Sunday, 21 June 2015

Better Late Than Never

Hi everyone.

Are you having a relaxing Sunday afternoon or a busy one? I don't know what it is about Sundays but I always find it harder to "kick-start" my working day on a Sunday more than any other day of the week.

Last time I blogged about how to cope if you are waiting to hear back from an agent or publisher. I did try to take my own advice (honestly!) but it wasn't that easy. However, I did eventually get a response, although not quite the one I was hoping for.

The good news is that the agent I approached thinks that my book based on the letters I inherited from my grandmother and with a strong link to the TV series Downton Abbey, could be a potential bestseller. (He actually used the word 'bestseller' twice in the email he sent me!) Of course, I do appreciate that this is only his opinion but I was still pretty chuffed, to say the least. The bad news is that he didn't feel able to represent me, so it's back to the Writers' & Artists' Yearbook to continue my quest.

Also on the theme of 'waiting', I finally had a poem published in a small press magazine almost exactly three years (yes, three years!) to the day since it was accepted for publication. I know that the wheels grind very slowly in this industry but that did seem quite a long time. However, it's so long since I've had anything published that I didn't really mind. Also, it is my 40th published poem which feels like a bit of a milestone.

I don't very often share my poems on my blog but when I realised I was writing this post on Father's Day and that this poem happens to be about my late father, I decided to make an exception. It's so long since I wrote it that I can't really remember how it all came together but I think I wanted to have a go at writing a 'prose poem' as I'd never really tried one before. The subject matter came from the thought that I was (and still am) very puzzled by the fact that having had our kitchen invaded by swarms of ants for many years, after my father died very suddenly ("my eggshell day"), they stopped coming and have never come back since, even though it is now over seven years since he passed away.

So here is the poem.


The ants came in their hundreds
the year before you left. It was as if
someone banged a huge ant drum,
calling them towards half-opened bottles
of lemonade, lids kissed with rinds
of blackcurrant jam and ancient cubes of sugar.
They took scant notice of the plugs I put down,
cotton-wool balls soaked in peppermint oil,
making the kitchen smell like a giant polo mint.
But since then, not one single ant has graced me
with its presence. It's as if they saluted
your cigar smoke, scuffed their feet across the sticky
kitchen floor and tossed their antennae carelessly
in the direction of my eggshell day.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2015

(First published in The Coffee House magazine.)

Clifford John Beck (1926 - 2007)

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Waiting Game

Hi everyone.

My mother used to say that the day I stopped having a "new system" was the day she would start worrying about me. A familiar phrase of mine is indeed "I've got a new system" which usually means I've come up with some grand scheme or plan which I'm convinced is going to be the answer to all my problems, as well as the life, the universe and everything in between.

Well, I'm pleased to say that I have a "new system" for this blog
which means you should (if the system works) be hearing from me on a slightly more regular basis. We shall see.

A couple of weeks ago I posted a writing tweet (melissawriter95) which implied that "cold-calling" an agent was more scary than wrestling a shark. OK, maybe that is a slight exaggeration but then, I've never wrestled a shark. However, I have "cold-called" an agent and very scary it was too, although to be fair I did only get to speak to their PA which was probably more piranha fish than shark.

By then, I thought I'd done the hard bit. This was three months of very intensive work on the proposal and sample copy  for my non-fiction book based on the letters I inherited from my grandmother with a strong Downton Abbey connection, followed by sixteen hours of non-stop editing and proofreading (Don't try this at home.) and then the scary phone call. That however, seems to have been a slice of Battenberg compared with what I'm having to do now which is wait for the agent to respond to the proposal and the sample copy.

I must admit that in some corner of my mind (do minds have corners?) I was rather hoping that the agent would call back within 24 hours, tell me that my submission was the best thing they'd ever seen and that they were now going to make me incredibly rich and famous. I don't know why I thought that as I've been trying (on and off) to get an agent for more years than I've been trying to get the body of Kate Moss and neither of those events has happened yet.

It's just that I'm convinced that for once in my life I actually have something that is so unique, so original and above all such an absolute belter of a story that no publisher in their right mind would turn it down. After all, how many people open their mother's wardrobe one day and find a huge cache of letters and postcards which turn out to have been written by someone with (among other things) an incredible insight into the workings of the real-life family on which the most popular TV series of the last decade is based?

Of course, a quick flick through the articles in the Writers' & Artists' Year Book, not to mention a perusal of all my previous rejection letters from agents reminded me that in the "real" world someone may take a rather different view. On the other hand, they may not and it is entirely possible that just because I haven't heard anything positive from them yet, doesn't mean I'm not going to. After all, no news is good news and all that.

Meanwhile, if you are also playing "the waiting game" with your precious manuscript or proposal, here are my tips for keeping sane.

1. Take a complete break from the project for at least a week after you've sent it out. Better still, take a break from writing altogether and go and do something else for a few days. I hear that shark wrestling can be very exhilarating.

2. Start a new writing project or go back to working on something that you've been neglecting while all your time and energy has been focused on your submission.

3. Resist the temptation to sit by the phone 24/7 in the hope that the agent might call. Go out for a long walk. Watch the TV with the volume turned up so you can't hear the phone. Hide your mobile under a cushion. If they really want to get in touch, they'll call again.

4. Whatever you do, don't start rewriting/editing the work you've already sent out. However good it is, you will immediately suffer a complete crisis of confidence and drive yourself mad wishing you'd written this or not written that. If you really feel you need to make changes, at least wait until you've had a response from them.

5. Try not to get annoyed if you haven't heard back from the agent within what you consider to be a "reasonable" amount of time. Despite the enormous groundswell of people self-publishing, agents are still inundated with submissions and they do sometimes need to come up for air.

6. Don't feel that it will be the end of the world if this particular agent rejects your work, for whatever reason. In the grand scheme of things, it isn't really that important (yes, I know!) and of course, there are always plenty more sharks (sorry, fish) in the sea.

I promise I'll keep you posted.

Waiting For
by George Hodan