Claire King


Archive for June, 2011

Literary Agent Responses – How long is normal?

Posted on: June 29th, 2011 by Claire - 42 Comments

This week I had a response from a literary agent to a submission I sent out 8 months ago (and withdrew 8 months minus one week ago). It was a slightly surreal reminder of the submissions process (and for information, it was a rejection)…

Rainbow in a meadow


When I was submitting I kept an excel spreadsheet of my submission dates, to whom I submitted, the initial response time etc and I thought it might be time to share. This was my process for finding an agent:

1) Look in the Writers and Artists Yearbook for agents that handle literary fiction, accept unsolicited submissions and were currently open to submissions from new authors.

2) Consider which authors my writing is similar to, and find out who represents them.

3) Draw up a long list of agencies, then check out their websites, google them and see where they have turned up on the web, what novels they have sold, articles they have written, etc etc.

4) Draw up a shortlist of 20, take a deep breath, start sending out queries in batches of four or five.

5) Wait

I don’t know if that’s a good process or not, but it felt right to me.

In the end I submitted to eleven agents before signing with an agent in early November. Of those agents, six hadn’t yet responded, so I wrote to them, and e-mailed, to withdraw my manuscript.

Of those six, three replied by email the same day, to say thank you for letting them know, congratulations and good luck. The three that replied had variously had my submission for 3 months, 6 weeks and 1 week.

Of the remaining three, one never replied. One responded to my original submission in January this year and one replied to my original submission this week, after having had the submission for 8 months!

Is 8 months normal for a response?

For those of you who have work out on submission at the moment, how long do you consider is reasonable for a response? What does an eight-month high slush pile even look like?

In other stats – for the five agents who responded to my initial submission:
One replied after a month to say their slushpile was too big and they had stopped accepting submissions.
Two rejected – One after two weeks, one after three weeks.
Two requested full – both requests arrived 6 days after I posted the query + 3 chapters (from France to the UK). And then pretty fast turnarounds for the fulls – two weeks for one agent and four days for the other…resulting in The Call.

Getting a rejection from an agent saying this: “With such a full list of clients, it is rare that we are able to take on new authors – and then only with material we are extremely confident of placing with a publisher.  Regretfully, we do not feel that your work fits into that category.” several months after my novel sold to Bloomsbury doesn’t have the sting to that it would if I were still looking for an agent. But it’s a sharp reminder that this industry is so incredibly risk averse and subjective.

Wishing all of you slush-pile warriors courage and the best of luck.



Posted on: June 23rd, 2011 by Claire - 13 Comments

Today, the 23rd June, is the Fête de la Saint-Jean. Every year a fire is lit at the top of Mount Canigou, and tonight the fire is brought down to all the villages around the mountain, ours included, and villagers celebrate, and leap over the flames to celebrate the summer solstice, and the spirit of our community. The Mount Canigou is a mountain sacred to the Catalan people. There is something magical about it.

I had a friend who loved this mountain. This week he died on it.

This friend, this man, he loved the mountain. He knew the mountain and spent a lot of time there. It was his passion. Two days ago a storm fell as he was climbing to the peak. He was struck by lightning and died instantly.

Today I find myself immobilised by this news. Today I should have been writing. But I cannot even find the right words to express my condolences, never mind a scene in a novel. People say that you can write through grief. That you can turn the emotion into something positive. That writing can be therapeutic, or a tribute to someone we loved.

But this is not my grief. The last time I properly chatted with this person was last year at his 50th birthday party, although I see his wife most weeks.

Andrew’s death makes me feel mortal. It makes me terribly sad. It reminds me that I am profoundly grateful for my own family. It makes me want to reach out to his wife and help her in any possible way I can, and I feel helpless, because I know that there is no real way I can comfort her. But I feel, rightly or wrongly, that writing about the tragedy that has left a friend devastated, would be disrespectful in the extreme.

I don’t feel bad creating fictional grief from my darkest fears and imaginings.

I don’t feel bad creating fictional grief by drawing on feelings of grief that I have experienced personally.

But I find someone else’s grief impossible to approach through writing. It’s personal. I don’t want to write about it.

Although maybe I  just did.

Take Care of the Pennies

Posted on: June 10th, 2011 by Claire - 7 Comments

What do getting fit, writing a novel and retirement have in common?

Well, one thing is that they’re all things on my mind at the moment. Not that I’m ready to retire, of course, but I am wondering how I’m going to finance all the lovely things I plan to do in my golden years…

And getting fit – well my youngest is now 3 1/2 and at nursery school, so why I should be hefting about all this baby weight still…Ooh, my back.

So anyway, I was out running, and whilst I was thinking about the novel I’m writing, and Where To Go From Here, a few nagging, puppyish thoughts crept in about the money we’re spending on finally closing up the holes in our walls and putting in some heating. There were also a few moments when I thought  ‘I wonder how many calories this run is worth so far’.

And it struck me that all of these things can be treated with the same approach.

If you’ve ever embarked on a ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’ effort, you may be familiar with this sensation a few days in, as the unpalatable reality hits: this is going to take *months*. The goal is still appealing, or even absolutely necessary, but the enormity of the gap between here and there seems overwhelming. A testament to this is the number of gym memberships that lie dormant…paid for, but unused.

We would all like to have a happy retirement, no more work and lots of lovely holidays, time to spend with the grandchildren, take up new hobbies or learning. We may now all have twenty or thirty years of retirement ahead of us and it’s clear the government is not going to support us in our old age. It’s down to us to make plans. So what are we doing about it? Do we have an idea how much money we will need and are we saving a little every month? (Honestly, here, not enough. But the money only stretches so far. What should we give up today so we are secure in thirty years’ time? Can’t we have our retirement cake and eat it?)

When we set out to write a novel we can be carried by our enthusiasm for a little while, by dreams of turning what is in our head into something other people can (and will) enjoy. But eventually real life can get in the way of that momentum, the words mount up much more slowly than we would hope. The editing is chewy and painful. Incidentally, this often manifests itself in new writers starting to approach agents and publishers before their book is ready.

Three objectives, one solution – take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.

It’s an every day thing, not a quick fix – every day walk a few more steps, write a few more words, save a few more pennies (quite a few, actually) and in a year, two years, thirty years the jar should be looking good.

Oh and maybe cancel that gym subscription and put the money into the pension pot.

On on!


Thoughts from the Fiction Editor’s Desk

Posted on: June 3rd, 2011 by Claire - 13 Comments

As many of you will know, I recently took over as Fiction Editor at The View From Here literary magazine. The first issue featuring the stories I selected has just been published. I promise you that it is entirely coincidental that this is also the last printed edition of TVFH. From now on it’s all digital.

I don’t know if that is a sad thing or not, the evolution to digital. I do know that many literary magazines are making the same decision. Run by people who do it for love rather than money, even so the costs of small print runs can make the price of the magazines prohibitively expensive. Not all though – the excellent Words with Jam just launched its first printed edition! Meanwhile the online literary scene is vibrant and booming. There’s a good article here by Kirsty Logan on finding the balance between online and print.

So you can now read the first four stories that I chose (see below for details on how to get your mitts on them) and I wanted to explain why these stories made it in when many many more did not. Unfortunately I’m not in a position to make personalised responses to writers whose work I turn down. But perhaps knowing what made me choose these stories could be interesting?

When I started to read submissions, I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. Just that I thought I would know it when I saw it. Something that was a delight to read, something fresh, exciting…that elicited an emotional response. It had to fit in with the ‘style’ of TVFH and if all that wasn’t enough, I also knew I wanted the stories I chose to be complementary – to fit together in the issue they would share.

I read around 100 submissions, which included a very high standard of writing. So why did I choose these particular stories?

The writing stood out from the crowd. It’s very hard to describe how that works, except to say that upon opening the stories, by one paragraph in I was no longer ‘filtering submissions’ but reading a story that had pulled me right in. The writing that attracted my attention tended to be bold, tight, and unrestrained by ‘The Rules’. Also it had to be well edited, because aside from a few editorial suggestions, I’m afraid I don’t have the time to go through a piece correcting typos etc.

I was very fortunate in that the stories that stood out for me last month had a common thread that pulls them together:  I ended up with four male protagonists, all searching for something inside themselves. The themes are rather dark, although admittedly this was a general trend across all 100 submissions. I also felt the stories both complemented each other and contrasted, because they were crafted in very different ways:

Bone Fire by A.J. Ashworth

Written in second-person, present tense, a tough feat to pull off, but delivered seamlessly. Here, the characterisation is deftly and tightly woven into a relatively short story. It instilled a kind of panic in me as I read it.

Yellow Fingers by Michael Saul

I found the voice of Joe Jack in this both authentic and unusual. Reading the unforgiving descriptions accompanied by the rough dialect felt a lot like rubbernecking. The imagery is ugly but it held a strange fascination for me.

Man Answers Ad by Anthony Spaeth

Reading this story for the first time was like being seated front row at some kind of absurdist theatre. ‘Waiting for Godot’, perhaps. But unlike some writing which seems to be trying hard to be ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ this seemed entirely natural. The bizarre narrative held up throughout the whole story and I wondered where it was going. I loved how, in the ending, the reader is nudged gently towards a conclusion.

I’m already gone by James Lloyd Davis

A piece of flash fiction that could easily be part of a bigger story. This hints at such a complicated backstory, and then invites the reader to fill in the character, his past, his future, his wife’s future…stretching out your imagination like ripples on a pond.

If you’re a TVFH subscriber, I would be really interested to hear what you think about this issue and the stories I chose. If you are not, well The View From Here can be ordered here, either in printed format or, for your e-reader or computer in digital format for only $1 or £0.69

This is (sniff) our last printed issue. We will continue publishing the best fiction we can find up at The Front View and you are cordially invited to send your words for consideration.

UPDATE: SUMMER 2014 – I handed over the editor’s baton last year to Kate Brown, after my writing commitments left me with little time to read submissions. Kate has picked some cracking stories over the last few months, you should go and read them. 

UPDATE: END 2014 – The View From Here has closed it’s doors, sadly. But all the stories and interviews are still archived and available online.