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Sally Doherty

The submissions process from a housebound perspective

Sally describes her personal experience of writing and submitting whilst living with M.E. and explains what a virtual writing conference means for her.

Sally lives in leafy Surrey with her two-legged husband, three-legged Labrador and four-legged Jack Russell Terror. She writes middle grade novels, flash fiction and articles about living with chronic illness which have been published by Metro, MSN, Yahoo News, The Mighty, Action for ME and ME Association. Her debut middle grade novel will be published by March Hamilton.

Throughout the year, there are several literary festivals for writers. They offer talks and workshops with publishing experts, one-to-ones with agents and the chance to network with fellow writers. They are FANTASTIC opportunities… for those of us who can attend. Unfortunately, for many of us, there are immovable obstacles in the way. Firstly, the entry fee for such festivals does not come cheap (we’re talking hundreds of pounds). Writers may have childcare responsibilities they cannot abandon or the location may be geographically out of reach. And then there are those of us who cannot attend due to their health (or lack of) – *waves hand*.

One such literary festival recently tweeted details of their event this year. Of course, I didn’t click the link, what would be the point? Only I did click the link, sucker that I am. I swooned over the list of agents providing one-to-ones. Some of my favourites! What an amazing opportunity to get feedback on my WIP! A wave of disappointment swelled through me. Here was yet another thing I couldn’t access because of my situation.

I have been ill with M.E. for over thirteen years. Housebound and often bedbound, there’s no denying that life is tough. For the first few years of my illness I was nothing but a shell. The symptoms were so all-consuming that I couldn’t see past the end of my nose. Gradually, however, a little space grew in my befuddled brain – a space in which my creativity started to bubble. And so my first book baby was born. It took another few years to be able to start getting the words on paper (or rather laptop). And progress was slow, oh so slow. It still is, though fortunately I can go a little quicker these days. On a good week, I push a thousand words. To most of you, this will be a tiny amount. But I keep trudging away. Writing is my silver lining, my sense of achievement, my buzz.

When I thought I was finally ready to start submitting my book to agents, I soon discovered that I wasn’t. But over the course of two years, many more edits and rewriting, I was lucky to get fifteen full requests. Ultimately, I ended up with a R and R (revise and resubmit) from one agent and a publishing offer from a small press. After much deliberation, I chose to go with the small press. Not least because this was the best option for my health.

So, Sally, if you have a publishing deal, why do you care about literary festivals? Because I am now in the midst of my second book and I am in need of feedback from industry insiders – is my opening working? Is this a plot/genre/theme that is even going to be of interest to publishers? And of course, there’s always the hope that meeting an agent might help you get a foot in the door.

YES, you can absolutely get an agent through the submissions pile (I refuse to call it the ‘slush pile’). In fact, agent Alice Sutherland-Hawes at Madeleine Milburn recently tweeted this:

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I know several writers who found their agent through general submissions and nearly all my full requests came this way. HOWEVER, I also know writers who weren’t faring so well but managed to secure agents through festival one-to-ones. Agents receive THOUSANDS of submissions a year and only take on a handful of new writers, literally. Whatever you can do to stand out helps.

And I know that I would never have received full requests if I hadn’t received agent feedback during my two years of submitting. I managed to nab a couple of skype chats with agents when rare opportunities arose and their advice was instrumental in my success.

So, here I am, in need of input on my second book and there is nothing out there for the housebound crew. And then along comes Stuart White, galloping out of the mist on his noble steed… wait, cut that, he’d much prefer to arrive in the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo as sidekick.

You know those immovable obstacles I mentioned earlier? Stuart’s WOW conference picks them up and tosses them to the side – an ONLINE literary festival with blog posts, workshops, speeches and *drum roll* skype one-to-ones with agents. And yes, they areagents to swoon over. Did I mention entry for the weekend is only ten pounds? Nope, that is not a typo. I repeat, ten pounds. Holy moly.

The WOW-CON is a much needed event on the calendar. Publishers are increasingly interested in working with diverse and underrepresented writers. But without opportunities such as this, the industry is missing out on a large proportion of the very people it wishes to embrace/engage/encourage.

See you there?