It’s dark and foggy out this morning. Rolling out of bed and peeping through the curtains to see what the day was promising, I discovered it shrouded in a dense blanket of fog; the light from the street lamps reduced to more like airport landing lights than street lighting. They were able to indicate the proximity of a path, but not bright enough to show where it actually was. I ventured onto the landing.
I tried to sound cheerful. It was a vain attempt at stirring the teenage mound that I knew would be still asleep on the other side of the bedroom door. With no audible response to confirm if I had been successful, I pushed open the door and popped my head into the room. In doing so I let in a little light. A groan escaped from the body that I saw so tightly wrapped in a quilt that an escapologist would have been hard pressed to escape. Her unenthusiastic response was no surprise, but I became more disturbed by any lack of intention to move. The knees drew up into the foetal position as if to try and nestle down some more.
“Sleep well?” With no response forthcoming I answered for her: “Looks like it”.
She clearly was not interested enough to want to argue the toss about my appraisal of her nights slumber. One more step inside the room and I found myself closer to the bottom of the bed; my advancement not enought to either threaten or disturb her. There was no outward sign or promise of upward movement. The quilt remained still.
“It’s really foggy outside.”
My voice was deliberately light, as I tried to ignore the sense of impatience creeping in. My attempt to abstract an energetic inquisitive leap out of bed didn’t happen. It might have done a few years back, but not now. The quilt rocked from side to side in annoyance. Her feet kicked out of the bottom and the imagined expletive was muffled by the pillow, which she pulled down tighter over her head. I stood and watched as I imagined the train there was to catch, the school bag yet to be packed, the breakfast to be consumed, the time needed to apply makeup and thoughtful brushing and how this leaves little spare time to try and delay the inevitable start of the day. I considered my next move. I could flick the light on, but past experience has shown me that this can have the opposite effect. It can cause the creature inside the duvet to get more angry and respond like a hermit crab; retreating further back into its mattress and, as a consequence, become even harder to prize out.
“You look well wrapped up in that quilt..”
Again my voice was intentionally light, but the reply that it enlisted was tainted by the weight of having to suffer being a teenager:
“I told you. The quilt’s too small”.
Nothing is right it seems. Feeling exasperated, with my attempts to be pleasant rejected and failing to get what I thought was needed, I sensed myself getting angry.
“Time to get up”.
An opinion not mutually shared. Still no reaction other than mine, so I consciously stuck to facts:
“It’s seven o’clock”; at which I turned on my heels and left.
The tut that slipped from my lips half way down the stairs was probably loud enough for her to hear, as indeed it was for me. It made me realise that I was falling into the trap of wrapping myself in my own duvet of miserable thoughts; thinking how hard done by I felt. It is sometimes a thankless job I have, but then as a teenager I wouldn’t have thanked anyone for trying to prize me out of bed either. I know it’s not personal … and to feel better I knew I needed to shift my perspective. I stood back and let events take their natural course. I am pleased to report that with no more intervention from me the house emptied and no one has sent a text… so far… to say that they have forgotten anything. The fog is lifting, so I can see what I need to be doing too.
The task I have set myself today is to do a bit more research on how to write an effective covering letter to accompany my manuscript to a prospective literary agent. Plenty of websites reinforce how the query letter is crucial to the book’s potential success. One site yesterday that I read commented that all I have is two seconds of the post shifter’s attention, in order to convince them that I am worth a second glance. Two seconds… I am guessing, but I reckon that’s about seven words to hook them. Even in speed dating you are given longer to introduce yourself. But having spoken to someone who has participated in this, they mentioned that actually two seconds can be sufficient to make a decision… and three minutes to become painfully embarrassed. So, like speed dating, it would appear that finding an agent is all down to creating the ‘right’ first impressions. How do you do this? And interestingly, this is where the comparison with speed dating seems to continue. I have read and I understand that embellishing your submission with superficiality is to be discouraged. So, again like dating, some might be put off if we adorn ourselves with too much make-up, dress up a little inappropriately or try to rely too much on corny chat up lines. Use of these shallow and overt tactics to gain another’s attention could be counter-productive on both accounts.
Also like dating, it seems to be well worthwhile doing a bit of background research. Try and get to know the person, the agent you are wanting to approach from a distance. Find out what they like and what their particular niche or interest is. And when you do make the first contact try and come across trustworthy and sincere. And… no surprises… remember to use and spell their name correctly. Presenting yourself as someone who is awkward by bumbling along does no one any favours, so the advice is to be direct and state your intentions early on, using words that make it clear exactly what is it you are all about. It is suggested that unless I am famous… which I am not… there is no point in trying to boast about how good I think the book is or how lucky they are to have me approach them. Arrogance and coming across overly, though misguidedly, too confident is as definite a put-off in the agents world as well it might on the first date. No surprises either, but I am best advised not to mention or keep any reference to my past achievements a minimum, unless it is something really relevant and remarkable. No-one wants to read about how I didn’t win a school writing competition twenty years ago, just as they don’t want to hear about my first dates with past boyfriends.
You are however encouraged to take a little risk in your choice of phraseology by revealing something about yourself that might make you stand out from the crowd. If you can make it humorous and entertaining, all the better. It is important to make sure you turn up looking good and present yourself well. Wide margins and well-written are paramount. Take no chances, make no mistakes and try and show them you have a passion, that you really care. The final presentation is important. Again no different from any first date. None of this is rocket science and most of it, if you think about it, is common sense. But knowing all of this may not prevent me making a ‘wrong’ choice, which could adversely affect my chances of success. Again, what it seems to boil down to is that finding a publisher is linked to having a bit of luck on your side.
It’s all very daunting. I realise that not only do I have to make a covering letter that is original, entertaining, relevant and grammatically and politically correct, it also has to have an ‘X’ factor to make it stand out. A smile… with the accompanying right sort of body language… may help you get through your first date, but how do I make a letter smile and give it the visible albeit silent language of its own that will get it past the first hurdle; especially if the first hurdle could well be a disgruntled ‘emerging adult’ who would have rather been left undisturbed and still in bed this morning. Like a teenager, I can’t make a literary agent do as I want, however pleasant I might be, however good my intentions are or however well I wrap my proposal. All I can do is my best, believe in me and my product… and persevere. At best there is some comfort in knowing that it’s not personal.