Friday, March 8, 2013

I am inadequate

Do you ever feel inadequate?

Well I do. I've just spent several days trawling through The Writers and Artists Yearbook and checking out the websites of literary agents with a view to making a list of who might be a suitable agent for my book. Sadly, the words "comedy" and "humour" didn't appear that often. In fact, it transpired there was more chance of me emptying my laundry basket (which hasn't been empty since the 1987) than coming across than the words "humour" and "comedy" in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence.

Anyway, as a result of my search I feel hopelessly inadequate. Like those times you go to the swimming pool wearing one of those costumes with the tummy control panel and just as you're entering the water in a dignified manner some bright young thing dives in wearing a white bikini and splashes water in your face.

So why do I feel inadequate? It's the fact that most of the literary agents had degrees in English from posh places like Cambridge or MAs in creative writing or even a wacky literature course from a top American university. Some agents even had two or three of these suitably impressive qualifications. So by the time I'd worked my way through all their biographies I felt suitably demeaned, like I'd been called before the headteacher to explain why I've only got a BA in History from Bangor University and not a first class degree from some ancient seat of learning.

So I should explain that Bangor University is in Wales. Remote Wales. It's in the middle of a small town surrounded by sheep, hills and some very lonely farmers.( I've no evidence, it's just hearsay of course.) When I tell people I went to Bangor University they usually respond by saying:

"Oh Bangor! I love Ireland, it's such a lovely place. The Irish are such wonderful people."

To which I reply:

"Not Bangor in Ireland, Bangor in Wales. The Bangor where people spray spit over you when they tell you it's only fifty miles to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch."

To which they reply:

"Oh. Well, never mind, that song Day Trip to Bangor was great!"

To which I reply:

"Yes, wasn't it." (Internal sigh.)

And then there's the fact my degree is in History, not English and that makes me feel inadequate too. My degree (specialising in the Tudor Navy) qualifies me to write a book about... precisely nothing. Except perhaps some rotten planks of wood lying off the coast of Portsmouth harbour.

In fact, the truth is I can remember sod all about History. It was twenty seven years ago. I can vaguely recall there was some talk of some kings and queens, a few battles (one lasted for hundred years which must have been the medieval equivalent to listening to a Justin Bieber song) and a lot of public hangings. Unfortunately, I now can't remember what I cooked for dinner yesterday, so the chance of remembering enough facts to write a historical masterpiece is absolute zero. I have every admiration for Hilary Mantel. God knows how she does it but I'm sure it involves a lot of Valium.

So getting back to my lack of English knowledge, my last experience of English Literature in the formal sense was at A Level which was so hideously boring and analytical I chose history instead at degree level. You see, in the 1980s schools were big in analysing to death certain books - which is why whenever I see a copy of The Grapes of Wrath I get a panic attack.

However, giving up English Literature has now proved a big mistake. Because I can't cozy up to those learned literary agents over tea and biscuits and chat about important stuff like Marlow's metaphors or Voltaire's verbs. The best I could say about Voltaire is that he probably wore big pants.

So you see, Readers, I feel slightly pathetic that I haven't written some great academic or literary masterpiece that I can lure all these highly educated agents into giving me a contract. What chance have I peddling my raucous proletarian comedy? I fear the only hope I'd have in conversation with an agent is if I steer them onto some of my other more glorious achievements, establish a rapport and talk myself into a book deal.

So if I am to succeed in talking my way into a contract I need a topic of conversation that I'm knowledgeable about and at least partially qualified to talk about and which an agent is also likely to have some knowledge. At the moment I'm thinking swimming is a safe option as I have a bronze medal from school in it and most children learn to swim, even bookish ones. I reckon I could easily impress any agent with my knowledge of breast stroke and the fact I can pick up a brick from the bottom of a pool in my PJs. What's more, I'm fairly certain I could talk at length about the moral dilemmas of Michael Phelps peeing in his trunks.

So how does one actually hook an agent? I've no idea. If you've any ideas please do let me know!


  1. How to hook an agent.

    Write in the following genres:

    1} Y.A.

    2} chick lit.

    3} romance.

    4} something in the same vein as "Vampire Diaries" or "Twilight"

    Everything else to an agent these days is garbage.

    In my personal opinion, the best course of action is to query publishers (small to medium sized) directly.

    If you're really intent on landing an agent though, bypass the ones in the U.K. and try the ones in the U.S.

    They're not wound as tight as the ones in your country, especially since no one really touches the literary genre here except very small presses and colleges/universities.

  2. G, here's my thoughts:

    1 YA - no
    2 chick lit -no
    3 romance - no
    4 Vampire, no, no and no again:)

    It's a tricky one, G. My book isn't going to be an easy one to sell (as it's none of the above) so I think I really need an experienced but open minded agent who kinda falls in love it and would pull out all the stops to get it published. If the book wasn't so obviously "British" I would definitely try an American publisher (I have had one enquiry from a US publisher but they were interested in romance) so I think my humour may have some appeal abroad.I suppose I need to find out if there are American publishers who sell to the UK first, rather than the other way around. I never really thought of that...something to look into I suppose. I might query some small independents in the UK as well.There are a few good ones...

    Anyway, now I'm relaxing, I haven't forgotten I owe you a read and a review:)

  3. You could target the chick lit people. You have to relate it to something that is already popular. So how about pitching it as "Miranda meets menopause" (even if it's not that...)

  4. Hmm... you're right, Mrs A. Good thinking. I do have to relate it a genre otherwise agents may not even get passed my covering letter. I need to think about my "pitch" very carefully. There's probably not much point trying to pitch it as something entirely different or original bearing in mind that's not what publishers look for in genre publishing. I need to hook someone first...


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