Friday, 1 October 2010


By Richard Jay Parker

There are a couple of theories about the title of James M Cain’s crime novel THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. One is that it referred to the true case of Ruth Snyder who conspired to murder her husband and asked the postman to ring twice if he was delivering the insurance documents she’d altered.

The other story - and the one I prefer - is that Cain dreaded the arrival of the postman and knew that if he rang twice he would have a weighty parcel ie his manuscript returned from another publisher.

The novel, of course, has nothing to do with a postman so I like the idea that this non sequitur of a title came from the writer’s frustration at trying to get his work published.

It’s a harsh reality for writers – that something you spend months working on and losing sleep over can be dismissed with a standard letter or a phone call. In fact, nowadays, it can be dismissed even quicker. Emails are a great way of speeding up the communication process but can sometimes seem even more impersonal.

But the waiting and then the casual cold shoulder is something every writer has to come to terms with. Purgatory by the phone is something every writer, however successful, has to experience.

Is the phone still working? Has it been left off the hook?

But it’s good to get things into perspective by considering how many writers out there are going through the same torment. And some of that work is probably jostling for position on the same desk as yours.

I used to submit scripts to TV and got very frustrated with the rate of turnaround. Then I worked as a script editor and got a revealing perspective on just how much time there is in a day to read. The volume of submissions was staggering and although I always tried to give personal feedback to everyone who submitted, it was sometimes impossible.

Agents are very busy people and reading new manuscripts only accounts for a very small percentage of their time. Most of them need a 36 hour day to service the clients they already have and sometimes only have an hour or two in the week to catch up on reading. Here’s an interesting article from the Andrew Lownie Agency about the average week for an agent. I recommend reading some of the other articles on the site re submissions as well.

As promised, here’s the interesting link for writers seeking agents that explains how to compose a cogent query letter. Always remember to read the specific guidelines of each agency though. Best of luck and hope these provide an insight while you're waiting for the postman.

Happy weekend.

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