Debutante

Continuing the submission theme – see previous post:  Submitting to Submission – I find that I am a ‘debut author.’ This is how a literary agent will define me – or would define me if I got round to submitting my manuscripts.
It is a definition that identifies me with risk and shouts out to publishers ‘be wary of backing the novice.’ 
As is the nature of a mind prone to procrastination, I find myself straying from what I should be doing (which is trawling through lists of literary agents) and wondering about the word debut – what exactly does it mean?
Debut is a French word, with 18th century origins. It sounds French ‘deh-boo’ or ‘day-boo’ (I’m not sure which is correct). It means first appearance or first performance in a particular role. Stretched, it forms ‘debutante’ – not someone bestowed anew with nephews or nieces i.e. not ‘deh-boo-t’aunt‘ , although I guess you could be an aunt debutante – but a young aristocratic lady coming out into society for the first time at a grand ball. Back when the debutante ball was an annual event in the calendar of royal, monied and titled families (a husband hunting cattle market dressed-up in silk and diamonds), it was de rigueur to give every nicety of society a chic French name. Good trends don’t die – today, a new author is a ‘debut author when he or she ventures out of the writing bubble and appears in public for the first time in the  role of author.
Am I a debutante? I write – two unpublished books, several poems and a blog and I tentatively call myself an author, not quite believing that I yet have the right to do so. I have an author’s website. I have written all my life. My debut performance is a long, slowly brewing one and its extension has been guaranteed by an inertia, partly fuelled by fear of rejection and partly by procrastination. Ho hum. Here I go again.
This procrastinating, frightened debutante has finally finished editing (though, admittedly, I have said that before), has cut and re-cut and cut again the synopses for both books and has written rough templates for agent letters (it’s probably not good to admit that. But I will personalise them!). I even have a customised letter head. All that is needed is a literary agent.
The Children’s Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2015 edition is on my desk – the 2013 and 2014 editions sit on the bookshelf above my ever-procrastinating head. Pencilled notes, scribbles, circles, exclamation marks and asterisks scatter across the literary agent pages.
How do you choose?
I have written myself some criteria – it’s a bit like the tick-list when searching for a property, only less expensive. In fact none of the proper agents ask you for money, so any expense is all your own – time, paper, stamps, laptop, memory sticks etc.
So what are my criteria –
Ideally, the agent needs to be London-based. Or in Edinburgh! At my core I will always be a Scot. The romantic in me likes the idea of coffee in the shadow of St Giles – there’s an excellent French coffee shop just off the Royal Mile. And I fall in love with Edinburgh each year at the Festival Fringe. And … I digress. First on the list of criteria: Edinburgh or London.
Second, is that the literary agency has to take email submissions. So much easier than paper, stamps, envelopes and recorded deliveries. And wondering if it got there. And not wanting to phone to check in case that sounds to desperate. And daily listening to the fall of the post – was that a heavy envelope landing on the tiles? Email is better. And kinder on the ears.
Third, the agency should have a list of clients some of whom I have actually heard of. But in a good “Ooh, I liked their book!’ way, not a ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that footballers also wrote children’s books!’ way. Maybe, footballers write very good books. Maybe, I should take up football. Maybe that doesn’t follow. What does follow is that I am intimidated by a client list filled with the names of people famous for doing other things. This reduced my list of potential agents by one. And felt like a small victory. An own goal for the football supporting agency perhaps.
Finally, on my list of criteria, the literary agency has to have a good website – one that looks good artistically, is easy to navigate, isn’t too full or fussy and ideally states ‘We love debut writers’ or something similar. It it looks too big or too commercial and lacks a personal feel, it gets the pencil line through its entry in the yearbook.
So far, I have looked at a handful of websites, scribbled some question marks and asterisks, put circles round a couple of names. I started with a list of 35 agencies. I need to keep going.
I want to submit soon.
Really.
I do.
Will this debutante come out?
You’ll have to come back to see.

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