimes more, if they’re successful.

It can be easy to think that there’s no need to tell someone with awards coming out their ears how their work impacted you – because surely they should already know, and doesn’t it go without saying?

Dear reader, say it. Always tell your heroes how you feel, just in case they’re not feeling so heroic.

I’ve been thinking some more about the specific people I really respect in terms of writing. This is in addition to Colin Dardis and Anna Sheehan, who I have previously recommended on this blog, and in a similar vein to a post I wrote for ‘Women Writers, Women’s Books’ a long time ago.

My list is as follows:

Jen Campbell

I found Jen through her YouTube channel and have been falling in love with her words ever since as she continues to bring out wonderful book after wonderful book – short stories, bookish non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books.

Malorie Blackman

When I started to read as an adult, Malorie’s books were the first I picked up. No matter than most of her writing is targetted at under eighteens. I actually have a picture book by her that I tresure.

Claire Savage

Claire impresses me on multiple fronts as she turns her hand to poetry, copywriting, journalism, and books for children and is fantastic at all of them.

Continue reading

On being “Very Young”

The evening before this year’s John Hewitt International Summer School kicked off, I was sat on a bench out the back of the Charlemont Arms hotel alongside some of my fellow bursary students, sipping a pint of Diet Coke while others had a smoke. The group of us had only just met and were getting to know each other ahead of the crazy week-long adventure we were about to have.

“You’re very young,” I was told by one of them, with a tone somewhere between surprise and confusion.

“Okay,” I replied, because I had no idea how else to respond. I found it kind of amusing, I suppose, that this was someone’s initial reaction to me.

When the week started in earnest, though, I heard the comment again. And again.

“Everyone keeps telling me I’m really young!”

“Well, you are.”

This got me thinking, because I was certainly not the youngest person there and I’m not particularly babyfaced. I am, in fact, almost thirty.

In reply to my initial post about JHISS in which I said I was intimidated by the heavy schedule, someone said, “If you feel intimidated, imagine how I must feel!’

What I conclude, taking those bits of context into consideration alongside the “very young” comments, is that people don’t think I’m young in per se. If you’re one of the people who made these comments, you can correct me on this, but what I think is happening is that I – somehow – have given the impression that I’m accomplished, or established, or vaguely know what I’m doing, or… something. The surprise seems to come from the fact that I have achieved this mystical level of influence/achievement at my age whereas for most people it comes much later if even at all.

Just typing that out makes me feel uncomfortable; like I’m bragging or something, but I don’t know how else to figure it. I certainly don’t feel impressive for my age. In fact, I panic fairly frequently that I haven’t done enough and should be doing more – should be being more.

On these expectations, I have also been musing.  Continue reading

On Impatience and Self-Publishing

When I first found out I could produce a book and put it out into the world all by myself, I got so excited I jumped at the chance. Then I jumped a second time, and a third. Suddenly, I wanted to self-publish everything. Within a few months, I had several projects planned and– yep, I basically got wayyy ahead of myself.

Not all of the projects I planned saw the light of day, in the end, and I think that’s for the best.

As I said in my previous post, I wasn’t ready to self-publish when I first did. I just didn’t know enough to realize how much I didn’t know.

In part, I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve joined the recently formed Irish Independent Authors’ Collective. It’s also on my mind because I’m trying to get traditionally published at the moment as well.

At some point, I started thinking a bit more long-term and realized that all of my impulse publishing decisions might have hurt my writing career in the long run, which – oops?

Let me not beat around the bush: the very first books of mine ever printed were sub-par quality, and I’ve had to spend a LOT of time and effort re-doing them in the years since. The editions available to buy now I’m mostly okay with but, if I could do it all again, I’d have brought out fewer titles and spent more time over each of them.

I would still have self-published Juvenilia (the bind-up of my teenage poems), brought out a poetry chapbook as a stepping stone to submitting a full-length poetry collection to traditional publishers, and maybe released a short story collection (that just had stories and was not mixed in with poems) as I worked towards my novel, which I would aim (and still do aim) to get traditionally published.

I like the idea of being a “hybrid” author – having a foot in each camp – a lot. In the modern day, I think it makes sense to try and build an audience while you’re trying to attract an agent.

BUT – and here’s the kicker – only if you’re ready.  Continue reading

On Book to Movie Adaptions

I’m not a particularly fast reader. Maybe that’s down to my dyslexia, maybe not, but whatever the reason, the fact stands. Books over 300 pages make me nervous because I know they’ll likely take me forever to get though.

Now, that said, I just finished The Girl on the Train. I finished it in like three days, and it’s 400 pages. So, it’s fair to say I loved it. Fantasic page-turner and highly accessible. It got five stars from me.

Originally, I started reading it in way back in October last year. I devoured the first section (thirty or so pages) and was instantly gripped. I loved the writing even more then than I did when I restarted it a couple of days ago.

But why did I stop and take several months to go back to it? You might be wondering. Well, put simply, I watched the movie adaption.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed the movie adaption. It gripped me, too. And I thought it would, which is why I chose to go see it. Some people refuse to see adaptions before reading the book they’re based on, and I understand why, but not me.

Experience has taught me that if I see the movie after I read the book, I will hate the film. The casting will be completely unpalatable because of how I’ve imagined the characters in my head, and I won’t be able to get past it. I know a lot of people have the reverse reaction, but reading the book after seeing the movie has never proved to be a problem for me before.

In fact, when I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower after seeing the film I actually think knowing the story in advance improved my experience. If I hadn’t known where the story was headed, I may have felt bored and frustrated with the slow start.

Anyway, back to the Girl on the Train. As I’ve already said, I enjoyed the movie and loved the book. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s not really a problem, exactly, it’s just that, for the first time, I felt that knowing all the twists and turns in advance did dull the experience for me, if only a little. I still loved it, but I think I could have loved it more. And yes, I probably would have disliked the movie had I not watched it first, but perhaps my heightened enjoyment of the book would have been worth that sacrifice.

The Thing About Buffy

When I was in my formative years – fourteen, fifteen, sixteen; probably before that, if I could remember – I was a lot of things: frustrated, depressed, creative, hopeful, and incredibly, incredibly lonely.

High School was hell, home was… not a place I would actually define as a ‘home.’ But I found that music helped, some, and the creativity and hope kept me thinking that if I could just make it to eighteen I could go wherever I wanted and be and do anything.

The day to day, though… that was tough. I’m not going to go into it and I’m not going to try and pretend that I had it hardest. But it was still tough. Hardness was my reality.

I closed myself off, repressed the pre-teen years, and become someone who, frankly, wasn’t very nice in return. Someone who literally didn’t understand what being nice meant. Again, I’m not saying I was a bully who tortured small animals and wished death upon children, but life was hard and so was I.

And then there was Buffy – this innocuous little TV show about teenagers living on a Hellmouth. A TV show that had layers, and pain, character development that was mind blowing and just so many things that, amongst all the vampires and demons, were just so damn real.

The show dealt with sex and relationships, domestic abuse, betrayal and, yes, death. Everything in between. The scary and the funny and the dramatic and the exciting and the gross.

And the thing is, it made me – broken teenager on the verge of suicide me – it made me feel things. It made me feel all of the things I’ve already mentioned and a million besides. It connected with me, and I was obsessed. I was mocked for it – still am, sometimes (screw you, Steph!) – but I didn’t care. I’d found my thing and it mattered to me more than anything.

That thing is now twenty years old and still touching lives. How freaking crazy is that? THAT is what I aim for in my art. And that is what I am forever thankful to Joss Whedon for.

America

malcolm-reynolds-quoteSince I was a little kid, I’ve been kind of obsessed with the USA.

Most of the TV shows I watched with my brother, growing up, were American. Ergo, pretty much all of my pop culture references are American.

All my writing is in American English, most of it implicitly set in the states, because it just seemed natural to me.

It’s been my life-long dream to emigrate. To visit all the main cities and tourist sites, and to take a road trip down Route 66.

If I believed in reincarnation, I would have guessed I was American in a previous life.

But, well, that was before. This past week has killed a lot of my enthusiasm for the country, and – in case you can’t guess – I’ll tell you why, in two words: Donald Trump.

I’ve heard some people say he should be given a chance and that we shouldn’t condemn him yet, but the thing is, even if he never does a single one of the racist, misogynistic, homophobic things he promised? A great deal of the country I once loved voted him into power based on those promises. That is terrifying, and it says a hell of a lot about what those people think and feel.

I read about the attacks and hate crimes people have suffered just in the last few days, since some people felt validated in their hate by the result, and I’m disgusted. Horrified.

This is not the country I once fell in love with, and it’s certainly not something I want to be a part of.

My question to you, however, is this: if you live in the states, is this really how you see the nation becoming “great again”? And just what are you going to do about this injustice?

Don’t be quiet. Speak up. Speak out.

Let love guide you instead of fear, and let’s really get back to the liberty America’s supposed to be based on.