|No matter how good your book, many
publishers will not even put it on the slush pile (as non-requested
manuscripts are known and kept lying for months or even years at
a time) but send it straight back to you unless you have one, vital
component: an agent. This might sound strange but with thousands of
hopeful novels sent out every week, its a quick way of seeing whats
hot and whats not. For many publishers, an agent is there as a
filter system, as a quick way of seeing whats worth reading
because they often just dont have the time or resources to do it
all themselves. Kerith Biggs of Darley Anderson Literary Agents is a
crime writing agent but what is an agent? Its lots of
things. First of all, we try and sell the actual book to the publisher
so thats the starting point. We work editorially with a lot of our
clients so we dont just get things in and think, Oh, thats
not bad and send it out. We think very hard and take on just one
or two new clients a year and work on those editorially and then send
them out to the publishers. We try to send the book out to the right
editor, to the right publisher. Thats the first thing an agent
does. Then, hopefully, you go through the contract and see if there are
any unfriendly author clauses that have been slipped in, unfriendly
royalty clauses. You try and fight for your author that way. After the
contracts signed and sealed, you try to help out the author with
cover designs. Theres a battle again on the authors behalf
and then its continuing author support, seeing if their careers
doing well, if not, trying to help them organise publicity, that sort of
thing. Helping them to know where they can find an accountant to help
them out with that sort of thing. Basically, an all-round supporter.
What we do is we ask anyone who would like us as their agent to send us the first three chapters (not forgetting to enclose an SAE) and, if we like them, we ask to see more. Then, we generally ask to meet the author because you have to get on as its, hopefully, going to be a long-term relationship and both sides have to get on. It depends how much youve got on your plate and, if theres too much, you have to let promising writers try other agents and you know that, somewhere down the line, that persons going to be published but there just arent enough hours in the day sometimes. Im sure that there will be a big whoops sometime, it happens to all of us. It hasnt happened to me yet but Im sure it will sometime! Selling a book is really exciting. We encourage authors to do as much publicity for themselves as they can. We dont have a publicity arm but there are a lot of books out there and authors have to make their books stand out from all the rest. Some authors havent really thought about having to do their own publicity and its a bit daunting for them. I like to go to author events and its part for the fun of the job. And I like the agency authors. I dont see them very often so I take the chance when I can. I want to have one or two best sellers on my hands, the agency does have some already, and we do have authors who are doing exceptionally well but I want one of my authors to be on the top ten!
David Shelley, the Publishing Director at fast growing Allison and Busby, explained that theres no set formula to getting published but that it helps if youre writing the right type of book. Its the same as supermodels, one year it will be ones who want to be super thin and then it will be people like Sophie Dahl. Just like crime novels. At the moment its the psychological, more character-driven novels that are doing well but these things change so quickly. If its a work of genius, it will sell whatever. Assuming that its competently written, if its a humorous crime novel that stands in its way, a few, such as Peter Guttridge do it well but there seems to be a mood against them. In my own experience, I find it hard to sell them. Partly, people dont find crime amusing. You have to remember that, for large bookstores, theres a headquarters where a few people control what gets sorted in large quantities and this is happening more and more. If they decide thats not where their bookshop wants to go then they wont buy it and that whole sub-genre will fail.
Ghost crime as well is out. Anything with supernatural elements but who knows, next year there could be a huge best-seller that is a supernatural crime book and then suddenly supernatural will be in. Generally, publishing is a very reactive industry rather than proactive so everyone is going after the best-sellers. After Bridget Jones there were lots of similar books, after Andy McNab there were lots of boys war SAS books. Its very, very reactive because its not as profitable as the film or music industry and people have to be very careful if they want to carry on with what theyre doing. I think some of the very well written Miss-Marple style books are doing well. If you have a very uncomplicated character, a spinster with a cottage garden . . . I personally wont want to go anywhere near that. I love authors like Minette Walters who does the psychological thrillers so well. For me, whats interesting about crime novels is the characters that you go to sleep dreaming about. Especially with series that have about eight or nine books and you feel, after reading those books that youve got to know the person. Thats what Im really after, complexity of characterisation. To be honest, its quite lacking in a lot of crime novels. Character, plot and pace are important and dialogue often isnt done well in crime novels.
Im thinking of someone like Ed McBain who does lines and lines of dialogue and you dont really need a he said, she said because each voice has its own register, so its almost as though youre listening to each one as they talk, and you dont have to look at them. You know whos saying what. Its hard to do. I dont actually mind it when it is he said, she said. What I object to more is the he declared or he proposed, you know when the authors obviously making a big effort trying to vary what they say. Its important for the characters to have a recognisable voice. Dialogue is a difficult thing to do and people cant always get over what they hear. Its a very difficult skill to get over, pitch-perfect dialogue.
All the authors I particularly like have experience of what theyre writing about. Agatha Christie had experience of upper-middle class life. To be honest, there arent many crime authors who try to go outside what they know. I think that its totally true that you cant write things like northern noir if you come form a comfortable, middle-class background. Good writers have an instinctive sense that they must write what they know. Only very bad writers or some on the slush pile tend to write about something that they obviously know nothing about. Its much more common in bad writers than good writers. What makes a bad writer apart from that? They can write overlong, pretentious sentences or over short, snappy sentences that are actually just short, ridiculous sentences. They can use stock characters. Thats probably the most infuriating thing, straight out of central casting. Flawed but maverick policemen who have a troubled private life. Thats more depressing because its not just bad, its weak-willed writing. Not trying to do anything new at all and that seems more depressing to me that anyone would actually want to spend their time writing that stuff. Then there are the people who think that theyll just write about their boring lives and they dont have the skill of narrative to get behind the emotions or the bland exterior. When I like something, I definitely know it and Ill be on the phone right away. We take about a month and a half to let people know. We cant have stuff just sitting around the office so we go through it all about once a week. I read until Im bored and then I stop. I want to read something that Id buy myself. If I went into a bookshop and read a bit, then was bored, Id put it back on the shelf.
There is no easy way to getting published or maybe there is: perseverance. If you really believe in your book, then rewrite it. As many authors, agents and editors have admitted, there is no such thing as a finished book. Go and get an agent, if you want to be taken seriously but, if the first one doesnt want your book, then try again and again until you find one who does and good luck.
Nevada Barr on writing HUNTING SEASON plus an excerpt
Stark Contrasts Michael Carlson examines the pulp fiction of Richard Stark
Have you got what it takes to be a Writer? by Fiona Shoop
any budding writers out there do you want to
see your short story in print in SHOTS? It's easy. Just follow our
eleven point plan.
1.Start with a good letter which will convince us that you can write and that we want to read your story. A CV is not necessary but it's always useful to know if you've been published before
2.Stories should be crime-based ones (obvious but needs to be said) about 1,500-3,500 words long.
3.Remember the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. We receive hundreds of manuscripts and don't have time to correct all of them so make it easy for yourself but writing something readable
4.Don't forget to have clear paragraph breaks - it can be off-putting otherwise
5.Always check spellings - too many mistakes can lead to us not reading your work
6.Number pages and use a paperclip to secure them - it makes our life easier
7.Simultaneous submissions will not be considered. Why would we want to print something which another magazine is also publishing at the same time? But be honest and tell us if you have sent it to anyone else. We will consider your work promptly so there is no excuse for sending it to several magazines at once as far as we are concerned - it's bad business
8.Contemporary stories are the most popular with our readers so please don't try to be the new Chandler or base your work in an obscure era. We want to relate to what we're reading - and you'll stand more chance of being published if we do
9.Don't forget to have a strong plot and a strong pace with good characters. Short stories are difficult to write as you have to say so much in such a short space - look at previous examples in the magazine and on our website for ideas of what we expect
10.All work must be typed/printed on one side of the page only with few (if any) mistakes
11.Either e-mail your story to email@example.com or send it by post to Mike Stotter 189 Snakes Lane East, Woodford Green, Essex IG8 7JH UK enclosing an SAE (or with international reply coupons) - I'm afraid that we can't reply to anyone who doesn't do this
And Good Luck