Six solid insightful and inspiring bits of advice to help you to get published.
1. You need a strong premise or high concept. The terms high concept, strong
premise, and big book are often used interchangeably within publishing. Every agent
and editor is looking for them! A high concept book has a strong premise and/or plot
that can be summed up in one or two snappy sentences, which instantly convey the
story and will make most people who hear it want to read it. Can you distil your plot
down to one or two killer sentences? It’s a good exercise to do anyway, as it helps
focus your story. For example, Follow Me would be:
‘There’s a serial killer tweeting clues as to his next victim on Twitter. What happens
if you follow him?’
If it takes you paragraphs to describe what your plot is about, you need to sharpen it
up. Sadly, writing a good book is not enough to get published – you need a hooky idea
to elevate it over the competition.
2. Your book is a product. It hurts our sensitive artistic souls to think in terms of our
work being merchandise, but that’s how the publishing industry sees it. Can they
package it? Can they market it? Can they sell it? Similarly, in an age of literary
festivals, can they package, market, and sell you? It’s all a bit icky thinking of hard
won words, often drawn from personal experience, as a commodity. But you’ve got to
get over it. Today’s publishing market is all about sales. Critical acclaim, awards and
accolades come after you’ve got your book out there into readers’ hands. Suck it up
and sell it, sister. Especially if you want a career with any longevity.
3. Genre is important. It seems archaic, but agents, editors, and ultimately readers like
to know which category a book fits in. They want to know which area of the book
shop it will be sold in. Have a wander around and a think. Are you writing a romantic
comedy, sci-fi, fantasy or something else? With each genre comes certain reader
expectations, and your book must deliver on them. You cannot have a crime thriller
with no crime, murder or thrills, for example. Take a look at the top ten bestsellers in
your genre on Amazon (for example, they have a Crime, Thrillers & Mystery chart).
Familiarise yourself with contemporary books that are strong sellers. Do they all have
a similar rhythm? Do certain things always happen? Do they all have a similar tone?
And what kind of titles do they have? What can you write that is fresh and exciting,
but still able to sit comfortably alongside these other books?
4. Publishing is very competitive. Agents receive around 200 unsolicited submissions a
week. The industry publishes 2000 books per week. Your book needs to stand out at
every stage of the process. What makes it unique? Why is it the book that only you
could have written? Always keep pushing yourself. The first novel I wrote was me
just learning how to write a book. It had some strengths – there was a story, good
characters, and humour throughout. But ultimately it didn’t have a strong or unique
enough concept to sell. It was well written but too similar to what was out there
already. I could have wasted years tinkering with it, trying to make it fit, when what I
really needed was a catchier idea.
Nothing in writing is ever wasted: you are always learning. But keep looking forward. As soon as you’ve finished (in terms of redrafting, editing etc) then immediately start on your next book. If you want to be a genre (as opposed to literary) writer then this
will stand you in good stead. The market is speeding up, as publishing gets to grips
with the popularity of ebooks. (I’m currently contracted to write two books a year.)
You are more than one idea. You are more than this one book, even if you have spent
years and years working on it. Keep moving. Keep having ideas. Keep writing. Plus,
it never does you harm to have one in the bag.
5. A lot of it is DIY. Unless you are one of the lucky few, getting a publishing deal
means doing a lot of the marketing and publicity yourself. Publishing imprints tend to
be made up of small teams who work on multiple book publications throughout the
year. They do an amazing, fantastic job and will try and support their authors
wherever they can, but there are only twenty-four hours in each day. This means
authors are doing increasing amounts of publicity and marketing, including social
media interaction, writing articles and short stories for free, and appearing at events.
This takes up a lot of time, especially if you don’t already have a social media
presence. Give yourself a head start and think about how you can build your profile
and audience. You could join and actively participate in a Facebook book club, start a
twitter account, or maybe a blog reviewing books in your chosen genre. You’ll meet
and connect with people who are already working in publishing, which means you’ll
have an opportunity to both learn and get your name known. Plus it’s lots of fun!
I started out knowing no one else who wrote, edited, published or agented, but by
getting myself out there I made not only contacts, but also friends who I love. I found
my people. Yours are out there waiting for you. That is something you never hear in a
creative writing class: writers and readers are the best people in the world.
6. Believe in yourself. Many writers think that once you get an agent it’s all turning
cartwheels of joy and endless success. But in reality, being a professional writer is the
same as any other job: there are good days and bad days. There are ups and downs.
Except instead of enduring the lows in an office with commiserating work colleagues,
you’re often on your own. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, with increased social media
usage proving a double-edged sword for writers.
Online you can find support and encouragement from other authors. You also see,
daily, hourly even, how fantastically everyone else is doing. We’re all smart enough
to know that online personas are curated: and people are more likely to post positive
success stories than sad sack updates (and are even recommended to if it’s a
professional account). But still the doubts burrow their way in. I know Sunday Times
bestselling authors who’ve been plunged into a pit of panic that they aren’t doing
enough. Or that other people are achieving more. This can be especially hard if you
are mid-project writing your next book. Do not let fear win. Forget about everyone
else. Turn off your accounts if you need to. Write an achievement list of everything
you’ve done to date. Now think back to when you first sat down to write. Look at
how far you’ve come. You started a book. That’s incredibly brave. You continued
to write a book. That’s dedicated. You may have amassed a good chunk of words. I
bet you never thought you could write so much, you clever bean. You may have
finished writing a book. That is seriously impressive, do you know how few people
ever manage that? You may have got an agent. That is incredible. You are now a
professional writer. You may have got a publishing deal. Your book is real.
Something that came from inside your head is now being sold for actual money.
That’s magic. You are a word conjuror. You are an authorial badass. You are
remarkable. Think of how far you could go. Give yourself permission to believe in
yourself. You are a writer. You got this.