Editorial services.

Imagine you’re a literary agent – all those submissions coming in, all those dreary rejection letters going out. How much better it would all be – from a bottom line perspective – to make some dosh from the rejections. Enter the editorial service – someone who will “polish” your novel for you, and “make it ready for submission”. All those rejected, disheartened writers out there ripe for exploitation.

There are a couple of ways this can work:

You submit your novel, it gets rejected, agent recommends an editorial service as part of the rejection letter. You approach the editorial service, pay money (hundreds of pounds usually), and the agent gets a referral fee.

Some agents have an editorial service they “work with” right there on their website, giving the impression that if you use the editorial services you’ll have more chance with the agency. You approach the editorial service, say where you found them, pay the money, and it’s kerching all round – oh, except for you.

Some agents simply offer editorial services as well as agenting ones.

However it’s done, it’s done simply to monetize rejections by exploiting your dreams and aspirations. Don’t fall for this. The money’s supposed to flow in your direction, not theirs.


The Literary Agent, or Submitting Your Manuscript to the Appropriate Authorities

The trouble is I have (or had) a fixed idea about the right way to go about this. So first the method, then the (probably flawed) justification.

You have your novel (I’m not going to drone on about it being “polished”, etc; I’ll leave that to the dreary advice sites), and now – being a denizen of that height of civilization, the free market economy – you must “market” it, or, put simply, hawk and whore it to a bunch of agencies and/or small publishers that you hope against hope will be interested in the fruits of your labour. This usually requires producing a synopsis and cover letter and sending it off with the first fifty pages of the novel to an agent of your choosing as per the instructions on their website – so usually by email these days, though some still insist on postal submissions (for fiction anyway).

There are loads of sites offering advice on writing synopses and cover letters. Most of them – the sites – have a jaunty commonsensical tone, really as though they’re preparing children for the REAL world. “So you’ve written your novel, polished it, and made it the best it can be – good! Now the hard work starts.” Oh, ha ha… You’re tuned to Radio Free Smug.

Having once submitted your novel, you’re advised to forget it, or at least not brood overly much upon it. Rejection is routine; it will hurt routinely, and diminish you in small ways. You, sadly, believe in something intensely that the world is happy to ignore. Lots of people are in this situation, and the price of rejection is not always so gentle (sometimes you starve, sometimes you die; here, usually, unread writers just go on doing their living-making thing).

So why is the agency approach a good one? Or why was I convinced it was so? I suppose because I imagined you were submitting (in some sense) to an arbiter of quality, someone who could tell the shit from the sugar. To get an agent is an achievement because it says some other someone believes in your book enough to want the privilege of representing it to the world (a younger me naively imagined this had to do with art rather than money). You’re validated; you can write. Or, at least, someone else – someone in the biz – thinks you can.

Nowadays, of course, there are many routes to get your book out there, most of them bypassing the nod or approval of another person, never mind one that knows anything about writing. Bands do this, of course: they get gigs and build an audience around their music and act. Why shouldn’t writers appeal directly to an audience and build a readership without recourse to the percenters in the middle? Of course, they can and should. And some have done this successfully, though most of them turn out to be dreadful writers. Whenever there’s a story about a writer who’s got a big advance as a result of being successful on the web, I look them up and invariably have the same reaction: Oh, yes, more shite. The vast majority of the big, bad world out there doesn’t know what good writing is (sorry, but it isn’t just what people want to read). I suppose my fear is that it’s all like that now. Despite saying that they’re looking for “unique” and “unusual”, what agents really want is stuff that will sell by the truckload – sod the quality.

Self-publishing has never appealed to me; indeed, it has, for me, something of a whiff of failure about it. This might be a limitation in my way of thinking. After all, I’m blogging here, not submitting this to a magazine or paper for someone’s approval. But, of course (and this has to be recognized and acknowledged), I’m also mostly being ignored.

James Patterson – American hero

JPJames Patterson is an awful writer. Indeed, he’s the type of “writer” who I imagine is just a label on a book – books written by other people. Actually, he is the type of “writer” who is just a brand label on books written by other people. By his own admission, he works with “co-authors” and “collaborators”. He provides outlines and farms them out to writers, who knock up novels from them. Seriously, this is writing as business, author as brand, writing by committee. Hollow drivel, designed for mass appeal. Fast books and double on the fries.

Just let me pause here to put my cards face-up on the table. If you’re the sort of “reader” who thinks the likes of Lee Child and/or Dan Brown are good, and that criticism of them is motivated by envy and/or elitism, I would suggest you leave this page now. You’ll be offended. So please leave. I’d honestly rather not bother with people who think popularity and success in monetary terms are their own justification.

Dan Brown, Lee Child, Clive Cussler, James Patterson – they’re producers of crap. They say nothing interesting, and they say it in an uninteresting way. Dumbed-down writing for a dumbed-down readership (most of whom find thinking and reading threatening). If you can read a comic or tabloid newspaper, you’ll have no problem reading these authors. Is it better that people read these books rather than none at all? I wonder. Is it better that people read Rupert Murdoch’s red-top rags rather than no newspaper at all?

Reading Child, Patterson, and Cussler (who incidentally is passing the business onto his son) is like eating a McDonald’s every day and imagining you have a decent diet. Being able to read at this level does not make you discerning or thoughtful. It does not give you insight. I’m not saying you shouldn’t read crap, any more than I would suggest that eating crap occasionally is a no-no; I just want you to know, be able to tell (for yourself, not because someone else is telling you so), that it is crap. If you don’t and can’t, you probably (sadly) have degraded sensibilities. If you think the Die Hard movies are the height of cinematic achievement, you’re missing (or have missed) something. Sorry.

In interviews, Patterson talks like he isn’t part of the problem. He’s either a very good con-man or is entirely deluded. He expresses concern for book-shops and publishers, and talks about the importance of young people reading. This is a man who has degraded the writing process, and involved his readers in this degradation. He, and his publishers, must surely have contempt for the people who buy his books. He’s dull, he’s rich, he’s self-satisfied, and he’s not someone from whom I want to take literary advice. Indeed, I’m amazed he has the nerve to offer it.

Most people (and certainly most Americans) lack discernment, so money and popularity are the only way they know how to keep score. It’s why poor people in America vote for measures that benefit the rich. They think money, making lots of it, is its own justification.

Here are two interviews with this successful American writer:


Here’s someone desperately trying to be reasonable about JP (while suspecting that the emperor might, indeed, be going sans apparel):

“I doubt that James Patterson can actually write.”

Yes, me too. That won’t stop him, though. Not while there’s another buck to be made.

Shite’s all right if it sells

It’s a dispiriting thought, but one that must be grasped: literary agents are looking for something to flog, and bandwagon jumping is, they imagine, one of the safest ways to go  about doing it – hence all those 50 Shades of Shite clones taking up shelf-space in your local WH Smith.

It works like this: they’re looking for something that fits easily onto their list (so you can forget challenging, difficult books – in terms of subject matter and certainly in terms of writing style), and what fits easily onto their list is stuff they’ve successfully placed onto someone else’s list: a publishing editor’s usually. Publishing editors are also interested in shit they can sell, which is why they all have their version/clone of whatever’s water-cooler hot in flogalot terms at any given moment. It’s a dumb business with pretensions. Most of them like to think in terms of working in the arts, which is, of course, bollocks. They’re middle-folk trying to turn a profit.

Which brings me to the question – the point of this post – do they know if something’s good, or just if it will sell? It’s perfectly possible to look around you, note what’s selling, project what might sell (indeed, why not have a self-important meeting about it?), and then try to turn a profit by getting your hands on more of the same. Spiv & Trotters Literary Agency: “S&M novels and religious thrillers are big at the moment, so we’re interested in those – though we’re also looking for Teen Naval Gothic love stories because we think they’re likely to be big in the run-up to Christmas.”

Novels like Animal Farm or Pale Fire or The Trial would be incomprehensible to them; they simply wouldn’t know what to make of them. We live in an age of focus groups, of audience reaction and participation. Modern agents  don’t have the temperament or discernment to take a work away, and think, Actually this is good, artistically good. It deserves an audience. What they’re after is a sense of immediate recognition, a sense that they like this, that their friends will too. Being good doesn’t come into it; potentially popular, of course, does.

Undiscerning people need discerning people to draw the distinction between the two. That statement  has a whiff of elitism about it, but that’s not the point. Girls Aloud are not as good as Beethoven, and not just because someone’s critiqued the issue for you. In your quiet space, you should be able to listen to both, and know that one is better than the other. That’s discernment. And if you can’t do that, you’re ignorant (at least in this area of life and art), and I rather fear this is something that’s true of most literary agents.

Money, of course, pollutes everything. Livings have to be made. I understand that.  I would, however, modestly request that you don’t imagine you’re doing art when all you’re doing is shifting goods to make money.