Continuing the path to publication discussion, here’s the follow up from having an idea of the types of books that sell.
Now you’ve written something. You’ve chucked out your TV, trimmed your social life so you can get things down on paper. It’s a full novel now, not a patchwork of ideas. It’s all the way through. Written to the best of your ability. You’ve put it away and come back to it with fresh eyes to rewrite the damn thing. Hopefully, it’ll be a good way to being what publishers want to buy. So what the hell do you do?
Well firstly, there are some final things. Make sure it’s formatted well—double spacing, in a decent font. Run a spell check over it. Get a synopsis together. Some might say that’s as hard as the actual writing. Have some points in mind about what (current) books you can compare yours to. Think in terms of marketing.
Next: find a list of agents. Literary agents are essential. Most publishers won’t even look at submissions that don’t come from agents. It wouldn’t be possible to operate otherwise. Get a copy of The Writers’ And Artists’ Yearbook. In there you should find a listing of agents by the genre they represent. Not every one will represent SF and Fantasy. Find those that do. Write to them, with a covering letter, with a brief outline of your work and if they’d like to see it. Keep it polite and simple. Remember, it’s a business, so act professionally.
Maybe they’ll ask to see your work—great, send it on as required. You should know your market, know the kind of readers your book will appeal to. Now, prepare to be rejected. It’ll happen. Get used to it. Don’t be so arrogant to believe your work is genius, because there are many that do! If you’re not like this, then you’ll be able to modify your book, work on your writing.
When you get to this stage, resist temptation to self publish. In my opinion, this is sinful. I think it’s terrible the way self-publishing imprints rip-off people, play on their emotions, so that anyone can publish their book. Anyone! The main issue I have is that as a writer you have no one to edit, no one to give feedback. Why’s this important? Because you improve as a writer, and you improve as a person. (Although self-publishing can be good for obscure types of books, especially local ones that aren’t going to be commercial at all.)
If an agent gets back to you negatively, move on. Learn from your mistakes. Maybe your writing isn’t quite right—work on it. Listen to advice. Study other authors. Look at how they piece a novel together. Read. Look at their style. Look at how the plot is formulated. There are a billion things you can learn from reading with a keen eye. It isn’t easy. Some people might never get there, but you don’t know unless you try, do you?
And if the agent gets back with a positive—listen to them. They know what they’re talking about. (Note: never pay an agent upfront. I’d be asking some serious questions if they wanted cash.)
I felt lucky when I signed with John Jarrold. I sent him some material when he was starting out as an agent. He got back to me immediately with praise and acceptance. I felt like a fraud at the time, knowing next to nothing about the publishing world, but what the heck, I had a great agent. I went with it. And I didn’t get published right away. I had the heart-breaking journey navigating around ‘marketing departments’ and their requirements. It took a couple of years to get things right, but I couldn’t have done it without listening to John’s advice. So in my case, after one unpublished novel (that has remained so), one that has been sold to a small press, and the third attempt to Macmillan, I finally got there.
I guess the advice I’d have is to work really hard at it, remain professional, and find out as much as you can about the industry. Don’t assume you know too much. I’ve only been in the trade for a few years, and I’m frequently suprised by things…
Oh, and if you find it hard, join a writing group. They’re great for moral and support. Plus you realise you’re not alone!
If anyone wants to chat some more, drop me a line on here or on one of the social networks to the right. I’m more than happy to keep a debate going.