A couple of weeks ago I gave my non-fiction project (on Far East POWs) to a neighbour to read and got out my neglected novel Border Line. I’d had a four-month break from it and, as sometimes happens, this gave me the courage to make some radical alterations.
Now I needed someone with fresh, and ideally professional, eyes to read the changes. My options were limited. My writing friends, my other friends and even some relatives had read earlier drafts. I had already shelled out for Literary consultants (extremely useful but equally expensive). However, through blogging I had come across writer Sally Jenkins, who runs a critiquing service.
So I sent her my agent letter and altered synopsis. Following this I sent my first chapter (i.e. all the material I would be submitting to agents). In a remarkably short time, for a very reasonable fee (and I like that I could pay through BACS if I wanted), I received clear, concise, pertinent feedback. Sally also spotted a very important gap in my letter – I’d not mentioned a potential market or similar publication.
This has led me to do some hefty thinking as this is a question I have tried, and failed, to answer before. I know well that my writing crosses boundaries. In Border Line I have written a love story with topical issues (suicide and assisted dying). It is between literary and commercial in style, and readers for my previous two books have been both sexes and mixed ages. Mulling this over and looking at another writers’ website that Sally mentioned, I trawled through descriptions by agents of the types of books they liked. This helped me to focus, as did the fact that I will be talking to a reading group in the autumn about my earlier book Unseen Unsung.
So, I think that the mixture of love, adventure and topical issues would make Border Line ideal for reading groups. Thank you Sally, I shall go into battle again perhaps a little better armed than before.
You might think that after 25 rejections from agents I should be throwing in the towel. However these rejections included 4 requests for the full manuscript, one resulting in some very positive work with an agent. This, in psychological terms, is called random reinforcement, and encourages persistence, and anyway I am too bloody-minded to give up.
Excellent advice. And good luck!
Good luck Hilary – it’s amazing how a little positive reinforcement can motivate and cheer and show you the right direction to take!
Thanks, beautifulorange, Dina. It is heartening that my very ordinary struggles find echoes across the world.
Hi Hilary – I’m glad you found the critiques useful and fingers crossed for Border Line! I like the idea of defining it for reading groups.
I’m glad you feel that’s appropriate. I’ve talked to a few reading groups and always enjoyed their questions. I belong to two myself and although they have a very different tastes, the books that work tend to have that mixture of story and issues.