Good morning - all aliens and dragons are welcome. Today, we have a guest post from Stuart Atkinson, who is a frustrated martian from Kendal. He is in the process of that stomach-turning event that all authors go through to get their stories published - SUBMITTING a novel to Agents. So calling all agents, calling all agents, you really do have the power to move earth and stars (in the literary sense) and secure this book.
This is a great post if you are about to go through a similar process yourself. Equally, for those who have been through the process, you may have some tips that you can share with others through this post or social media. We all look forward to your thoughts and comments. Thank you all for reading and enjoy your day.
“I Submit! I Submit!”
In the centre of a large empty hall, with tables and chairs stacked up against its walls, a group of people is seated in a circle. One stands up hesitantly, searching the faces around him for understanding and compassion. They smile back at him reassuringly, feeling his torment. They’ve all been there. They know the pain he’s going through. After taking a deep breath he speaks.
“My name is Stuart Atkinson… I’m a writer… and I’ve just submitted my novel manuscript to Agents…”
I’m what’s popularly known now as a science writer. I’ve had ten children’s astronomy books of my own published and worked on dozens more as a consultant and editor. I love teaching kids about space in print almost as I love standing in front of a jabbering, gremlin-like horde of them at the front of a classroom and teaching them in person. But I’ve always wanted to write fiction – to be what my mum and many of my friends call “a proper writer” - and last March, as the Covid tsunami began to roll around the world I decided I’d finally do it: I’d write my novel.
So instead of baking banana bread and living on Zoom I spent the previous year doing just that. It was hard finding quality writing time when I wasn’t either writing features for astronomy magazines and websites or working long shifts at a Care Home, first fighting to keep the virus outside its walls and then trying to save as many lives as possible when it finally breached our defences, but I kept at it, I wrote for a year and, contrary to everything I’d heard, I enjoyed it! I built a world I loved and populated it with characters I looked forward to spending time with. I was amazed by the way they had somehow developed and grown when I was away from them. I loved writing my novel! Where was all the weeping and wailing I’d been warned about?
Then the Editing began, and the weeping and wailing began.
I sought advice from two trusted writing friends and was told my beloved, work-of-genius MS had too many characters and its descriptions were too detailed. Oh, and one more thing: I had to lose 30,000 of its 100,00 brilliant words, cutting it by a third.
I was aghast. I had thought editing would be done with a scalpel - a nick here, a small cut there - but they were telling me I had to fire up a chainsaw and attack my story like it was an overgrown garden or a diseased tree. But I trusted them and their honesty so I did it. I removed some of those characters I’d fallen in love with; they just… vanished from the world I had created as if I’d gone back in time in the TARDIS and killed their grandparents. I hacked away at dialogue and descriptions like Indiana Jones trying to find a lost temple in an overgrown jungle. And it hurt. I resented every tap of the Delete key.
But they were right. When I read it back, v9 of my MS was better. It was as if my original story, fat and bloated with double decker word-burgers and drunk on its own grandeur, had been taken into Rehab on a stretcher and come out leaner, sleeker and fitter, with all its fat trimmed away, eating salad.
But now it was time to take the next step. Writing the novel had been hard, but I knew that having finally reached publishing Base Camp I couldn’t just sit in my tent and listen to the wind howling outside. I had to go out and set off for the mountain.
It was time to Submit To Agents.
I took another two months preparing. Ignoring the disapproving glares of my cat I spent hours going through the Children’s Writers and Artists Yearbook like I used to go through the toy section of my mum’s catalogue as a kid, circling the Agents I wanted to approach; with bookshops shut I spent even more hours online, researching which Agents represented the writers who wrote stories like mine; I put out appeals on social media asking for recommendations; I wrote, re-wrote and re-wrote again my synopsis, covering letter and three line “elevator pitch”. I did everything They say you have to do if you’re to even have a chance of getting an Agent to read the second paragraph of the first of your three sample chapters…
Eventually, I was done. Everything was in place. I couldn’t put it off any longer.
I took a day off work and set aside the whole day just to submit my MS to Agents. That sounds very grand but it essentially involved just writing and sending lots of emails, attaching my “submission package” to them, checking everything was just right again and again before taking a deep breath and hitting Send.
And it was terrifying. My story was out there now. It didn’t belong to me anymore; other people were going to read it. I actually felt slightly ill. But it was done.
Now the waiting. Most of the Agents I submitted to warned that a response would probably take “up to 12 weeks” – which seems like a long time to me but that’s just the way it works – so I’ve started writing another novel; I can’t just sit here waiting for replies to come in, I’ll go mad…
Speaking of replies, I don’t expect replies from all the Agents I submitted to. Past experience suggests perhaps 2/3 will get back to me, which is frustrating (and rude, I think) but it’s a comfort to know that any day now an email will drop into my Inbox from an Agent gushing about my story, asking me if they can have an exclusive read of the whole manuscript and letting me know that my sample chapters excited Steven Spielberg so much he wants to buy the film rights. That’s what happens next, right?
Wish me luck!
Stuart Atkinson - “Maja’s Dragon” out on submission.
"A Cat’s Guide to The Night Sky” If you look up at the sky on a dark night, what do you see? There's a whole universe staring back at you. In the company of Felicity the cat, discover the phases of the moon, the constellations, and how to spot the Northern Lights and the Milky Way. You can buy HERE