If you ask any writer their dream, 9 times out of 10, they’ll say being published. Most writers don’t care for fame or fortune, mainly because if you wanted to be rich, you wouldn’t choose writing to be the mechanism that made it happen. However it can be a minefield to getting published so here are some hints to set you on your way to literary glory!

Finding an agent is essential, with very few publishing houses accepting manuscripts from writers without one. I have a drawer of rejection letters for previously submitted works to agents.  Something like the 2017 Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook should be able to provide the names and genres of hundreds of them. You can also subscribe to magazines such as the Bookseller for an insider view. Research is key. There is no point sending your Time Travel come Romance to an agent who represents Military Non Fiction. Sending inappropriate manuscripts to agents just telegraph that you are not serious about this writing malarkey. If you’re writing genre fiction, what are the trends? What kinds of books are selling well, and why?

Research, research, research

Send a query letter

This should be a single-page covering letter introducing you and your book. It should be tailored to the specific agent you are contacting as I stated above. This letter is the best way of showing you’ve found out what kind of agent they are and what kind of writers they represent.

If they like your  letter, agents will ask to see part or all of your manuscript and a synopsis. Every agent has different submission guidelines, which can be found on their websites, so read these carefully. For agents that ask for just three chapters in the first instance, always make sure you have the whole manuscript ready.

Many also have formatting guidelines. I’d recommend the use of standard A4 white paper and go for a double-spaced, 12-point typeface like Times New Roman or Courier. DO NOT USE COMIC SANS

A synopsis should act as a short digest of your book and can be anything between 2 and 20 pages. This will likely be led by the agent and their website.

Agents receive thousands of approaches a year, so time your submission. If you avoid book fair season  (Easter and autumn) you’ll stand a better chance.

Send your work and synopsis

They provide agency

So you’ve submitted your manuscript, and then you get a letter back which DOESN’T say ‘thank you but no thanks‘, but ‘I’d like to meet! ‘When an agent wants to meet up, it’s usually a positive sign. You should view this meeting like a date. As much as you want to impress them, they at this point, see something in you, so don’t go in all coy. Be confident. Your writing has got you this far. Make them work for you (insert sassy drag queen finger clicks!)

Choosing the right agent is the most important decision a writer will make (so I’ve been told…waiting for my princess charming!) By this I don’t mean some famous agent who brokers amazing deals. No this is about making sure you’re partnering with someone who understands you, your novel, the genre, and where you want to go. You want to find yourself someone who will go to bat for you, who when the chips are down, or will provide more chips!

And never pay an agent to take you on – they work on a commission basis (15% on UK business and 20% on international business), only making money if they sell your book.

Sign of the times

Spit and polish

Your agent, right off the bat, is likely to suggest a few adjustments. Ideal length? Crappy dialogue? Abrupt end? They should help.

Publishers usually negotiate a deal through a writer’s agent however things are done differently when a number of publishers want to pitch for the same book.

Each publisher presents their vision for the author, either in person or on paper, and then each one tries to put together the best financial package alongside that.  This is an auction. I’ve personally always wanted to be part of a bidding war! An auction can go through a number of rounds with publishers dropping out along the way. It’s settled with a best and final offer from the remaining houses, or an author and agent will prefer a particular vision for their book.

Sign on the dotted line

The art of the deal

Payment is best left to your agent. Advances can vary from quite low (eg : price of a small car) to very high (the price of a nice house or middling win on the lottery). The advance is usually paid in thirds or quarters, due on signature of your publishing contract, delivery of your finished book and publication of the book.

Before a book hits the shelves, more re-drafts are requested by the editor you’ve been assigned by the publishing house. A second pair of eyes can make improvements to structure, character and clarity of expression. Trust your editor: they want the same as you, with your book as good as it can be.

Kill your darlings

Engage

Marketing of a book is as important as the text (well almost as important), the writer must be willing to partake in publicity. Around publication authors are asked to take part in a blogging, press interviews, festivals and library events. If you want your book to fly, you have to engage and be part of this process. No hiding away like you’re Thomas Pynchon