Diary of a Booker Winner (in waiting) – 4

February 12th

Literary Agents Approached: 0

Cover Letters Written: 0

Religious Revelations: 1

Therapeutic Chats: 1

I was privy to a couple of debates this week on subjects close to the heart of all aspiring novelists. At least to all who’ve reached step two of the three toward heaven. All who have completed their manuscripts and are now readying themselves to approach that greatest and most powerful of all human beings – the Literary Agent.

Here’s how Conversation One – a hushed affair in the library – went:

‘They all talk to each other you know.’


‘It’s a very small industry. They all know each other. You can’t approach one Literary Agent without telling the other one that you’ve approached another one.’



‘They’re not Gods you know.’


‘We shouldn’t have to worship them, should we?’


‘Or dutifully follow their strict rules of engagement.’


‘Or hold them in such high, honoured and hushed esteem.’


‘Well what?’

‘Well, actually they do have celestial like power.’


‘Yes – they decide whether to crush or facilitate our dreams.’

‘Okay… So, in effect we kneel helpless before them in the hope of mercy and benevolence?’


‘I see. And so our cover letters are in actual fact no different than soulful heartfelt prayers?’

‘Yes. Very much so.’

‘We place our deepest desires, aspirations and ambitions in their hands and trust they will accept such gifts with compassion and grace.’

‘Yes. I think you’re getting it now.’

‘And it can all spin on their whim…’


‘Wow… it’s heavy stuff.’

‘Amen to that.’

Conversation Two took place down the pub:

‘I resent the fact that what we send will simply be opened by an office intern at best but more likely a bored work-experience 14-year-old.’

‘Yeah… Neither of whom will have the experience, insight or wisdom to spot genuine literary genius when it pops up before them.’

‘They call it the Slush Pile for a reason you know.’

‘Do they?’

‘Yeah. Beautiful, pure, innocent offerings left ignored and beginning to decay into dirty unloved detritus ready to be crushed and trodden underfoot.’

‘Ha! Yes! It’s snow joke!’

‘No. which reminds me. Do you really think comedy writing is your forte?’

‘Well, you have to laugh, don’t you? It’s such a ridiculous system. Talk about a shot in the dark – I bet they hate that job. No wonder it’s given to the lowliest in the office. We should see it from their side – ‘Dear Sir, I love you, please find me a huge publisher and secure me a major advance…’  ‘Dear Madam, my mum loves this book and she usually only reads the tealeaves…’ They must get some right pearlers.’

‘Yeah…But it’s still no excuse…’


‘No… another beer?’

‘Actually, maybe they don’t even call it the Slush Pile anymore? It’s all electronic submissions nowadays.’

‘The Slush Box perhaps?’

‘The In-the-bin-box?’

‘The Straight-in-the-bin-box?’

‘Yeah, email makes it so much easier and quicker for them to scroll and dismiss.’

‘Even less focus is required.’

‘Click click delete.’

‘Click click, send standard no thanks reply, smile maliciously, delete.’

‘I’m convinced the only manuscripts the agent actually reads are the ones sent by family members or friends they went to university with.’

‘Yeah, or the devious ones who work for them filtering the slush pile – “No, nothing good in the unsolicited this week I’m afraid. But did I tell I’m a writer myself? Look – here’s my first 28 chapters. I’ve shown great initiative and printed them off for you. Have a read whilst I pour you a Prosecco then give you a pedicure.”

‘Yeah, it’s not what you write its who gets to read what you write.’




‘You do realise all this worrying about it and bleating about it is actually stopping us from doing it.’

‘Yes, yes I’m fully aware of that.’





‘I might go and do a bit of writing now actually.’

‘Yes. Yes, me too. Love to your mum.’

H. B. O'Neill

H. B. O’Neill is a London born writer inspired by the City and its myriad opportunity for comedy, pain, drama and adventure. He is a prize-winning poet and short story writer, a screenwriter, playwright and author. His much-anticipated novel According to Mark is due to be published soon.

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