Thursday Interview: Dead Rat

– Now, you’re far from your average dead rat which not a lot happens to apart from getting eaten by crows. You were selected to get sent through the post. What was it all about?

– Well, you’d have to ask the person who sent me to get the whole story. All I know is I hadn’t been dead for long, I was still in reasonably good nick, minding my own business as it were, when he scoops me up and –

– So it was a man?

– I’m assuming. I didn’t get a good look. I dare say a woman could do it but it seems like a man’s thing to me. Anyway, he puts me in a box, pretty wrapping paper and all, and next thing I know I’m in the Post Office sorting room. Not a clue where I’m bound nor why. A present for someone? Well, even I would admit there are pleasanter things to receive. Turns out I’m destined for this literary agent, Vivienne Schuster, not a gift at all, but an act of vengeance from a writer she rejected.

– Wow! What was her reaction?

– Well, you can imagine. Shrieks of horror, gasps of amazement that anyone could do such a thing. Eventually everyone laughed and the story became part of literary agency lore.

– And how did you feel about it all?

– It made a change from the usual, I must say. Normally we’re just left to become food for maggots. Even if I did get tossed into a dustbin straight after, at least I got my fifteen minutes of fame. My fellow dead rats were quite envious. And then a few of us got together and set up our own agency, Rent-a-Rat, with the slogan, Bearing a grudge? Give us a nudge! Unfortunately it didn’t catch on.

– No, I don’t suppose many people would actually go through with it, however angry they felt.

– Yes, that’s what our marketing consultant concluded. It’s a shame. It would have been a great way to raise our profile. We suffer from a very poor image. I know a dead anything has a bit of an image problem, but we have a far harder time of it than a budgerigar, say.

– Well, given where you hang out when you’re alive, it’s not all that surprising, is it?

– Personally, I was a field rat. Healthy outdoor life, feeding mostly on grain. Only went inside this house to get warm and then I got poisoned. It’s the ones that live in the sewers that give us all a bad name. I’m not blaming them, mind – we don’t all get our choice of habitat. I’ve heard that some of you lot live off rubbish tips, just like us. But sewers, yeah, it’s a huge handicap to overcome when you’re trying to establish a brand.

– And let’s not forget the plague. That didn’t help your reputation either. I mean the Black Death wiped out a third of the population of Europe!

– And it was started when Mongol forces catapulted a load of dead bodies into the port of Caffi. One of the first recorded instances of biological warfare. So if you want to blame someone, blame the Mongols, not us. Besides, I’d like to point out that we don’t transmit bubonic plague. It comes from the fleas we carry. But being more visible than them, we became convenient scapegoats. We sued for defamation afterwards, but nothing came of it of course.

– Well, it seems you’ve always been singled out for anything ignoble or revolting. And it’s still going on today, if that writer’s anything to go by. Would you agree, though, that if one’s looking for a literary agent, it’s a very bad idea to send them a dead rat?

– I don’t suppose they’d fare any better with a dead budgerigar, frankly. But we’re perfectly lucid, you know, we don’t expect cremation or prayers or what have you. I mean, personally I’m an atheist, so what the hell? But a little respect, I think that’s only reasonable, don’t you?

– Indeed. Thank you, Dead Rat, for your insights.

– My pleasure. Most dead rats aren’t very talkative, you know, so it’s nice to get the opportunity.

A Publishing Phenomenon

R. the B. was feeling really down. He’d just clicked on his inbox and got the same old message: ‘Thank you for sending us your manuscript, The Stupid Sassenachs, but unfortunately we feel it would be difficult to place in the current climate. We wish you better luck elsewhere.’

R. the B. went to brood in his cave. After several hours of inner turmoil, he decided not to embark on an umpteenth revision of his fantasy novel, but to start a different project altogether. The rest, as they say, is history. If At First is now an international phenomenon, one of the best selling self-help books of all time. Its sequel, Pick Yourself Up, is due out next month.

Shot in the Foot


In response to the Izzy May I the Write: Shot in the Foot blog event: As a writer have you ever shot yourself in the foot, and what advice would you give to avoid it?

Dear Mr. Bausse, As a literary agent I have better things to do than waste my time in a Post Office collecting – and having to pay for – a letter on which there is no stamp. Please reimburse me immediately. And no, I do not want to read your novel.

Oh no! Am I really that absent-minded? Was I drunk? Not at all: a couple of days later, on a different envelope, the truth became clear: self-adhesive stamps that don’t adhere! Maybe, I thought, I can sue the Post Office – a literary career come unstuck. My advice? Avoid agents who don’t accept email submissions. Or buy a tube of super glue.

OGB update + poll


A perfectly timed 201 assignment today! Allows me to (i) give a brief update on One Green Bottle and (ii) collect your thoughts. What more could I ask for?

(i) OGB is now one of the editor’s picks on Book Country. Not entirely sure what that means but it can only be good! Meanwhile, after scouring query shark, I realised my own query letter sucks. So I’ve done it again and soon it’ll be off to more agents.

(ii) The survey below is really quick and easy. Just a few yes/no questions, but your answers will be much appreciated!

Novel Update: Which way in?


It was a long street, lined with brightly lit houses on either side. Dusk was falling and a cold wind was blowing from the north. Though the curtains were drawn and the windows shut, he heard the sound of music and laughter at every house he passed. He paused and listened: scraps of surplus revelry tossed to a tramp.

After a while, he plucked up the courage to knock on one of the doors. A butler cautiously opened it, peering through the gap. Not unfriendly, but not hospitable either. ‘Do you have an invitation? In that case, I’m sorry. I suggest you try elsewhere.’

But everywhere, the answers were the same. ‘I’m afraid not…’ ‘Don’t be disheartened…’ ‘Perhaps further down the road…’ Some didn’t bother to come to the door.

Cold and hungry, he stood on the pavement, brooding. He was about to leave when someone tapped him on the shoulder. ‘Why don’t you go round the back? Here, follow me.’

They walked together down a narrow path, pushed open a creaky door, and found themselves in a long, dingy corridor. It was packed with shadowy figures, some leaning against the wall, others sprawled on the floor. There was barely enough room to move.

‘It’s not great, I know,’ his new friend said. ‘But it’s better than outside. At least there’s a bit of warmth. And sometimes we get a few crumbs. Why don’t you find a space, make yourself comfy? I know it’s not what you wanted, but you’ll get used to it…’

My question now: stripped of the fancy metaphor, is that a fair description of the writer’s dilemma? Either you trudge from door to door, getting turned away by agents and publishers, or else you go through the self-publishing back door and huddle in the dark with thousands of others. To Amazon it’s all the same: a single author selling 5 million copies or a million authors each selling five.

I don’t know. I’m reading contradictory reports. It is possible, apparently, with enough hard work and marketing savvy, for self-published authors to emerge, if only a little, from the obscurity. But how many do? And those that don’t – do they regret taking that option?

So far I’ve knocked on 13 doors with One Green Bottle. 8 refusals, 5 no answers. It’s not a lot, I know. Some people try a hundred or more. So I guess I’ll keep on knocking, displaying the same hopeful smile to every butler I see. But at the same time, maybe it’s worth taking a peek round the back to get genned up on the alternative.

I’m still at the start of my journey. So I’d be very happy to hear from anyone who’s ventured further than me 🙂

The Incredibly Cruel Creepy-Crawly


Dear Literary Agent,

I’ve written this fantastic book. It’s about an incredibly cruel creepy-crawly that kidnaps the Duchess of Cambridge and takes her to the planet of Vglchbaaal, where she has lots of adventures. I won’t tell you the ending because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you’ll be relieved to know she does get safely back. Wouldn’t do to kill off the Duchess of Cambridge, would it? The title, by the way, is The Incredibly Cruel Creepy-Crawly that Kidnapped Kate – I just love that alliteration, don’t you?

I’m sure you’ll adore this book because it’s full of suspense and my Mum says it’s brilliant. It includes a 200 page dictionary of the Vglchbaaalian language so readers can understand the dialogues. I kept them in Vglchbaaalian to make it more authentic.

I enclose my bank details so you can send me an advance on royalties. Or if you prefer, just pop a cheque in the post.

Have a great day!




Dear Arnold,

Thank you for sending me The Incredibly Cruel etc., which I have now considered. Regretfully, I am going to pass on this. I wish you all success in finding suitable representation with another agent.


Sydney Lushpile, Literary Agent.

OK, the proper way to write a query letter is a bit different. But of course, even if you’ve sweated over it for hours till it’s perfect, the chances of getting anything other than a reply like the one above are much, much smaller than Wales one day beating the All Blacks.

Alex+Cuthbert+Wales+v+New+Zealand+International+SdSJWGu6wCDlJulian+Savea+Wales+v+New+Zealand+International+cXyxXyvYPT2l 10802229_600x400

Enough said.

On the Book Country discussion board, Jay Greenstein puts it this way: Publishers aren’t looking for writers who are as good as those they have. A new writer has no following, so they need the great reviews that bring in readers. So first, your work should be at a level where if they took your submission and mixed it with that of ten writers currently with books in the stores, an acquiring editor couldn’t tell, just by reading, that yours is the one unpublished writer’s submission. And in fact, yours must be the best of the bunch.

Such is the harsh reality of the publishing world.