Novel gets catapulted (at long last) onto slush pile

Yes, dear agent, this is the novel you are waiting for. Isn't it?

Yes, dear agent, this is the novel you are waiting for. Isn’t it?

I made a decision early in the year to get this novel finished. Before it finished me.

I had to put whatever time and energy I had into doing just that. Which meant, among other things, not going to any more writing events, entering any novel competitions, limiting writers’ groups and, for that matter, blogging. I had to grit my teeth and drive on, just like Popeye in the deliciously unhinged car chase scene in The French Connection.

Finishing the God-damn novel, Gene Hackman-style. Courtesy

Finishing the God-damn novel, Gene Hackman-style. Courtesy

Okay, it has taken an awful lot longer than expected, but I have done it. Some five years after I started, I have finished my novel, with a capital F. And done by the end of September – as I had set myself in July.

It went through a final – and significant – structural edit/edits during July and August. This followed a reading by a friend and literary guru (my words, not his). He rated it, but was quite clear certain work had to be done to maximise my chances of attracting an agent/publisher. At the same time I had two ghost readers – both writers – go through the entire thing. They came back very positive about it. Which, a la Fast Show, was nice.

Finally finishing it was like a weight off my shoulders, even if I had to do several proof reads (the seemingly endless mistakes were a tester) and make little changes (which could go on forever if I wanted to).

I had to brush off an old synopsis and rewrite and tighten it. After that, was the covering letter, which I had not done before. This was quite a bit of work, but enjoyable.

I deliberately had not spent time on literary agents until I was finished. I had little or no idea how to go about this. I sought some advice and perused the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and spent some time looking up websites, agents and submission guidelines. Note: Being crystal clear on submission guidelines is crucial – and following them.

Then came the moment of truth. Sending off submissions. This was exciting, but also a bit nerve-wracking. It was either I did it, or my long-suffering wife would.

The agencies had different requirements – the first three chapters, the first 10 pages, the first 5/10,000 words, first 50 pages, etc, etc. Same with covering letters. I quadruple-checked the attachments and then (half-cracked by this stage) hit send. Bang. They were gone. (One of the submissions I sent off was by post).  Sending the submissions was an even bigger relief, and release, than finishing the book. No more polishing or fretting or pulling hairs or barking. They were catapulted onto the (mainly digital) slush pile.

Much to my amazement, I got one response very quickly, within days, looking for the full manuscript. After that came my first rejection (which was actually an encouraging rejection). That was followed by another request for the full manuscript.

I have wires strapping down any Walter Mitty flights of fancy and have read enough/talked enough to writers to know this is just the beginning. It may go somewhere, but also may not (and the odds are very long). And, I’m not forgetting what my son wrote on a post-it (at right of image) as I scoured for agents…

Does my son know something I don't?

Does my son know something I don’t?


About Cormac O'Keeffe

I've written a novel. And, it's going to be published. This April. Mad, or what? It's entitled 'Black Water' and is a crime novel set in Dublin's gangland, along the evocative Grand Canal. This blog is about that bumpy journey, which is about to get really exciting. You'll also find some photography on this blog, particularly snaps that relate to my novel, much of it centred along the canal. There are also some reviews, both fiction and non-fiction, many of them published in the Irish Examiner, a daily national newspaper in Ireland. I work as security correspondent there and have specialist interests in crime, drugs, policing, the justice system, communities and human rights. Both my personal life and my professional life have fed into my novel, or, rather, have been poured into it. My novel was granted a literature bursary by the Irish Arts Council in September 2014 and my journalistic work has won multiple awards from the Law Society of Ireland over many years, most recently in 2015.
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8 Responses to Novel gets catapulted (at long last) onto slush pile

  1. The Author says:

    Good luck! An encouraging rejection is a big step forward. A half step, but going in the right direction!

  2. Niall Murray says:

    Sounds exciting; didn’t know this had been going on with ya. Whatever responses come back, hopefully multiple contract offers – enjoy the new-found free time! Best of luck with it all!

  3. carolannwrites says:

    Huge congratulations, Cormac! Brilliant news. I can’t wait to see it between the covers of a book where it belongs.

  4. jjtoner says:

    Hi Cormac. Two requests for the full manuscript out of three submissions is probably a world record for a debut novel. Well done! Have you tried Luigi Bonomi? I know he was looking for new fiction talent a couple of years ago, and he’s a first class agent.

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