I’ve just read a very interesting post in the Tart of Fiction blog, about the difficulties of being published. I left this comment:

I sent my first novel cold to publishers around 15 years ago. (It never even occurred to me to find an agent in those days.) The first sent it back in a matter of days (four!), the second kept it for 18 months before admitting that the paperback division wasn’t interested. The editor who wanted it, Neil Belton, suggested I get in touch with an agent. I did.

I was taken on, presumably on Belton’s recommendation. By this time, I’d written another novel and she tried to sell that one, without success. We parted company. Novels three and four were circulated to agents, once more without success (nibbles but no bites), and it wasn’t until two friends of mine who knew agents effectively introduced me that things changed. Both of them offered to represent me!

I made a choice, the wrong one as things turned out (for reasons I won’t go into here), and another novel did the rounds without being bought. Humbly, I went to the agent I’d previously turned down, and she agreed to take me on. Eighteen months and what must have been thirty or forty rejections (for its quietness) later, she sold novel No. 5 to Picador. It’s coming out in spring 2008.

The lessons? I’m not sure. The first is that I was picked out of a slush pile all those years ago and came damned close to being bought. So it can, or could, happen. The second is that the wrong agent is less than useless and the right one worth her weight in gold. The third is that no book will get published until it falls into the hands of the right editor. In my case, she’d turned the book down a year earlier and then, because she found herself thinking about it at odd moments, asked to see it again before making an offer. If the book had reached her without mediation, maybe she would still have bought it. But do books reach senior editors without mediation? I doubt it.

Interestingly, the whole commercial issue has only come to the forefront now, as we decide on the title and cover. My title – a quote from Shakespeare – was considered too quiet, apparently the biggest sin in mainstream publishing, and we’ve finally found an alternative with more zing that pleases us all sufficiently and has won the approval of the sales people. Now we have to decide on a cover! These, of course, are peripheral issues to the book itself.

Perhaps the most important lesson, to me at least, is that I kept writing.

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