Check out any site by or about literary agents and one thing you’ll be told is to include a bit about yourself in the query letter. This is the paragraph where you astound the agent by telling them about the competitions you’ve won, the articles printed in the New York Times; and how you met your MP husband/wife.

Some of us haven’t achieved any of that, and some of us (about 0.3% of the population) have never done anything. That part of the paper where the biography is supposed to sit is so blank you can see the watermark.

Lying is not an option. exaggerating is possible, but all that happens is you get found out more slowly than if you were lying. So, I’m throwing myself upon you, my wonderful loyal and sometimes weird WordPress followers. How do I make my humdrum useless life marketable to a literary agent.

Let’s have a look at some of the raw materials.

1 Fact – I won a short story competition.

Reality – I was 11 years old. It was last century and is about as relevent as winning a box of chocolates in a raffle several years earlier.

2 Fact – At University I was the editor of an international student magazine. (Note the word international.)

Reality – You’ll have to offer me a publishing contract to find out the prosaic truth about my being an editor of an international student magazine.

3 Fact – I used to write for an online spoof newspaper.

Reality – The Onion? No, The Rockall Times which is no longer with us and few remember. And none of my articles won a Pulitzer Prize.

4 Fact – I’ve written loads of documents in my time as a landscape architect.

Reality – Telling someone you’re a landscape architect is like force feeding them mogadon.

5 Fact – I’ve no more facts.

I’m not married, related to anyone famous, don’t live anywhere interesting like Notting Hill (replace interesting with ‘well known’), don’t belong to any writing circles; but I have had photos published in a photography magazine, had an illustration printed in a music magazine, had texts read out by Bobby Friction and Nihal on Radio 1 and…

…was recently contacted by Aaron Wylie from Au4 complementing my article on the band and informing me I got the name of their album wrong.

No track record, no ongoing success, and I don’t even have a functioning Twitter account. My only hope is that a potential agent and publisher can market me on my obscure mysterious existence. Keep things quiet so that people don’t find out there’s nothing to me. After all, Harper Lee has done f*** all in fifty-five years and look how well her last book sold.

I write in cafes, but I’m not a single mother with a baby in a pram. I’ve never worked as a bus driver or flown a Spitfire. I’m not famous for having botoxed lips or wandering thumbs. And I’ve even started leaving the name of my hometown off query letters because of the appalling reputation it has.

In fact, the very vacuous nature of my existence could be the strongest selling point. No baggage, no previous, no clichés, a vast black hole of mundanity so all encompassing people ask if it’s even possible to live like this in the 21st century. ‘He must have done something? In the internet age everyone has at least fifteen minutes of fame.’

But alas, it isn’t to be. I’m condemned to wander the world in obscurity, just one of eight billion people who don’t go viral or become a meme. Maybe I should start a new movement: the Inconsequentialists. Iconic head of my own cultural phenomenon. Perhaps then I might become somebody; become . . . marketable.

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23 thoughts on “I Don’t Know What To Say.

  1. Even if Lord Buckshot of Whimsey hadn’t been shot by the butler he would have had difficulty getting published if he hadn’t been featured on ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ (or am I just being cynical as usual?)………

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think you should take this post and add it as part of your query. There’s bound to be a lucky agent who would find this funny and do something about it. Or you can send it out as a sample to see what the reaction is with five agents. Just a thought. Love this!

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  3. Try a radical approach. I got my break into journalism by making an appointment to see the editor of my local paper, telling him what I was capable of and handing him examples of my work, which in my case was three 600-word political columns written over the previous two days. I was about 35 at the time and working in the shipbuilding industry. If I’d followed the accepted path and written him a letter, he would have glanced at it and put it on his spike.
    But because I spoke to him in person and he got a taste of my enthusiasm, he took time to read my stuff. Within three weeks I was a feature writer and trainee sub-editor with my own weekly column.
    Publishing is not easy to get into. In my experience, people who get published fall into two categories: those who deserve to have their work in print and those who have connections in the industry and get a free ride. So if you don’t have connections you must be prepared to write your own rules from time to time and bend existing rules. Or maybe just try it to see what happens.
    Hope this has been useful and not the opposite
    Alen

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    • One thing I’ve always found difficult in life is the direct approach! But it would be interesting to try with an agent and a 140 000 word manuscript.

      But bending the rules and enthusiasm are two things I could try, if I can word the letter. One of the problems with literary agents is that submission queries go to unknown in-house readers who filter material before it lands on an agent’s desk. (One or two agencies name their in-house reader.)

      As for who makes it in publishing: I think your two examples are spot on and for me, internship or calling on my Uncle Lord Buckshot of Whimsey isn’t an option now after the butler shot him.

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      • I know what you mean about the direct approach. I’m quite a shy person, and that was probably the only time in my life I made such an approach and actually marketed myself. It paid off.
        I was using it as an example of bending the rules, and I can see how it would not be feasible in your situation with literary agents. But other innovative methods might yield results.
        Damned pity about your uncle. The literary world and media are full of uncles, fathers, brothers and whatnot who have nudged the door open for people who would never have made it otherwise. Meanwhile, talented individuals spend years banging at the doors and getting nowhere.
        Keep trying and good luck.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. While he article was amusing, I feel I should point out that while YOU don’t think your list of accomplishments amounts to a whole lot, others might be more impressed. Also, a lot of the attitude, from my experience, isn’t how shiny and fantastic the things you’ve done are… It’s that it shows you have the determination to do SOMETHING.
    Also, depending on the attitude of the agent in question – which is always something one should spend some time investigating if at all possible – presenting those facts as humorous and self-deprecating might actually work in your favor.

    Or I’m just over thinking it… 😄

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do think you have a point and some agents might be drawn to a self-deprecating ‘biography.’ I suppose it’s getting the balance between humour and coming across as facetious.

      The query letter is a work in progress and I’ll be looking at it again next week. My inference from agent’s demands is that they’re looking for a personal hook that they can market you with alongside the marketing hook that sticks out of the novel(s).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. If you don’t have a publishing history (and they can find that easy enough if they want to) use your about me paragraph to tell them about your book. In any case, if you don’t write a wham bam thank you mam type of hook paragraph they won’t even read to the end of your letter.

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