Saturday, September 08, 2012

Who wants to be my literary agent?

About a year ago, in an earlier post, I reported that I was writing a novel. I finished it recently - clocking in at around 82,000 words. Despite my reservations about finding a writing style that didn't sound like Enid Blyton, after several edits, I'm pretty pleased with the outcome - the central storyline is about a Conservative MP who has an affair with his 20 year old male researcher during the John Major "Back to Basics" period and the ensuing tabloid scandal.

Once I'd finished it, I decided to see if I could get it published, and that's when I realised that writing a novel is the easy part. First, you have to find a literary agent - because most publishers won't even get up out of their leather chairs to put your manuscript in the bin unless they've been contacted first by your literary agent. I've scoured the websites of literary agents, all who appear to inhabit impossibly glamorous lives based around drinking white wine in the Zone 1 area of London. But so far, none of the literary agents who I've written to has even written back to say "not interested in you". I thought if I started my pitch with "I'm a professor of English Language and have already published 11 books" then it might at least raise an interested eyebrow, but no - nothing. I wonder whether I need to make more outlandish claims to fame. Perhaps I should say I was once married to Lulu?

I suspect that a major stumbling block to getting a literary agent to "bite", is that the book I'm pitching has gay characters in it, and apparently that's a big no-no these days, when it's (even more) all about the money than it ever was. This article in The Guardian, which is 5 years old, explains that it's just not cool any more to write gay fiction. And indeed, when I go into a branch of Waterstones, most of them don't even seem to have a gay and lesbian fiction shelf any more, which in the late 1980s and 1990s was a source of fear then adventure then solace for me.

There is some great gay and lesbian fiction being published in the UK - The Night Watch by Sarah Walters was one of my favourite books that I've recently read, while after reading Man's World by Rupert Smith, I was inspired to email him and ended up having a nice afternoon in a coffee shop with him earlier last year. And while Jake Arnott doesn't write probably what's called "gay fiction", his book The Long Firm is about a gay gangster (based on the Kray Twins). Finally, there's the high-profile Alan Hollinghurst whose book The Line of Beauty, won the Man Booker prize. But maybe these are the exceptional cases. Maybe for every successful gay novel published, there are thousands of unsuccessful ones, languishing, forgotten on laptops.

My sister told me that she'd seen a tv programme or read something recently about characteristics of successful people. Apparently, the most typical characteristic is that they don't give up when they fail. I was quite surprised at that, because I would have picked talent or even good luck instead. So, I guess I need to keep sending out those emails.

But in the meantime, if you happen to be an agent or know an agent, then I'd be deliriously happy to hear from you.

4 comments:

Paul Brownsey said...

And what's more, there don't seem to be gay publishing houses like Gay Men's Press any more...

What about Tindal Street Press? They are a smallish literary press who got a Booker winner a couple of years ago, I think. Last time I looked at their website they gave the impression of being a bit more open than some to the idea of nurturing writers without using agents as middlemen.

I only write short stories so havne't actually tried them with a novel.

Paul

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, Jerry Hayes' wikipedia entry is totally blank on this matter.

Lots of luck. Particularly, if you remember what happened to David Leavitt over Stephen Spender.

-matthew davis

Anonymous said...

Why not self publish as an e-book? Give away your first book and those that enjoyed it will pay for a second one.

Flaming Nora said...

Don't self-publish - yet. Keep on at the agents and on and on and on.