My experience of a forum called Jericho Writers;
I signed up for Agent Hunter a year ago to learn more about the world of agenting and find out what ‘the commercial world’ thought of my books. I had previously published (NF) direct with Random House and my wonderful editor looked after my interests (things like fees for foreign rights, paperback editions and so on.) Now I’ve launched into writing fiction, everything is new and different!
What did I learn from agents? Well, I several of those I contacted replied saying they were very interested, read full manuscripts (of 2 different books), were generous with their time in long phone conversations and made suggestions for changes they felt would make the books more commercial. I wasn’t entirely happy with all their ideas but hell, this was a learning experiment so I did several re-writes.
But… for me it became a case of thus far but no further. Summary of the advice was, ‘Can you make the violence more graphic, the characters nastier––and can you get rid of the environmental bits?’ Or, same thing, from the opposite end, ‘Editors really want stories with a few environmental issues for children, so can you re-write the same story in half the length with simple language for children?’ Hmm. So environment is something that’s nice for kids but we expect them to grow out of it along with Santa and Peter Pan?
Well, seeing as the science in my SF stories has a lot of bio-science involved (and not so many tech-gadgets), this would make quite a hole in the plot lines! And I’ve met plenty of adults who are really looking for adventure stories that are not relentless pages of disillusion, revenge, greed and sadism. I can understand that this stuff sells, publishers are under pressure to ensure high sales, and agents will only get a good commission if that happens. So here’s the dilemma––do I focus on writing what I know will sell plenty or do I continue writing what I love, and accept that it will probably have a smaller audience?
Okay, you guessed it––I can only write what inspires me. The original stories and characters just arrive in my head and then grow as I write them down. Sometimes these ideas are the result of a fantastic conversation I’ve just had with someone, or a vivid dream… and 3 new books emerged from conversations with those agents! So it looks like I’ll be diving into the emerging world of self-publishing––and it looks quite complicated. I’m going to need some help here.
I discovered that Agent Hunter is now called Agent Match and is part of a writers’ forum called Jericho Writers. I started my exploring there, and found some really useful general advice appearing on the forums and dropping into my email inbox every week. Then I got sidetracked! (I’m very good at getting diverted, but it’s so interesting!) Through the site I’ve met several other authors, learned about the kind of fiction they are writing, then through the personal messaging facility, swapped emails and exchanged chapters to comment on. This has been fantastic! The ongoing communication means that the insights of the person editing go much deeper as each chapter is explored. So, super thanks to Paul, Laura, Kevin, Steph and Rufus for insights, encouragement, and letting me look at your own wonderful stories!!
There is also an open forum on the Jericho website where writers can post shorter excerpts so that everyone can pile in with comments. This is also useful, and it’s a little closer to the kind of multiple-feedback you get from readers––except that everyone is supportive and constructive and never rude! So maybe not exactly like the free-for-all you get from readers! I think personally I find the one-to-one in-depth explorations the most rewarding but both methods complement each other.
(NB the personal messaging feature on Jericho has been taken down at the moment but they assure me it will be up and running again soon!)
Next stop, learning about self-publishing from resident advisers Harry and Stephanie…