Who Gave You This Number?

June 4, 2007 at 3:39 am (Uncategorized)

A friend of mine, very kindly keen to help in whatever way she possibly can to get my manuscript published, cornered an acquaintance at a baby shower the weekend before last, and successfully extracted a contact name and number at one of Sydney’s biggest agencies. My dream agency, as it coincidentally turned out. If I had my choice of agencies, this one would be it. I nervously toyed with the details once she emailed them through last week, basically paralysed with fear. Then I got my confirmation from the competition that my MS has been received, so I know it’s to be judged by three people within the next 3.5 months. It’s officially out there somewhere, in its temporary home, and someone is going to read it.

But I need an agent. Win or lose (with the emphasis so overwhelmingly on the latter), I don’t have a future as a novelist in this country without one. So today I summoned all my courage and made the call. Of course, the agent in question did not want to speak to me. She wanted me off that phone, and pronto. It’s odd, because the agency’s website actually states that they prefer initial contact to be by phone or email. But then they also list submission requirements, so I already know how to supply my work to them. I didn’t have to phone to know that. I was just making initial contact. But in making initial contact, it truly felt like I was somehow doing the wrong thing. Acutely.

I asked if I should just submit a sample of my writing for their consideration, as per their website, and she said yes. Okay. I’ll do that, thanks. But what, exactly, was the point of the call…? I’m no longer sure. If anything, it felt like I was burning, not building a bridge to my dream agency. Everything was very bristly and brisk. And I know why – they must get thousands of unwanted calls from thousands of unwanted prospective clients. Their phone lines must be constantly jammed with people they simply don’t want to talk to and whose work they’d never dream of representing. I could be one of them, and that may well be the way they feel about my writing once I send it in. It’s such a horrible set-up-for-failure enterprise. But it’s the only one I’ve got.

And so it begins. I’ve written a cover letter since getting off the phone, I’ve got my synopsis, and I’m going to send her three sample chapters. Then I’ll send it all in and hear nothing for about two months. Then they’ll either want me or they won’t. If they don’t, I’ll probably never learn why. And then I’ll start again. But this is the way it works. And this is where I find myself. So let’s proceed, shall we, if for no other reason than there’s no turning back now.



  1. Warwick said,

    The best piece of advice I’ve heard regards dating comes from my friend Anthony, and it seems relevant here. He is of the opinion that if someone likes you, they’re going to like you no matter what, unless of course you do something seriously illegal like, for example, accidentally set alight their grandmother – perhaps not my worst ever date ever, but definitely in the top five. Conversely, if your date doesn’t like you, they are not going like you no matter how hard you try. As a serial dater, I find this all very reassuring, and it occurs to me this advice is relevant to publishers also. If they like your writing, they’ll like your writing, and you could probably set the editors grandmother on fire, and they’d still publish your book. What is the history of literature but a parade of perverts, misanthropes and the clinically insane, all of whom were able to find both a publisher and a readership. If anything, Di, your too decent, too sane. You need to start cultivating those neuroses.

    On another tangent, have you seen http://postsecret.blogspot.com/ ? One of the few pages I look at on a semi-regular basis.


  2. doctordi said,

    I think I’ve channelled all my madness and various neuroses into my manuscript. That might be a good thing, because if you’re right about the dating link, this should at least give the publishing world and me something in common (which tends to make the dreaded first date scenario somewhat easier to bear).
    You set someone’s grandmother on fire…? I’ll have to keep that in mind next time Nana’s really giving me the shits. Are you available on a commission basis?

  3. doctordi said,

    You know they’ve published a book from the post-secret project, don’t you? I’d never been to the site before, but I did read a review of the book upon its release, and I LOVE the concept. I absolutely love it. Fascinating. People are incredible. The freedom of expression and the level of creativity some of the postcards display is RIVETING. People and their secrets. Now we’re talking. Okay, so it talks about the books (there’s THREE!) on the site, which I’m going to add to my blogroll. Thanks, Warwick, that’s a good one. Addictive, I bet, and apparently I could use a few more addictions…(and there I was thinking reducing my vices was a GOOD thing!)

  4. Warwick said,

    That pretty sums up my response to the project too. People talk about the ‘internet revolution’ and the transformative power of cyberspace and so on; most this talk I regard as a load of hooey, but there is something genuinely novel about a site like PostSecret, and it would not have been possible without the internet. There may even be something slightly subversive about it too…


    PS Not on fire exactly, but the old lady was definitely smouldering there for a while. Ever smelt an old person smoulder? Not good.

  5. doctordi said,

    As a general rule, I avoid inhaling deeply around the elderly. It’s just one of those habits I’ve picked up over the years.

    Yes, I think the post-secret site is subversive, absolutely. It’s people publicly subverting their public lives with private confessions. Fantastic.

    And I do find the internet revolutionary. I still find email, for instance, phenomenally transformative. Certain friendships of mine could NEVER have survived the ravages of time and vast distances without the timely arrival of internet technology. I’m hugely indebted to the medium. I think it’s awesome. I’m not a very technically-minded person, but I was a very early adapter of the the web because it immediately offered an additional means of communicating with people I love dearly but can’t see face to face. It’s been huge on a personal level, really huge.

  6. Warwick said,


    I didn’t mean to suggest the internet hasn’t had a significant effect on those who have regular access to the WWW (roughly 50% of people in the developed world), just that it hasn’t revolutionised society in the way people often argue. My understanding of revolution is that it turns the existing order upside down, and while modernity is sometimes characterised as a period of ceaseless change – wherein, as Marx so eloquently puts it, ‘all that is solid melts into air’ – genuine revolutions are in fact quite uncommon; i.e., you can pretty much count them on one hand.

    There’s approximately a billion people in the world who have never made a single telephone call, let alone sent an email (another amazing factoid that I gleaned from – yes, you guessed it – the internet). Will the WWW help these people revolutionise their lives, or will it reinforce, perhaps even exacerbate, existing inequalities? This remains to be seen.

    Also, I’d want to stress the continuities, rather than the discontinuities, between email and older forms of communication, such as the letter. You could regard ’email culture’ as the re-emergence of a well-established practice that goes back hundreds of years. Not identical, granted, but certainly very similar. This is partly why I find claims that email is undermining literacy so odd. I for one write much more frequently than I would had the internet never been invented – a significant change, no doubt, but not quite the revolution the technophiles like to think.

  7. doctordi said,

    Well yes, as a letter writer from way back, of course it was the continuities that attracted me to email. I really embraced it as an instant letter form – I still do (and I do still write letters, although fewer now than ever). Plenty of things remain to be seen about the effect and reach of the web, but as far as a technology goes, it still feels pretty revolutionary to me, and as far as culture goes, I’d say the same. But no revolution occurs in isolation, there are points of continuity everywhere, and the My Space generation still has plenty of things in common with the 1985 kids who used to meet at the mall. Still, there’s no question in my mind that the cyber world has changed the way we negotiate the physical one. Name for me a revolution that has had a direct impact on more people’s lives. As I think about past revolutions, I can’t help thinking that though they may well have turned an existing order on its head, they didn’t apply to absolutely everyone either. Nothing ever does, except death.

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