Monday, July 26, 2010

But I told you last year that I loved you - The good news and the bad news

publication day 009

the good news: My third book – But I told you last year that I loved you - is written and ready to go, and my critical readers all think it is better than my others.

the bad news: I don’t have a publisher. For various reasons, I parted company with the publisher of my first two books, and I have been trying for a long time to get a literary agent, as these days, publishers will not look at novels unless they are submitted through an agent. I had lots of responses from agents who said they liked my writing, my characters, my dialogue, etc, etc, that I was a very accomplished writer, etc, etc, but they were not going to offer to take me on “in this current climate.” That phrase was a mantra at the end of all their letters. The recession has hit publishing like every other section of the British economy. Publishers are publishing fewer novels, and there is a common phrase in literary papers - “death of the midlist.” The mid-list is my home.

the good news: In April I got an email from a top agent saying:

I’ve read it and I love it. I think you're a wonderful writer and the novel is lovely - clever, funny, subtle, wry, sad and uplifting all at once. I ADORE Sol.

I think it needs a bit more work, though, a bit more of a journey, more of a challenge for Fran before she gets to where she should be. And I also think it won't be easy to sell this quiet, delicately nuanced novel in which nothing much (other than Life!) happens in our current horrible publishing landscape.

So I talked to the agent – who was very professional, and very enthusiastic about my book, and who knew my minor characters by name! – and she said that because fewer books are being published, publishers are no longer interested in books that appeal to sets of people. They want big hitters and nothing else. She said she had submitted 33 novels to publishers this year – novels she really believed in - and she had only sold 10. That’s how terrible the current climate is in publishing.

So, she said I needed to make my novel more dramatic. (it is difficult to explain this fully without telling you about what happens in it and spoiling it for you when you eventually get to read it.) So I tweaked the novel in response to most of her reservations, but I did not make the big change she was looking for, to make the plot sufficiently gut-wrenching. I could not think of a way to do it that was true to my characters or my idea of the story.

reading 2

the bad news: The agent says that she cannot sell it to an editor as it is. This does not mean that there will not be people out there who want to read my book, just that the publishers will not make squillions out of it so they’re not going to bother publishing it.

I respect the agent’s professional judgment, which means I have to think again – can I do what she wants? Can I change it in the way she wants and retain the integrity of my novel? At present I don’t think I can. But I will continue to ponder on this.

the good news: Dave and I could publish the book ourselves as it is – the way I am happy with it.

the bad news: The marketing would be difficult. We could sell it on Amazon, but probably not through every bookshop in the land.

the good news: if I am self-publishing, I can produce the book EXACTLY as I want it. I can choose the cover! (In case you didn’t know, an author rarely decides on the cover of her book. I hate the cover of Zuzu’s Petals. Who the hell is that vapid-looking bimbo in the hat supposed to be?)

So there you are – that was the bad news I got on Wednesday night when the rabbit bounced onto the blog. Oh, but I do love it that I have written a “delicately nuanced” novel.

Comments welcome.


Diane said...

Oh, such a shame that publishing is so tough right now, I'm sure a few years ago your book would have been snapped up. Can you try writing the change and see how it feels?

If you do go down the self-published route, Catherine Ryan Howard ( has loads of great info about the tools (for making and marketing) she recommends.

Either way, I wish you luck, and hope to read your third book before too long :)

- Diane

Sue Hepworth said...

Thanks, Diane. The agent herself said she could have sold my book a few years ago.
I am considering the change required, but I am also energetically investigating self-puiblishing, so thanks for the link.