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Long melancholy tragi-horror

When Little Black Dress offered me a two book deal, the contract specified only that the second book should be a ‘short, funny romance’.

At the time, I had already started another novel. However, since Revenge of the Cow is a long, melancholy tragi-horror, I postponed it and started a book that featured more boners.

That covered the romance.

‘About Time’ is a sequence of snapshots over an extended period, narrated by both the male and female protagonists.

“Oh my goodness,” said my agent, when I told him I was writing half the book from a male perspective. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea. Maybe you could write his sections in omniscient pluperfect. Or . . . something..”

Indeed, for a long time I wondered whether I could pull it off. I’ve always considered my humour fundamentally female, deriving as it does from exaggeration and dramatic over-statement; and Conn’s personality was the precise opposite. Although I had a clear idea of Conn’s character (highly intelligent but pathologically incapable of normal social interaction), getting his ‘voice’ right – the clipped sentences and formal structure – was an arduous process that felt entirely unnatural at the outset.

At least my sense of humour was ideally suited to Lara’s free-spirited character with an uncanny ability to pick emotional wankers.

The story is about the concept of fate or destiny as opposed to free will/choice.

Also, of course, boners.

I’m not going to get a chance to post over the next couple of days, but in the meantime here’s an excerpt from About Time. I hope you enjoy it.

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Cosmic prank

When I completed Smart/Casual in early 2007, it was 90,443 words long and most comfortably described as ‘Chick Lit’ (or ‘Clit Lit’ as my buddy JohnO likes to call it, the cheeky spank meister).

By that stage, I was sick of the sound of my own voice. If any of my characters had walked through the door, I would have attacked them with a frozen chicken with an unseemly amount of bloody relish. 

I nearly did not submit Smart/Casual at all. Whenever I read through it, all I could see were the flaws. And after all, I had learned so much from the process of writing it; and my second book would be better. Yes, definitely.

Also, I was a little bit terrified.

But whenever friends asked how the writing was coming along and I said with as much enthusiasm as I could dredge up: ‘Well, I’ve finished my first book, and – hey! Guess what? I’ve started on the second!’, it proved to be rather a conversation stopper. People didn’t see the point – and after a while, I rather lost sight of it myself.

So I decided to submit. Good experience etc; and I might get some feedback as to the degree of my literary delusion.

One of the greatest leaps for me was to view Smart/Casual as a product and the submission as a pitch, rather than my precious baby and a personal vendetta respectively. I focussed on the first six chapters and, with the assistance of various kind members of Litopia and Bookshed, ensured they were as fabulous as possible without doing serious damage to my brain.

I did a load of reading about the submissions process: recommended layout, what agents look for, what makes them snarl. An invaluable resource was Miss Snark, a blog offering advice from a literary agent’s perspective. I read pretty much every archived entry, took note, and winced at all the mistakes I’d been planning to make.

Then I went through Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, picking out agents that specialised in chicklit/ humourous fiction/ general fiction. I prioritised agents who accepted email submissions, since I lived in Dubai at the time and organising SASEs was problematic (I actually ordered £300 worth of stamps from Royal Mail, but they got lost in the post 🙂

In most instances, the W&A Yearbook provided explicit submission guidelines. I customised each submission EXACTLY. First three chapters? Here they are count ‘em. Font Times New Roman point size 700? One letter per page, coming up. Every fourth word to be ‘ostrich’? Not a problem.

There were only seven agents who accepted email submissions in Smart/Casual’s genre. Over two years later, I am still awaiting a response from two and received form letters from another two. BUT three wrote back and asked to see the full manuscript.

Of these, one never got back to me. Another responded six months later with a rejection. However, she wrote a terrific, thoughtful email on why she passed, and asked me to bear her in mind for my next book.

The agent who offered to represent me was Peter Buckman, of the Ampersand Agency. Within two days of my query, he responded asking to see the full manuscript. Within a week of receiving the manuscript, he offered to represent me.

Although Peter requested a significant overhaul, representation was conditional only on my accepting his revision requests – i.e. he signed me before I completed the revisions. He was proactive, responsive and encouraging throughout the entire process.

I completed the ‘final’ edit in August 2007 and Peter started sending Smart/Casual to publishers. The responses trickled in; first rejection came in November, followed by . . . oh look, it’s still too depressing. One said my voice was ‘angry and caustic’, which I would have accepted as a compliment – except it was a rejection.

Most of the publishers were kind enough to give feedback on why they passed. Whilst all liked my writing/’voice’, most had issues with the plot (could see the twists a mile off when they weren’t focussed on the holes etc).

Finally, in early 2008 we got an offer from Little Black Dress Books, for a two book deal.

Although it is all tremendously exciting, there are still times I feel like the subject of a great, cosmic prank

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