Hazel McHaffie

Radio 4’s Today programme

Autumnal reflections

Cue weary sigh. Why, on such a beautiful autumnal day?Early autumn gloryMy computer has been throwing serious hissy fits this week, that’s why, and I’ve been alternately bereft and frustrated and stressed, and hugely resentful of the time wasted trying to get it sorted out. Yesterday it died – terminal in both senses. So I’ve been acutely aware of the immense benefits of modern technology I normally take for granted.

Which brings me nicely to a current big debate. Are agents and publishers right to expect their authors to have a significant online presence? Writer Jonathan Frantzen has stirred the self-promotion pot again this week with his claim on Radio 4’s Today programme that agents are refusing to even look at a manuscript from new young scribblers unless they have at least 250 followers on Twitter.  Frantzen reckons that they should be concentrating on developing their authorial voice not messing about shouting about themselves. Is he right?

On one level maybe. And I for one would hate to crush creative ability just because someone is seriously allergic to technology. But hey, competition out there is tough. How do you get your book or yourself noticed if you turn your back on all the advantages of 21st century communication?

Personally, being a Luddite at heart, I prefer the line taken by most literary advisers: use the networking which feel most comfortable to you – website, blog, Facebook, Linked-in, Twitter – whatever. Tweeting happens to be one avenue I’ve avoided to date but I have every reason to be grateful to others who use it. Why, only last week an organisation who generously reviewed Over My Dead Body, tweeted the comments to over 17,000 followers. Thanks hugely, folks at The Bookbag. I couldn’t have reached that audience.

Another relatively recent development is that many agents and publishers simply say to would-be clients, If you don’t hear back from us within X months you can assume we are not in a position to represent you. Hmm. Off goes your precious manuscript into a great black hole. X months pass. X +1. X + 2. OK, they warned you. But you have no idea why it wasn’t accepted. Of course, it saves them valuable time, but it also denies you the opportunity of learning from the experience. Or framing their scathing comments and hanging them in your loo when you sell your first million copies of the said work.

In days of yore publishers did comment, and plenty of big names have shared their rejection with the world, evidence of serious errors of judgement which can be hugely entertaining for the rest of us. And incidentally engender renewed respect for authors who persevered in spite of the damning criticism.

You’ve probably heard lots of them. If not, click here or here or here for some salutary examples to make you chortle. I’ll share just one quote to put you in the mood. A publisher sending John le Carré’s first novel to a colleague: You’re welcome to le Carré – he hasn’t got any future.

As Frank Sinatra famously said: The best revenge is massive success.

 

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