TWITTER, LITERARY AGENTS, ‘SHIT-FACED CLOWNS’ & A TAXI DRIVER IN FINLAND

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Walked into some choppy Twitter waters the other night, quite by accident. I can’t call it a spat, or a skirmish, or a fracas, more a pie of misunderstanding, which happens a lot when you’re limited to just a pithy 147 characters. What kicked it all off was this post by Carole Blake (Literary Agent at Blake Friedmann) about this self-published book – The Diary of a Taxi Driver in Finland.

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It is bad form to approach a literary agent on Twitter, apparently. If you want to even stand a chance of getting lost in the slush pile, you have to do things properly, namely following the submission guidelines. If you don’t follow the guidelines, prepare to feel their wrath. And nothing says wrath more than a blind tweet to an agent, hoping they’ll show interest in your book. I know this, because I learnt the hard way.

When I first joined Twitter I was like a pig who had just found out LUSH sold fecal bath bombs. There were agents…everywhere. And it took a few misplaced tweets before I learnt that you don’t tweet literary agents about your book. They don’t like it. Like, really don’t like it.

So, it’s no surprise Carole Blake, somewhat curtly, declined the offer of reading this tome. After all, she’s author of this piece: 29 ways NOT to submit to an agent

What amused me though was that she had wittingly, or unwittingly, just brought this self-published book to the attention of 15,000 followers. That’s 15,000 people who didn’t know about the book previously. Not a bad return that for one misplaced tweet. If I was the author I’d be over the moon. After all, here I am, typing about his book, and here you are, reading about it…it might not lead to a large number of sales but all publicity is good publicity, right?

I will even admit to wondering whether that was the author’s plan all along. Carole Blake has been in the business 50 years, and in 2013 won an award for a ‘significant and sustained contribution to the publishing industry’. So, she’s not just a big cheese in publishing circles, she’s the whole brie wheel. Perhaps the author foresaw that brazenly tweeting such a literary agent would only rankle them into a fury so great they would be forced to retweet with rage, thus gaining sizable exposure?

But hey, maybe even Derren Brown couldn’t predict behavior that far in advance.

The next gem was discovering what was written on the book cover. Too many books these days use jaded buzz words such as ‘hilarious’, ‘funny’ and ‘genius’ – these words are trotted out so often as to be meaningless marketing speak. Every time I see them on a book I assume they are meant ironically – hence the air quotes they are framed in. It takes something new and brazen to grab my attention these days and this cover didn’t disappoint with a boast of ‘SHIT-FACED CLOWNS!’.

You now have my full attention.

I tweeted my followers (all 183 of them, and hopefully with a similar sense of humour) and shared the treat that was The Diary of the Taxi Driver in Finland

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And that was that…or so I thought. I woke this next morning to find a message from Carole Blake, literary agent (black belt, 7th dan) saying:

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Now, it’s not clear whom she was addressing, but as she hadn’t singled either of us out, I took it to mean she was telling me to grow up, which at 6.33am, the time at which I read her reply, confused me greatly. ‘What gives?’, I thought. ‘And why the rudeness?’ I was making a joke, that’s all. ‘Chill out,’ as the kids say.

Maybe as an agent you can become jaded. You see so many manuscripts come your way that promises of ‘SHIT-FACED CLOWNS’ must be ten-a-bit-coin. But for me, and my sheltered life, this was the first time I’d seen that on a book. Although, I should like to point out, I have actually seen a ‘shit-faced clown’ in real life. It was at a beer festival in Downham, Essex circa 2004, but that is another story that I don’t really want to repeat having told it once already in court.

Anyway, I wanted to reply to the agent and explain she’d missed the point, as well as everything in this blog post so far, but it’s hard to cram all that into the 147 characters, plus when you have to explain a joke, it just isn’t funny any more. So I just thought I’d settle on some politeness.

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And that I thought was that.

But then, the taxi driver gets involved:

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Again, the curse of Twitter: I can’t tell his tone. Is it jocular. Is it accusatory? Why doesn’t he get that I’m on his side? After all, only last week I published a book about travelling – I completely get how hard it is to sell travel writing when you’re so completely unknown even junk mail gets addressed to you incorrectly. It’s a slog pushing your book, and writers need all the luck they can find to try and get their memoir read by anyone who isn’t related to them.

Anyway…I replied

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Yeah, I know, there’s a typo. Yet another curse of Twitter having no edit button. And, reading it back, my message could be misconstrued as being pompous – I didn’t mean as a result of university I was educated enough to understand the meaning of the words ‘shit-faced’ – I meant that having gone to university and spent three years being a student, which equates to three years in a pub – my grasp on ‘shit-faced’ ran the gamut.

And lo, that’s where it ended. And kids the moral of the story is…don’t use Twitter. Oh, and don’t pitch your book on Twitter. And don’t be rude on Twitter. Don’t use Twitter basically, you get the picture. But do use new an inventive words and phrases to sell your book. And don’t give up.

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