An agent or publisher is interested – what happens next? #getpublished

Congratulations. An agent or publisher is showing enough interest to want to speak with you.

There is usually a slow process of meeting each other, to see if you will get along. The agent or publisher will shower your story with praise, then probably suggest changes to your script and see how you respond. Sometimes they are slight tweaks and can be fixed in a week or two. Other times, you can be asked to do substantial redrafts that take months. Throughout all this, they are looking to see how you handle the situation.

They want someone who responds quickly and takes advice well. If you let yourself be distracted by other pressures IMG_3442

or decide now is the time to close your laptop and take a gap year, IMG_3443you risk losing their attention.

Agents first

Do not expect a contract at an early stage although it can happen. Agents are more likely to be prompt about contracts than publishers and will send you a standard form of around a single page. In July we looked in detail at what agents do.

If a contract does come your way, keep breathing and think about it. You do not have to accept it straight away. You can ask for thinking time if there’s another agent/publisher you’re hoping to hear from. And it’s a good idea to consult the UK’s Society of Authors or a lawyer about the legal terms. There’s usually little you can renegotiate in standard provisions but it helps to be clear about what they mean.

As soon as the agent is happy with your script and has taken you on, your script goes out to chosen publishers. It came as a shock to me that agents get rejections too but it does happen. Maybe someone just pipped yours to the post or the heat has gone off a particular genre in the space of weeks. I have met an author whose agent was passionate about his thriller and spent five years hawking it around the world, but could not place it. There is a long history of classic novels being rejected many times. Rejection does not mean your agent is incompetent or that your novel is worthless. Stay calm, polite and positive – and keep writing the next thing.

The upside is that, at this level, you know your work will have been carefully read and that your agent will sift and report on feedback. If not, go elsewhere.

A publisher says yes

With undying thanks to your agent, you are sitting in the offices of a real, live, smiling publisher who has your work on the table. (In July, I posted detail about what publishers can do for us and when. My first post is here, and part 2 is here.) The publisher’s editor has put you through yet more rewrites and has satisfied the marketing and money people at the new acquisitions meeting that this deserves a chance. You’ve got a deal!

Congratulate yourself again – very few new writers reach this stage. Most publishers take at most one first-time novelist a year. A publication date is set and the cover’s agreed. You have more work to do now:

  • Your help will be vital with publicity and this starts before publication. Do not expect to get much of your next book written over the next weeks and months.
  • Prepare your own website if you have not already. Start blogging about your new book and how you came to write it. Podcasts go down well too.
  • It’s never too early to start your social media spinning.
  • Make friends with your local booksellers. They’re lovely and are usually delighted to meet local authors. Your publisher should provide you with some free publicity copies to hand out.
  • Contact local newspapers and blogs to ask for interviews and reviews.
  • Plan your book launch.
  • And try above all to keep writing the next thing. You’ll need it sooner than you think.

They’re asking you to buy some of your own books?

Here comes one of the hardest facts about today’s publishing world: your publisher may well require you to buy some copies of your book yourself, at discount. I first encountered it in 2009 when it was described as a contribution to printer’s costs. It’s very common now, the idea being that it encourages you to market it. The discount (paying 40% of the full price is not uncommon) also means that if you sell at 80%, you are still making more profit, more quickly, than waiting for royalties.

Fame and fortune at last?

Most first novels sell fewer than a thousand copies. That’s why the Booker prize was invented, to help literary novels reach a wider audience. Publishers and agents hope that by the time they publish your third or fourth, preferably in a series or the same genre, the public will have noticed you and the whole exercise will become financially worth their while. They are gamblers at heart. You may be one of the lucky ones who has a substantial advance from a big publisher who is going to flog your book with a great big publicity budget. I hope so. IMG_E1806Even if you’re not … You have become a strange new creature, a published author. That can lead you to other ways of making money (coaching, talks, radio and television appearances). It means too that people see you differently. Instead of the friend they are used to, the one who spends most of the time alone and gives a slightly dejected shrug when asked how the writing’s going, they see a confident, new you with a book in your hand. That book has your name printed on it and they are being asked to buy copies. After all the years of lonely scribbling, there is no finer sensation than welcoming friends to your book launch and watching them queue, smiling and laughing, for you to sign copies for them.

Congratulations, you’ve made it. It has all been worthwhile.

I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing!

You’ve sent your submission – what happens next? #getpublished

It’s time to make a diary note about chasing in three to six months’ time. Meanwhile, let’s get busy doing other things.

IMG_3383Waiting by Degas, 1880-2

This will be harder than you think. Our inner writer longs for approbation and needs it fast. Do you remember the feedback stage, how hard it was to let your readers take their time? This sensation can be even more powerful now that your work is in the hands of professionals. Please be patient.

Take a break. Celebrate having reached this stage, you’ve done well! Get out among friends again and enjoy the real world. Then get stuck into writing something else. Make yourself a tight schedule of writing and research and stick to it. If a positive answer does come, they will want to know what you’re working on now.

Sometimes an agent/publisher’s submissions page will let you know how long they usually take. Allow them at least three months anyway – that’s the blink of an eye in publisher/agent time. Then a gentle reminder checking that your submission has reached the right person will be fine. Keep it calm and professional.

In my experience an outright rejection comes pretty swiftly. If they like what they see, they will read and re-read, share it around the office, have a word with marketing and accountancy, and so on. If they’re taking a while, it might be good news…

Rejections first – let’s get them out of the way. Some rejections are about you and some aren’t.

Reasons for rejection you cannot avoid:

  • The agent/publisher is feeling unwell, really tired for other reasons, has a headache or hangover, is about to get the sack. We all have off days.
  • Their office has so many unsolicited submissions stacked up, they have succumbed to temptation (who wouldn’t occasionally) to get rid of some. They all deny it but this does happen. There are many easier ways for publishers and agents to make money and there’ll be another load of talent arriving in the morning.
  • They’ve had too many of your kind of thing and don’t have time to say so.
  • They really like your kind of thing and have one in the pipeline or have recently done one just like it. Sometimes they will say so.
  • They’ve just had a bad experience with a new writer – too much trouble, lost too much money? – and can’t face it again for a while.

Reasons for rejection you can avoid:

When agents and publishers come to the slush pile, what buoys them up is the hope of finding the Next Big Thing and making their fortune. They may not know exactly what they’re looking for but they know what they don’t want. Let’s help them out by avoiding the following:

Rejections take many forms:

IMG_3385Sometimes you will receive no answer at all. Considering how many people are sending out submissions these days, this is understandable. Some websites even declare this is their policy. Never mind. The silence could be for a multitude of reasons that have nothing to do with you.

A standard form reply is common, without your name or a personal signature. Try not to be downhearted, as above.

A personal rejection with your name on it is a big step forward. It might say your submission doesn’t ‘chime’ with what they are looking for but at least they have bothered to look and might well remember what you’ve done. Try to be pleased.

With all of the above, there is no need to respond. Be patient and detached about these rejections and keep studying your craft, looking for ways your submission and script might be improved. This ‘rejection stage’ is your most important learning stage too.

Hard as it is not to take a rejection as a personal slight, it is vital that you stay professional and do not bother anyone who has sent you a rejection. At all costs do not telephone to argue the toss and above all do not call on them in person in their offices. Not only will you ensure that they never look at your work again, neither will their friends and loved ones who may well work in the business.

 Buoying up the spirits

This stage can take years and leave you feeling low from time to time. This is normal. So in one of my writing groups we found ourselves talking about how to keep the spirits buoyed up through rejection times.

  • Repeated rejections of the same piece of work just might mean it still needs fixing. Keep trying to improve.
  • Take up something really good fun that gets you out among non-writers. Dancing or playing a musical instrument can work, whatever you enjoy most. It’s all material.
  • Keep catching those inspired patches of writing, whatever they’re about. Keep flexing happy writing muscles in your journal, or with poetry, flash fiction or whatever else suits you. Remind yourself that this is not peacekeeping in a war zone or fostering orphans, it’s only putting words on pages. If you keep crafting, it will come good.

Good rejections

Are there such things? Oh yes, and if I can do one thing to help you through this stage, it is to lift your spirits when you receive a good rejection and see it for the gold dust it is.

  • A personal rejection with your name on it that gives feedback and some positive comments – well, it’s time for celebration. You have no idea how rarely this happens! IMG_3387It means you have been noticed. It’s time for a kindly thank you and a close look at the feedback. Your inner writer might feel rejected but to have professional advice at this level is a huge step forward.
  • A personal reply makes no promises but compliments some aspects of your writing and recommends a manuscript advisor, perhaps giving a contact. This means that your script has been read and appreciated but needs help. Instead of working with you in-house, as used to happen, you are asked to pay. A manuscript advisor that works closely with your chosen agent might be the best thing for you chances of publication. Maybe not. See how you and your bank balance feel.
  • A personal rejection with feedback, some compliments and an invitation to send your next script – it’s time for celebration. This is great news! Reply warmly with thanks but please do not be tempted to send something until it is ready, even if it takes time. Ask if they might be prepared to consider an idea in principle.
  • A personal reply asking for your full manuscript. It’s time for celebration with fireworks. But before the rest of your script leaves home, have a final check through to make sure everything is on its toes. All too often agents and publishers are hooked by the first three chapters and find that, with the rest, the quality goes swiftly downhill. Take time to make sure all is well first. Then congratulate yourself, you have come a very long way. Fingers crossed.
  • The personal reply asking you to call to make an appointment to meet or speak on the phone. This is the big one. It can be the beginning of one of the most valuable and rewarding relationships of your life.

Next time we’ll look at why agents and publishers reject. Meanwhile, I wish you the very best of luck and happy writing. Good luck!

Words on Waves at Harbour Books

Harbour Books is a fantastic independent book shop in Whitstable and it gave us writers space for something magical last night. Since July, the shop’s monthly Words on Waves events have given local writers a place to read their work in progress as well as published work, with a broad range of subject matter and styles of writing.

Last night it was mostly the poets’ turn and the air hummed with marvellous words from all over the world. An accidental common theme emerged about the roots of our upbringing and the considerable pleasures of living where we choose.

Mostly that was (of course) Kent. Our magnificent line-up included The Scatterlings (Sue Rose from Herne Bay, Mark Holihan, a Californian now settled in Broadstairs and Geraldine Paine from Ospringe, near Faversham), novelist Malcom Walton, prize-winning poet Christopher Hopkins (from Wales, now living in Kent), Annie Harrison, Clair Meyrick and, from London, Nancy Mattson (originally Canadian) and Mike Bartholomew-Biggs.

The combination was outstanding and, as host, I had the pleasure of watching waves of hilarity, excitement and shared grief sweep over us all. The evening was a sell-out so if you’d like to join us next month – Thursday 4 October – it would be wise to contact the shop to save your place. Please call 01227 264011 or drop by.

Enormous thanks to everyone at Harbour Books – Keith, Olivia, Arthur – for everything they do to make these events such a pleasure and success. It’s a privilege for me to be involved.

Those 1st three chapters – what works best? #getpublished

You’ve prepared your email/letter and synopsis – what next? Some agents and publishers ask for a chosen number of chapters, others for the first X thousand words. A few want a submission summary about you and your book with no chapters at all. As ever, comb through the websites carefully.

  • They want three chapters? In the fiction world, that means your first three chapters in sequence. They want to see how you set the story up, your style and tone, and above all how you reveal your characters. They are particularly interested in your stakes: what your characters want and need, what stops them getting it and why we care.
  • How long is a chapter? George RR Martin’s chapters can be over 20 pages each. Many other writers work in short, choppy chunks with no chapter breaks at all. Do not be tempted to blend some of your chapters together and send half the novel. You want three distinct scenes or sections that establish and build your story.
  • Your scenes or chapters should flow into one another in a way that keeps the reader engaged. That means careful thought about your hooks and links.
  • Try to close with a cliff hanger that encapsulates your book. If your chapter three is a dreamy non-event chapter, change it or move it to later in your story. Now is the time to be as compelling as you can.IMG_2372
  • Your main throughline question should ring like a bell from the first line.
  • It’s first line time. Some books begin with setting the scene or theme (‘It was the worst of times, it was the best of times’), others with a character revealing or denying a problem, others with dialogue. Sam Goldwyn (the G of MGM) said his films should start with an earthquake and work up to a crisis. Your first line should be memorable, balanced and above all it should hook us right and tight into your second, fourth and two-hundredth lines too.
  • The first page. Come with me into an ideal world. Not entirely ideal because it’s a world where people pick up a book, look at the first page and judge by a line or two whether it’s for them. In this ideal world, that first page flows from the wonderful first line with two or three paragraphs that settle us nicely alongside the main character (who is this person and why do we care?) using a clear point of view. We should have some sense of the essence of the situation and why we give a damn. (What are the stakes?) And a sense of place. All with a thumping hook or hint about what is about to unfold. It is a lot to convey – preferably not told but shown ‘slant’ – and it may take several revisions before you are happy. All this in a shorter page than usual – 150-200 words – because chapters are usually laid out with space to breathe at the top. IMG_2994a Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, Marina Lewycka (2005) – a perfect first page. Hone till your fingers and heart are weak with exhaustion. Have a look in a book shop or library at some published first pages for inspiration.
  • Your third chapter may be the one where, having set up your earthquake, you are relaxing out a bit, indulging in some info dump about the back story, letting your lovers stare at a sunset, glad they’ve survived. It’s time to rewrite that, I’m afraid. This submission is a sprint to grab attention and by the end of it you should have two main things in play. First, your readers should have a firm grasp of what the story is about and why they like it. (This includes your style as well as your characters and where they are heading.) Second, they should be desperate to read more. Sometimes this means rearranging things, calling high stakes from later chapters forward to help. The third chapter of your submission should end on a cliff.
  • The final hunt for spellings, typos, grammar errors and clichés is a must.

It’s time to congratulate yourself. You have prepared a professional book submission and I wish it the very best luck in the world.

There is though one other thing to do before you click and send.

Some agents read quickly and could ask you for the rest of your typescript in days or weeks. Try and have your whole novel up to the same professional standard, ready to go when it’s called for.

How long will you have before your precious acceptance arrives? That’s for next time.

Happy writing!

Sending your synopsis #getpublished

Picture the agent or publisher arriving for work on a Monday morning. Their slush pile is the least attractive part of the week but today just might deliver that career-changing, elusive gem. Let’s make their lives easier:

  • Your synopsis should look professional. If they don’t specify on their website, then go for 12-point in one of the usual business-like fonts on one-sided A4 with broad margins. Single or 1.5 spacing is fine.
  • Make sure your book’s title and total word count are clear, with your name and contact details.
  • In around 500 words sum up your story. This exercise is excellent for the health of your story and may well take you some time. It can reveal flaws in your plot and character work that need to be fixed in your script before your submission goes out. You wouldn’t be the first writer this has happened to.
  • A synopsis is not about every turn in the plot. Go for the narrative drive of your main events without slabs of back story. You are after the essence of the story’s conflict, the main flight of your story arc with a clear idea of what the stakes are on every level. If you have several plots, pick one thread to expand from.
  • Your tone should be engaging and give a sense of your fiction style. Funny, if that’s appropriate. Tell it like a story, not a washing machine manual.
  • Try to give an idea what kind of book it is, even if it does not fit a genre.
  • Start with your main character: ‘Jane is a governess who falls in love with her employer…’ IMG_2431Give vivid, short descriptions of your other main characters as they appear. Each time you move to a different character, start the sentence with the name so that the reader knows who you’re on about.
  • Include your ending. It’s tempting to leave it open but they want to see how you handle your story’s finish. Do you deliver the combination of surprise and inevitability that readers love?
  • Weed out the typos, spelling, grammar and syntax problems, and above all clichés. This exercise might also make you aware of clichéd situations in your plot as well as your use of language. Remember that your respected agent/publisher reads very widely and can spot clichés in their sleep.

What is a chapter summary?

Your synopsis (above) is a broad summary of your novel, told as if you are talking to a friend who has pressing things to do elsewhere.

A chapter summary is what it says: a brief description of each chapter as it comes, from beginning to end. Some agents and publishers prefer this as it discloses how the story unfolds, who drives it, how sub-plots knit and how the arc rises and falls to the end. In short, it is more unsparing about your handling of plot than a synopsis. The good news is, it can be a bit longer.

Summarise each chapter in just two or three lines (making it clear whose point of view we are in by starting with the relevant character’s name) and work up to a maximum of about one thousand to twelve thousand words. Again, don’t be coy about the ending; you are showcasing how you wind up your marvellous story.

Tomorrow we’ll look at polishing up your chapters for submission.

Happy writing!

Sending it out – 5 best tips #getpublished

Publishers or agents?

An agent told me once that if you take independent publishers into account, more publishers are accepting direct submissions than agencies. It’s hard to say whether luck will favour you starting with agents or publishers, so it’s a good idea to try a mixture of both.

1/ Who do I try first?

Make a longlist of your best targets in order of preference, remembering that a rejection means you cannot approach them again with a later version of your novel unless you ask you to.

Do I try one at a time or several?

Publishers and agents like to feel that they are the first and only readers of your proposal, of course they do. On the other hand, each one can take three to six months to say it’s not for them. So, it’s not unreasonable for your first shortlist to be around three publishers – one big and well established, one medium sized and one tiny – and the same for three agencies. You’re looking for a spread of size, experience and sense of novelty. Within a well-established agency, their new young adventurous agent might be a good idea, for example. Or not. Much depends on how the wind is blowing and we won’t know until we’ve tried.

The more websites you scroll through, the more of a feel you will get for each firm’s ‘personality’. Have you noticed how kind they tend to be? They really do want to find our best new stories and sell them for us.

2/ What do I send?

Always send precisely what the submission guidelines ask for. This sounds obvious but if you’re sending more than one at a time, details can slip and overlap. Best to concentrate on one submission at a time.

Usually they ask for three things:

  • Your cover letter or email. Some are happy with emails, others (still) specify hard copy only.
  • A synopsis and/or chapter summary.
  • Sample chapters. Usually for fiction it’s the first three.

Many agents and publishers like email and often have an online submissions process on the website to help you out. A letter can feel like a slog these days but it will give you the satisfaction of feeling the physical weight of what you send. Always do your best to make sure your submission is complete in one go. Sending follow-ups with additions or corrections will not gain you extra attention – you risk being seen as annoying.

3/ What goes in the email/letter?

If your submission coincides with a busy agent or publisher having an off day, sorry to say it but your email/letter may be the only part of your submission that will be read, so take time to make it as engaging as possible.

Your tone is important. This is a business communication and you need to be professional. On the other hand, don’t be too formal and dry. Agents and publishers love a good story well told and your words should carry that.

There’s no point in being showy either. The days of pinning a Monopoly fiver to the front page are gone, as are dubious jokes.

  • ‘Dear [first name and surname, spelt correctly]’ usually works these days.
  • In your first line, drop the name of your recommendation by one of their authors if you have one. Likewise, mention where you met, if you have, such as an event where the agent was speaking. Best not to be over-friendly: ‘You might remember me’ is plenty.
  • Why is your work apt for them and for the particular person you are writing to? Which aspect of their author list or particular publications of theirs do you admire? Try to be specific without grovelling. (Saying they are a ‘leading’ publisher or agent is not enough; they know that.)
  • No negativity: ‘This must be your worst nightmare’ or ‘sorry to be boring but’ just puts ideas into heads and stops them reading.
  • Describe your book in one paragraph, not forgetting the title, genre and total word count. This is your sales pitch and needs to be the most arresting part of your submission. Agents and publishers are looking for narrative drive, a good strong story. Above all, be clear. This is harder than it sounds.
  • Characters first: who do we care about most in your story? Another way to put that might be, whose story is it. Focus on that character: what does s/he want, what stops him/her getting it, why do we care? If you have several main characters, keep to two or three at this stage; more are confusing.
  • What is the gist of your story arc and why is it vital? Be specific: a character ‘has many other adventures’ is not enough.
  • Between the lines is a sense of why your book should sell while others do not.
  • In another short paragraph, give your writing CV. This should be two or three sentences about the 3 to 5 main places you have been professionally published or are in the pipeline, any prizes in recent writing competitions or your completion of a university creative writing course (though this is not essential). People with most to brag about tend to have short, plain bios. If you are a first-timer, do convey that you are a committed writer keen to improve your craft and output. Show that you are enthusiastic about the revision process by briefly mentioning your writing group and circle of critical readers. However hard you toil at producing reports at work, they do not count. Nor do unpublished scripts. Saying that your mum loves your story will not help.
  • Why are you the person to write this book? This is what they mean by ‘anything relevant about the author’. For example, if your romantic lead is a fire fighter, it will help to know that you are one. Why did you come to write this book? If there is an interesting story there, give it a line or two. Do not waste their time saying that you’ve loved reading and writing since an early age, that is taken for granted.IMG_2930Still Life with Books and Candle, Matisse (1890)
  • Who is likely to buy your book? Here is where you describe how your book fits with the book market (which shelf in the shop, which age range for children) and how yours stands out from the others available. Are there other markets besides bookshops that might welcome yours?
  • How would you help to sell? Are you happy with giving public readings and talks, being interviewed, writing journalism and blogging? Any other ideas? Summarise your online and social media prowess – you will be expected to have some.
  • If your submission is with other publishers or agents at the same time, it is polite to say so without detail or appearing to pressurise.
  • Do not forget (even though they are also on your script’s cover page) to provide your name and contact details, and your website if you have one.

4/ Things not to include:

  • Full CVs of you and your family with or without holiday snaps of pets etc.
  • CDs and tapes.
  • Artwork unless specifically asked for.
  • Marketing plans – let them deal with that.
  • Extracts from rejections from other agents and publishers. However tempted you are to mention the ‘This looked OK but…’ part of a rejection, it is irrelevant here.
  • Confirmation postcards. A waste of time, they just get lost.

5/ Is your submission email/letter ready?

You know by now that writing is about rewriting. Let’s look at this first draft of your submission again:

  • Is it too long? How much is too much? Aim for one side or equivalent of 12-point A4, or slightly more. More than two pages are unlikely to be read.
  • Read it aloud to yourself. Does it feel easy, relaxed? What jars or feels repetitive?
  • Is the tone right? Friendly and professional, hard-working but easy to get along with. Have another look at the publisher/agent’s website to see how formal their tone is and follow their lead. Is there room for wit without being cringe-worthy?
  • Typos, spelling, grammar, cliché check: there’s always time for a last careful look, by somebody else if you are sick of it. You don’t want a hilarious typo to mar the whole thing.

Well done! That’s the first thing. Next time, we’ll look at your synopsis.

Happy writing!

Choosing your trad publisher and agent

Before your novel goes out to find its ideal agent or publisher, let’s take time to visit book shops and up-to- date libraries. E-readers can help but are less easy to browse.

What sort of book have you written? Is it in a genre? If it’s crime, for example, settle into the crime sections of as many different bookshops as you can and really look at what’s there. However much you admire Conan Doyle, it’s recent publications you’re after:

  • Who are the main publishers of books like (or a bit like) yours? Make a list – you’ll look them up in detail shortly.
  • Who are your favourite living authors in this section? Living because that will give you an idea what publishers and agents are looking for now.
  • Who are those authors’ agents? You can sometimes find out from the author’s website or by looking in the acknowledgement sections of their books.
  • Who were those author’s editors? You might find an independent mentor or editor mentioned in the acknowledgements. More often it’s effusive thanks to the publisher’s editor who helped pull the book together just before publication. Both are useful to know.

Borrow and buy as many of your favourites as you can afford, to study at home.

IMG_2889

Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren by Mary Cassatt, 1880

And a whopping great copy of the latest Writers & Artists Yearbook will pay its way time and again.

When you want to learn from a book, the same approach works as for giving feedback to your writer friend: read once for the thrill and gist of it, a second time more slowly, deeply, on the lookout for technical detail:

  • How long is the standard book in your genre these days? 400pp for novels? 200 for some children’s age groups?
  • How long are the chapters? Are there always chapters? How are books usually divided up?
  • What shape and tone does the first chapter take? Is it mostly action, dialogue, description or backstory? Study the proportions of these in the last chapter too.
  • As you read, develop a feel for the balance of action, dialogue and description. How much is there of show or tell? What does the writer achieve and how?
  • What is the through-line of what you’re reading? Notice what techniques the author uses to keep bringing you back to it. How else does the author keep you on edge or hold your attention?
  • Notice places where you see two or even three things going on at once, winding together. What does this add to the pace and mystery?
  • Do you find your attention wandering? Why?
  • Is there anything you would improve? Be bold.
  • Characters: how many are there? Are they all actively needed in the story? What are the proportions, male/female, old/young, interests, ethnicities etc? Does this make you realise that your own characters are too like each other? (Unless that is deliberate to make a social or other point, as in Lord of the Flies.)
  • Notice other techniques like use of tenses, POV, flashbacks, memory and other use of time. In Young Adult novels, for example, using the first person is very common. Can you see why? How are writers in your genre using point of view to serve a story these days?

Am I suggesting another rewrite of your book?

I am not suggesting, now or ever, that you write to a formula. The fact is though that, for your first book at least, when you’re trying to step forward from the crowd, it’s best to offer publisher something close to what they know works well. It’s not too late for you to make adjustments. It is at this stage in writing my second novel that I realised division into chapters was holding the story back; it could flow better without them.

The Writers & Artists Yearbook

By now you have a short list of publishers, agents and editorial staff who favour your kind of thing.

There is absolutely no point in sending your love story to publishers who want horror fantasy set on Mars. The scattergun approach will only produce rejections you don’t need and you will get demoralised. There is no point either in sending your precious words to publishers and agents who have closed their inboxes to unsolicited submissions. They expect you to know this.

You are hunting for publishers and agents who are a) suitable and b) available and it’s time to take a fine-toothed comb to the Yearbook.

IMG_2888I have no shares or stake in Writers & Artists. I just know it to be unrivalled as a resource for writers, not only for the lists but for its excellent articles about the business. The moment you open it, you will see what I mean. The sections of agents and publishers in various countries are what you are looking for at this stage. You will find short descriptions of what each one does and is looking for, with author lists and contact details.

Agents’ and publishers’ websites

By the time any physical book exists, it has been superseded by events and people do move around in the publishing and literary agency worlds. Besides, you will find much more detail on the companies’ websites. So use the Yearbook to produce your list of best targets and then browse their websites in detail. Sometimes you will come upon a submission window (of a week, month or even a day) in an otherwise closed publisher.

Events, courses, social media

How do publishers and agents find us? They lead events and tuition courses, talk at conferences, Book Fairs and literary festivals, and usually publicise what they’re doing on social media.

Go to as many events in your genre as you can and don’t be afraid to ask a question or strike up a chat afterwards. Your research in book shops will come in handy – it’s time to explore with them some technical aspect of one of their books or authors you like.

Publishers and agents are looking for good writers with great stories but the world is full of talent and that means they are free to choose to work with the ones they like, the ones who are easy to get along with. Try not to mention your ornamental stacks of rejections, your overdraft or how little you think of the work of some famous authors. Be professional, pleasant, kind and have plain no-nonsense business cards ready.

Follow up on any good contact promptly and professionally. Do not ever assume they’ll remember you; just mention that you enjoyed meeting whoever it was at whatever event it was and, if they asked to see some of your work, thank them and send it.

What do you send? Next week we’ll look at submission guidelines.

Happy writing!