Monday, September 11, 2006

Conf 248: The Agony and The Ego

Toby Young from Friday's Evening Standard:

'Whenever I hear about actors complaining about having to deal with constant rejection, I always thinks 'you should try being an author.' Actors only have to get over one hurdle - the audition - whereas authors have to run the gauntlet of rejection. First you have to submit a book proposal to your agent, then, assuming it gets the thumbs up, it does the rounds of various publishing houses. In the unlikely event of getting a book deal, you have to write the manuscript - and then face the possibility that your editor won't like it. Even if it's published, you have to await the verdict of the critics - and they are nothing like as hard to please as the general public. The probability of getting through all these hoops and ending up with a bestseller is vanishing-to-zero.'

Whilst agreeing there is widespread post-publication depression awaiting most authors who do finally make it into print, followed by the zig zag of having then to impress the agents and publishers with their next effort, not too unlike getting into print in the first place, I've always thought we have it a bit better than actors who have to physically turn up and look rejection right in the eye, as it were, time and time again. You can also remain anonymous.

I'm sometimes asked why I'm not 'me' here, and plugging the books and newspaper articles for all they're worth. The reason for this is so that I can write about my clamberings to get back on the publication ladder without jeopardising my writing with my blog, or, it must be said, vice versa. After a recent run-in with a literary agent, so awful I haven't been able to blog about it, where I inadvertantly upset said agent, I have upped the anonyminity stakes and no longer reproduce rejection letters. Most e-mails now have privacy disclaimers which means you could get into trouble for doing so. This is just a bit of tea break fun here, the last thing I want to to is upset anybody, not least myself.

Talking of agents, I received a very welcome comment from Susan Hill on my last posting:

'Agents are not God. Remember, they don`t stand to lose any money on you - well, a bit of postage; publishers put up real serious money and take the risk of losing it. Agents just want to earn 15% of you. And each agent is an individual so what they say about your book is one person`s opinion each time. Just like reviewers.
Publishers, oddly enough, tend to agree.. when a really good book comes up for grabs out there, they all want it... or at least enough of them to make it more likely they are right than wrong

I was very pleased to hear from her. Her advice in The Agony and Ego helped me in my writing. She is, in fact, the only author I ever quoted in the talks I gave to my old college students. It's this bit:

"Don't look down. That's the trick. I never do. And as for the dull bits, I realized, with even more glee quite some years ago.. ... the novelist can do anything, is all powerful. As the child says at age 4 or 5 "you can't make me do anything I don't want to". It's as true for the novelist. I simply do not have to do the chorse, write the dull bits. I leave them out. Leave the reader to make huge leaps. And the best thing of all is that is works far, far better. It is boring to read a book in which we are made to plod anxiously all the way from A to B. Even more boring to write one. Hop, skip and jump, like Alice over the hedges bewteen the chess squares. Simple.

Heady stuff. Writing is. Gets more so. That's why. That's all, really.

Otherwise I would not dream of doing it. Not even for ready money.'

Bye bye, thanks for visiting, come again soon.


Alias Lucy Diamond said...

Ooh - great comment. Must copy that one for my noticeboard. Susan Hill is a legend!

Julia said...

Great post. Sorry to hear about your 'run in'. It's really crappy when someone gets upset over something you did unintentionally and innocently - especially when it's someone you really need on your side. I have my foot almost permanently in mouth, so I know what that feels like! Hope you managed to patch things up OK.

Elizabeth Baines said...

It's also true of publishers (ie that they can make mistakes and overlook genius). I recently went to a talk by an agent who reminded us that not only did 'every agent in London' turn down the Booker-winning and best-selling 'Life of Pi', but 'every London publisher' too. (It was eventually published by Canongate, of course.) And it's not the only book with this kind of history. Watership Down,We Need to Talk About Kevin... The list goes on. Rejection can happen to the best!

Amanda Mann said...

Thanks Lucy D and thanks for the empathy, Julia. Have just had coffee with a friend and we were talking about how shocking it is when someone comes at you, firing with fury, totally out of the blue when you have utterly no idea it's going to happen. My friend's attack was from a family member, which will take much more getting over. And, yes, rejection is something to get through, Elizabeth. I always think it's a training ground for bad reviews, which REALLY hurt! I didn't know Life of Pi was one of them, though, and am astonished. I read it just this summer.