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"Liberated from the tyranny of imbeciles" - my "Author" letter in full

Updated: Dec 26, 2023

Pleased to see my letter (alright - whinge) about finding an agent published in the latest issue of The Author (Summer 2017, Vol CXXVIII No.2). Here is the full text. By the way I'm toying with the idea of listing agents who didn't even respond to my letter asking if they'd like to read a sample - and calling it something catchy like, ooh, I dunno, the Shit List. What do you think, agents?

Dear editor,

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry when I read your assertion that a publisher "offers an author that most crucial thing: capital investment" (Foreword, Vol. CXXVIII No.1 Spring 2017). My experiences as a published author who has been on the books of three literary agents have been so appalling that at times I was in despair, and having self-published feel I have some control again.

After years of near-misses, an agent advised me to complete an MA in novel writing, which made a huge difference. Almost immediately after completing the course my first novel "Fire Horses" was accepted by a (then) small publisher. The managing director and I got on well and despite the fact I received no advance and there was no money for promotion I was just happy to be published.

The same publisher accepted my second book, "Out Of Office", and now I was approached by a literary agent. He managed to negotiate a small increase in my advance (the increase was almost all taken back in commission), and with book two on the shelves I started work on a third. However sales of my first two were poor - not surprising, as they hardly had a review, despite being praised by other authors.

My agent was unable to sell my third book, even to my "own" publisher - which I found staggering as I thought it was far superior to the previous two. Nevertheless I started work on a fourth, a comedy, which my agent liked, but took so long suggesting amendments I lost patience. The final straw was my waiting a YEAR for feedback - when I gently enquired what was taking so long he said, "I thought I'd sent them". Despite his pleas, I sacked him.

By now relations with my first publisher were strained. Nevertheless he agreed to read my fourth novel. After 18 months, he said he liked it a lot, but they no longer publish comedy. I also wrote to around 40 agents asking if they'd like to see a sample; over 30 didn't respond whatsoever and 2 or 3 others said my submission wasn't right for them - even though I hadn't sent one. (Quite a few agents, of course, have a "no unsolicited submissions" policy - WHY!?)

I'm not exactly an unknown quantity. In the past few months I've had major features in the Sunday Times magazine and Spectator, generous bursaries from the Society of Authors and Royal Literary Fund, been interviewed on peak-time Radio 4 and have an occasional column at the Huffington Post.

Finally, after months of soul-searching (and, connectedly, my 50th birthday) I decided to self-publish the comedy, Kidology, and a collection of short stories and creative non-fiction, Militant Factions, on Amazon Kindle and in paperback. I don't feel the need to be validated by some multinational (weird how even one's right-on friends and family believe that's so important); I have complete creative control; I decide what to put in and leave out; I designed the cover; and there has been zero financial outlay. Obviously, now I have to try and promote my books - but that's the point: they are MINE. I'll stand and fall on writing quality alone. I feel liberated from the tyranny of imbeciles. It feels like the DIY punk ethos of '77: exhilarating, liberating, frightening.

It feels like freedom.

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