I previously wrote about how I am submitting Eugenica to literary agents and so it should come as no surprise to discover that I have had my first rejection; well a few of them actually. Rejection is to be expected in the literary world, it happens to practically everyone including the most successful of writers. Armed with this knowledge and previous experience of submitting by books The War Wolf and For Rapture of Ravens I feel reasonably armoured against the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune.
Actually of the very few rejections that I have received for Eugenica most have been concise and in the form a ‘thanks but no thanks’ and a couple have encouraged me to keep on trying. One I received very recently struck me quite forcibly however. I was thanked for making my submission but as the agent had to feel passionate about their work they did not feel that they could take my book on.
A literary agent has to feel passionate about a book before they take it on? Right. Okay, I understand that feeling passionate about your work generally means that you are in the right job for you. People who feel passionate about what they do generally work harder and longer and go that extra mile. That is a good thing. In fact to have such a literary agent would probably increase the chances of an author’s success – and here comes the inevitable but!
What about the author? What about the passion felt by the writer for their work? In my case it is my passion that drove me to spend over a year researching a contentious subject, dredging up my own experiences of being a subject of medical science, of writing and re-writing and editing and compiling and all the other aspects of writing that most readers do not even know goes on. I feel passionate about the story that is encompassed in Eugenica, that passion is one of the driving forces that has gotten me to the end of the project. It is the same passion that is going to drive me beyond the actual writing when the manuscript is finished, polished and submitted for publishing – probably on Kindle – and I need to start the publicizing of the book. There is still a lot work to be done and then, because I am passionate about what I do, I will start of my next novel.
You may be thinking at this point that I am just having a whinge, just a sorry little complaint about how unfair life is but actually I am not. The literary agent is, to all intents and purposes, a facilitator. They represent the writer to publishers and if they have a reputation then they can secure a publishing contract in most instances. They are necessary because publishers rarely go looking for new authors themselves. They exist to make money by getting authors published with hopefully the same success as enjoyed by J. K. Rowling, who also experienced several rejections in her time. If a literary agent feels passionate about what they are doing then that is good but it is a different kind of passion to that which inspires a writer.
Writing is difficult and good writing even more so. There are hacks and there are authors. The hack writes for money and does not care about what they produce. The author, and here I am dependent upon my own motivations, writes because they have a story to tell. The quality of the end product is important. The response of the reader is important. The feeling of having created something worthwhile is very important. A good author weaves their passion into their story. Many readers can perceive within the text the author’s commitment to what they have written.
When it comes to submitting a manuscript to a literary agent the author’s passion for his work is not required to be demonstrated. What they want is a covering letter giving a brief portrait of the author, a synopsis of the book of varying length between 1 to 2 pages depending on the agent’s whim, and the first 3 chapters.
Now I said that a good author weaves their passion into their story so it might be considered reasonably to expect that it would surface somewhere in the submission material would it not? Well, to a degree. A novel is a big work, on average 70,000 words; Eugenica is approximately 160,000 words. Irrespective of the length a story is not linear, that is, it does not flow at the same pace throughout its telling. There are emotional highs and lows, tension is developed, twists are introduced, characters develop, themes arise, conflicts resolved, ideas explored, and the various strands of the plot woven together for the climactic conclusion. If all this happened in the first 3 chapters then it would be a very short book!
As people we do not express our passion for something in one continuous gushing outpouring of emotion and activity; it would leave us drained very quickly. Similarly an author’s passion for their work is not maintained at a single level throughout the story that they are telling. This is because the book as a finished article cannot possibly contain all of the passion that went into its creation. There is passion also in the more mundane aspects of writing, in the stylesheet, the back-stories of the key characters, the research, the copious notes, the illustrations (something that I do), the workbook that contains key dates, observations, notes, the timeline, the first draft, and so much more flotsam and jetsam, the long hours spent alone, the missed meals and drinks because you are working on a key point or simply so lost in the world that you have created that you do not notice the day passing by. None of this is seen by the literary agent who passionately turns up for work in office hours and then goes home again.
I know that there are practical obstacles to literary agents finding good authors as they are, apparently, swamped by submissions, however, if passion is to be a criteria for the agent taking on a book then should it not also be one for considering the author? Being a reader as well as a writer I know when a book has been written by someone who has a feel for their subject matter. There is a depth to a book that is written by someone who is motivated to inspire a reaction from their reader and a shallowness to a text that was written just for the sake of writing something. Perhaps if a literary agent wants to be passionate about a book before they take it on to sell to publishers they should take the time to discover just how passionate the author is about their work, something that I think cannot be captured in a brief covering letter, an even briefer synopsis and rarely in the first 3 chapters.