How to screw up with a literary agent.

There’s no eloquent way to write this; I’ve screwed up. In the top ten things not to do when submitting work to a literary agent, I have naively committed at least three. That’s three screw-ups I may never get the opportunity to remedy. Like turning up late to a first date and smelling of BO.

Literary agents, with their 300+ submissions a week, do not have time for amateur cock-ups. Neither do they take too kindly to the author who is clearly inept and incapable of adhering to the very simplest of instructions. Such people are just irritants; like the incessant buzzing of an office fly.

So, how have I committed submission suicide? Here’s a list:

Firstly, my debut picture book is 800 words. It is 800 words as I clearly lack the ability to self-edit; to cut out the waffly crap that neither enhances the story nor keeps it trotting along at a racy pace.

800 words is far too long for a picture book. Everyone knows that, right? Nope, not this novice. This novice read somewhere that anywhere south of 1000 words is entirely acceptable. It isn’t. Whilst some freaky exceptions to this rule occur once every 750 years, picture books are usually 32 pages long and approximately 500 words. Generally. First screw-up in the bag.

Secondly, the manuscript I sent out to a sizeable clutch of literary agents was sent too early. Ignoring the advice of my writing mentor to, ‘put your story in a drawer for a month and come back to it with fresh eyes’, I earnestly sent out my work into the world prematurely.

I have since re-read the manuscript numerous times, and not only have I reduced the word count by half, but I have improved the entire story. Markedly. I thought it was fantastically hilarious initially, now I realise my first attempt was only a slight nudge away from mediocre.

I blame other people. My husband loved it. And my mum. And my most trusted friend in all matters wordy. Next time the naked manuscript sees no one until it is fully dressed in a beautifully bound and illustrated hardback. Darn you all and your loving words of encouragement.

Lastly, I have used language that is more appropriate for a Victorian child and not one enjoying the bedtime stories of 2014.

I was trying to be all high-brow and C.S Lewisy, who believed language should not be ‘dumbed down’ for children. Hell, that’s what a dictionary is for. But, with the number of parents reading to children at night in spiralling decline, it was plain stupid of me to include words such as ‘surreptitiously’ in a 5-7 years picture book. Who has the time to explain what that means? Sadly, not as many as I’d like.

So there it is. My mistakes laid bare in the hope others don’t make the same dumb errors. But what to do now? I’m in a awkward situation. Do I re-submit my work to the agents I initially contacted? Or, let it slide and send them my next picture book text? Do I send them my new book and mention the last one? Or, is it best to forget the first cock-up entirely?

Embarrassingly, an agent who rejected my manuscript will be meeting me for a 1-1 chat at the looming Winchester Writers’ Festival.

I booked an appointment with her before I’d sent her my work. Now I need to sit there for 15 minutes whilst she tells me my book is shite and I clearly know nothing about the children’s picture book market. Should I begin by telling her I messed up? Show her my new book? Or, take the inevitable feedback and slink away to a gloomy corner with the other no-hopers?

My latest picture book is 500 words, on the nose. It is going to stay resting on my hard drive for at least 30 days. Then I will re-read it 100 times, re-write it 100 times more and then, I may, just may, send it to an agent.


3 thoughts on “How to screw up with a literary agent.

  1. Good summary of how to improve next time. Avoid asking feedback from loved ones—can you smell the biased responses?

    Good luck with your resubmission!

  2. An example of how tough life is…. disappointing at times., keep going, your book was very funny and with a month locked away and 500 words who knows,…good luck xx

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