Friday, 12 February 2010

Backing Into the Limelight

How would you feel if you were innocently walking down the street minding your own business when a complete stranger bounded up to you like an overgrown puppy, licked your face and panted: I'm wonderful! I'm fab, me! And then beamed expectantly, waiting for you to say...well, which do you think would be more likely?

a) I love you and must represent you immediately or
b) Get away from me you mad person or I'll call the police.

Now imagine you're an agent receiving the equivalent in covering letter form. Straight to the top of the Must Be Read pile? Or the Immediate Rejection pile?

So how do you say I'm wonderful without saying it? The simple answer is you get someone or something else to say it BUT it's got to be the right someone or something. So your Mum is not the right someone and nor are your children nor is anyone who has any personal connection with you, because of course they think you're wonderful, but their opinion doesn't mean anything in this particular context.

I'm not convinced an author or a creative writing tutor is much good either: 'Joe Bloggs suggested I write to you' doesn't mean much when it comes down to it. If Joe Bloggs really rated your work, they'd snatch it out of your hot sticky little mitts and personally hand it over to their agent/editor, and because writers are usually worried about their own precarious position they tend not to want to annoy their agents/editors with handing over extra work. Especially when that person is potentially a rival author.

The person you want to endorse you doesn't know you. They only know your writing and, ideally, paid you money for it. They gave you a prize in a short story competition. They published your article. They broadcast your short story. They published your non-fiction book. The more credits you can build up, the more endorsements you're getting. When I was at this stage I deliberately entered every short story competition I could find to build up some endorsements. When I wrote my covering letter I was able to say I'd won or been short listed for seventeen short story competitions. (Which, thinking about it, also shows persistence and a degree of obsession that is very useful for a writer.)

Credits mean someone else picked your writing out of a crowd. It will give an agent confidence that yes, you - and your writing - are wonderful.

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