The Search for a Literary Agent

Searching for a Literary Agent is a bit like looking for your home in a snow storm. Why ‘home’? Because I am looking for an agent who fits me—who enjoys my writing and connects with me and wants to promote my work; the kind of agent who would feel comfortable at my place, and enjoy my company and conversation. For the textbook I wrote, the agent (and publisher) was professional, yet warm, and had a sense of purpose with humour. I liked that and it helped me stay on track and meet deadlines. Do I have an agent for my new book? Not yet, but I am hopeful for one soon. You, dear follower, will be the first to know! Meanwhile, I keep looking, which involves researching potential agents—looking up their profiles and youtube videos and twitter accounts, etc. to find the right fit. More on agent searching soon!

The Word Count?

Nothing counts like word counts. As a general rule, I am against generalities about word counts. But publishers and, more critically, the readers are not—they have preferences and expectations which we, as writers, would be fools to ignore!

My readers of 3 WISE MEN commented on how much they enjoyed the short chapters—ones that left them hanging and wanting more. Short chapters help a fast—paced thriller or suspense novel. For me, a very short chapter is around 400 words and the longest about 1400 words. That is, between two and five pages.

I have on my desk a copy of ‘The Icarus Agenda‘ by Robert Ludlum. At over 630pp, it weighs about the same as an iPad. You could use this hardback to defend yourself on a dark night! What’s more, the language is very descriptive, and the opening scene takes the reader around the whole compass in describing the Gulf of Oman. OK, Ludlum may have appealed to readers a few years ago, but modern readers have less patience? Publishers, et al, suggest that a book should be as long as the story requires, along with the following guidelines:

  • Literary and epic fantasy: 100-120K
  • Crime, Romance, Horror, Comedy etc: 70-90K
  • YA and Erotica: 50-70K
  • Novellas: 20-40K

So, what is the personal sweet spot for my two thrillers? The first draft of 3 WISE MEN was around 68000 words. The revisions upped this to 90000 words. Fierce editing dropped it back to around 75000 words and the final revision, with an added chapter, finished at 83000 words. By this time, I was very happy that the story had been told, and rounded off, in the way I wanted it to be.

With my new novel, I considered reader feedback and did the tough editing, etc. This process dropped the word count from around 76000–>74000, which I was happy with. Did I regret the loss of these 2000 words? Not at all. In fact I believe it is a better read now, with very few ‘fill’ words. My final edit included some additional material and finished at 78000 words. The extra material added interest to the plot and I felt happier with this final draft. Now I await a literary agent (puts smiley face here).

Will an editor want further changes? Of course, and that is the beauty and rigor of traditional publishing. More about self vs trad publishing in another post. Meawhile, I use the above word counts as a guide only. When a reader holds a 300pp book they do feel that it is a good length and will provide a read that is worth the investment. When I picked up Ludlum’s book, I got a workout!

 

Length of Time to Create a Work of Art

How long does it take to paint a remarkable painting? How long does it take to produce a reasonable novel? Well, it took Leonardo da Vinci begins four years to paint the Mona Lisa and 30 layers of paint were applied. Michelangelo began work on his famous Sistine Chapel ceiling in 1508. He worked for four years before completion. To write a novel takes anywhere from a few months to several years. Of course, some artists work very quickly – Picasso finished Guernica in 35 days, which may equate to just ten or twenty chapters for a novelist. In many ways, authors are the poor cousins of painters. Authors have fewer works, their works can’t be ‘seen’ and sold immediately on that basis. Authors will struggle to get their work put into the public arena and few authors can now breakthrough the iron-clad ring of rejection that protects the domain of literary agents and publishers. A recent statistic suggested that one in 10,000 writers will get their work accepted by a traditional publisher. Yet, the passion to write is strong and the desire to tell a story remains one of the most noble arts of all. Churchill encouraged us to “never give up” so we keep going, hopeful that even a small audience will enjoy a story that had to be told.

Writers’ Envy?

I was speaking with my accountant about my book – in the hope that he would be as excited as me about the $$$ signs that would follow. “Oh, it seems that everyone is writing a book these days!” was his response. My hopes were dashed. “Yes,” he continued, “I have lots of clients who are claiming expenses for their books.” Then he rattled off a list of names, including some that I knew. My lawyer was just publishing his second novel and a teaching colleague was editing his. And here I was, battling to get the plot sorted for my own new novel. Alas, I put my despondency down to “writers’ envy” – a condition where an author is overwhelmed by writers more prolific and successful than themselves. “Stop it!” I told myself, “There is no point in comparing yourself with others. Just stick to the task and enjoy the pleasure of writing in the way, and with the pace, that you want to.” It was good advice for myself!

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