Friday, June 8, 2012

Playing the game

They always tell you that you should absolutely write what you want to write, not what you think will maximise your chances of getting published. It’s a maxim I will stick with, but I’ve learnt pretty quickly that you do need to make compromises and not expect to have it your own way all the time…
I’m at the nerve racking stage where my debut novel is on submission to publishers. It sure is a boon to have a lovely, positive, calm and experienced agent representing me. My agency has a great reputation, and with utter justification too if you see the calibre of writer on their books. They’re also outstandingly good at holding the hands of their less experienced clients, which is what attracted me to them in the first place.

So with all that in mind, I’m bound to listen to my agent. She has utter faith in my writing ability, and from the word go hasn’t just been interested in my first novel but has been keen on my ideas for the future. I finished my second novel recently and sent her the synopsis. She was vaguely familiar with the concept before, and told me it was a good idea, so I was very excited. But when she rang me she said that, whilst it was good, she really wants me to focus on the novel I started writing recently as my next project. She added that ‘novel four’ should also be shelved, and I should consider making ‘novel five’ my next project after the one I’m working on.
Why? Quite simple really. Novels two and four have boy main characters. Novels three and five have girl main characters. Just like novel one, the one she loves, does.

As you’ll have probably guessed, my initial (internalised) reaction was one of crashing disappointment. She’d told me that novel two sounded good. I’d spent ages working on it. I loved writing in a more masculine voice. The concept of novel four seemed pretty bloody good. And so on, and so on…
Then, after sleeping on it, I realised it was time to grow up. For starters, I do want to write those other novels with teenage girl protagonists. Why would I have developed them otherwise? Yes I’ve had reservations about the possibility of becoming known as the ‘man who writes teenage girl books’. But is that such a bad thing? I work in an all girls’ school, so it’s not as if I’m allergic to teenage girls. I should also take it as a real compliment that I, a red blooded male who loves watching televised rugby and drinking beer with his mates down the pub, am considered someone who can convincingly write from a teenage girl POV. If nothing else, it allows me to blow a raspberry at a fellow writer who once told me I obviously never read books written by and for women/girls!

My agent might be wrong on this. But with her experience and industry knowhow, I’m more likely to be wrong with my ‘I want to do stuff from a teenage boys POV as well’ stubbornness than she is with her practical advice. As another writer told me, unless you’re just writing for yourself, you have to give your audience what they want. I may not have an audience yet, but it’s clear what my audience most likely will be when (n.b. bullish confidence) novel one does get published.

What am I essentially telling you? Be willing to compromise and play the game from time to time: unless, of course, they’re telling you to do something you really don’t want to do! Also listen to people who are more au fait than you when it comes to the labyrinth that is the publishing industry. They’re very often the ones who’ll take your blinkers off.


  1. Your negative capability must be off the chart! :)

  2. I found this post interesting, because I'm worried that if I get an agent, I'll be pressured into writing things I don't want to. For example, the two novels I'm working on both have male artist protagonists, and I wonder whether, if I get published, my agent would encourage me not to switch to a female protagonist.

    However, I take some comfort from the fact that at least your agent found novel 2 interesting, even if she encouraged you to work on 3 and 5 for now. Perhaps in the future she'll want to come back to it, and other stories with different voices. I guess it's a matter of being patient!

  3. Well, switching the gender of your MC will wildly change your narrative voice and , potentially, the story. An agent would have to see something in the story beyond the narrative voice to recommend you change your MC...

    It might just be me, but changing the POV of a narration fundamentally changes everything. I briefly considered a rewrite of novel two from the main female character's POV, but it just wouldn't work. The story is a tough, masculine one, and it was Kyle's story, not hers. So, reluctantly, I decided to shelve it.

    Being patient is what this game is all about. It's annoying, but what can we do?