Today – 5th May 2020 – is our ninth birthday. Yep, it’s a full nine years since Jake Arnott and I first walked into the agency’s reception area to welcome fifteen nervous students to Curtis Brown Creative, while trying not to let them see that we were at least as nervous as they were …
That first group included authors Jessie Burton, Catherine Chanter, Antonia Honeywell, prize-winning film producer/screenwriter Catherine Bray – and two further writers who met for the first time on the course and have since become a writing duo. Nine years later their first jointly-penned thriller has just gained a publishing deal, and at CBC we’re getting ready to give a very big cheer when the deal gets announced – hopefully later this week … And though I couldn’t have imagined it back in 2011, our roster of published alumni now has over 90 names on it …
So here we are on the ninth birthday. I’d thought we might have a little party at the office – or at the very least, the team and I could have popped down to the Tom Cribb for a pint or two – that’s the pub CBC has favoured since our original local, The Captain’s Cabin, got demolished to make way for a fancy new retail development. Though actually none of the current team have been with me long enough to remember the glories of the Cabin … But in the end, like everyone else having a birthday during these weirdest of weeks, each one of us will be stuck in our own home. We’ve all been baking (well, all of us except Jack!) – and by the time you read this blog, we’ll have shown off our cakes to each other on Zoom. Trouble with Zoom baking, though – each one of us will only be able to taste our own cake (bad luck, Jack!).
You don’t need to hear more from me about what it’s like to celebrate birthdays by video-call – but judging from the #AskAnna Q&A session I ran last week on Twitter, some of you might like to know more about what to do if you’re preparing to send your work to an agent while under lockdown. So here we go …
First – to touch on the problems being faced generally by the book industry: Physical bookshops are of course shut. Supermarkets are also selling few – or in some cases, no – books. And while Amazon UK are selling books, they are prioritising other goods in their warehouses, so this is leading to issues with stock and interruptions in sales. This is all very frustrating, of course, for the many people who still want to buy books – and for the publishers who really want to put those books in their hands! And there are lots of authors with new books out – including former CBC students Clare Pooley – The Authenticity Project, Nikki Smith – All in Her Head and Jenny Pearson –The Super Miraculous Journey of Freddie Yates. CBC tutor Nikita Lalwani’s latest, You People has also just been released, and Louise McCreesh’s Cracked comes out in ebook later this week … It’s been really tough on these and many more authors to get their big moment at a time when you can’t have a launch party or go on a book tour … Do check them out – all are belters! I would particularly recommend buying from your local independent bookshop if they’re offering an online/remote ordering service. And don’t forget about ebooks if you’re trying to get hold of a book you’re longing to read – ebook sales are of course flourishing!
So to literary agents … Well, they are of course part of the same book eco-system. Their author-clients who are publishing now may well be having a disappointing experience and underwhelming sales – while others will find their publication dates are being moved to later in the summer or the Autumn when the publisher hopes market conditions will be better. Like everyone else, the agents are all working from home – and some have been furloughed. There is a silver lining though: Many agents have much more time to read than they usually do – and that has to be good news if you’re a writer getting your book ready to send out.
Here are some tips for sending out your work under lockdown:
1. Do your online research and target your submissions carefully.
Databases with details of particular agents and their preferences can be useful but always cross-check with the agent’s website as often the information is out-of-date or plain wrong. Don’t try to phone the agency – remember, nobody’s there … And definitely don’t think of putting a manuscript in the post …
2. Send to four or five agents at once:
This is a good idea generally and now more so than ever. With some agents furloughed or unwell and others juggling work with childcare, you certainly don’t want to find yourself stuck waiting for a long time to hear back from one specific agent. Send to a few at a time, and if you don’t hear back within six to eight weeks, try a few more. Try not to get too worked up about it if you don’t get a reply – and don’t send out repeated chasers. Just move on – there are lots more agents out there.
3. Believe in your story:
It’s all too easy to lose heart if you get rejections from agents or don’t hear anything back from them – particularly at a time like this, when the novel you’ve been working on for years can suddenly feel irrelevant because it doesn’t comment on what we’re currently living through. If that’s you, then take heart: This situation will not go on forever, and people won’t always want to read about it. There will of course be successful books that address Covid-19, but your book doesn’t have to be one of them – and actually that’s going to very quickly become an overcrowded area of the market. And while I’m on this subject, don’t attempt a last-minute lockdown twist in your tale. Believe in your story and stick with it.
4. Make sure it’s finished and polished before you send it out:
Now, as always, it’s much more important to get your work as good you can possibly make it than it is to send it out fast. ‘Really good’ beats ‘really quick’ every time. If you’re struggling to edit your novel and losing perspective, take a look at our online courses – particularly Edit and Pitch Your Novel, which starts in May – or there’s just under a week left to apply for our three-month novel-writing course with Lisa O’Donnell if you’d like a more intensive experience with workshopping, tutorials and a chance to talk to some of our agents. (There’s one scholarship place on that course for someone without the financial means to pay the course fees).
5. Lastly, don’t just sit waiting to hear from the agents once you’ve sent your work out.
Get straight on with your next writing project. If you’re not sure what you’re going to write about next, how about spending some time reading? In fact, do that anyway. And try our free Weekly Writing Workouts to refresh your palate and find new inspiration.
And hey, people – stick with it! Books are famously recession-proof – and we all need stories. We always will.
Right – I’m off to eat the birthday cake I’ve baked! Have a lovely day, one and all. And keep writing!
This week also marks the second anniversary of our popular Twitter competition #WriteCBC. So be sure to join us on Thurs 7 May (@cbcreative) to celebrate with a writing tip and task from a special guest.
For a limited time we’re offering £50 off our six-week online courses with code WRITEFROMHOME50
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