Last night I was invited out for a drink by a colleague. I thought nothing of it until we were half way into our first pint and he said to me “so I’ve written this book...”
I am firmly of the belief that everyone has at least one book in them. Most people have an awful lot more, but as John Lennon said, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. I found that once I had written a book, I broke through something. It’s not some kind of heinous and terrible task. You can find a way to make writing work for you and make you work for your writing.
The reason my colleague chose to tell me this is that I have spent the last five years telling anyone who will listen about my own writing projects, manuscripts and books. He wanted to know what to do next. So, for Darren, and for everyone else, here is my advice.
There are two ways to get published. This article will talk about the traditional way and is based on my experiences in the UK. I understand it can be quite different elsewhere.
To do this, you will need an agent. Publishers do not accept unsolicited scripts.
In order to find an agent, you will need a copy of the Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook 2017. (If you are reading this beyond the year 2017 then go for the relevant year). There is no point in trying to be cheap and pick up an older edition because agents move. I will explain where this becomes an issue further on.
Using the Handbook, you find agents you are drawn to. It’s important to do your research and make sure you are approaching people who are more likely to be interested in where your story will take them. A lot of agents specialise, so within a larger agency, find someone who specifically deals with your genre.
You then have to submit your work. The vast majority of agents are still very old school and only accept paper submissions. This is where things start to get expensive.
A paper submission generally consists of:
The first three chapters of your manuscript
A one-page synopsis
A covering letter where you mention how keen you are for them to read it, the approximate word count and how they can get in contact with you.
That alone is going to be 30-40 pages. If you don’t have a printer (because who prints anything anymore) then you’re going to need to get them printed up, or do them on the fly at work. You can’t just put all your hopes in one agent so I tend to do batches of ten. This means 300-400 pages printed. You then have to pay for stamps. From memory, in the UK, it costs £2.80 to send an A4 envelope of 30-40 pages. You also have to send a self-addressed envelope for the agent to return your manuscript to if they reject it.
This is why you want to make sure the Handbook you are using is up to date. You're just wasting your own and everyone else's time if you are sending stuff to someone who no longer works at that agency. It doesn't come across as professional and in my experience is only going to get you put on the slush pile.
I now have a drawer where I keep an envelope of the rejection letters I've had from agents. You will receive these. It’s disheartening but you have to wear them like a badge of honour. Do you know how many times J.K. Rowling was rejected? She was told not to quit her day job. William Golding was rejected. Harper Lee. Faulkner. Orwell. King. Kipling. Joyce. Even Anne Frank!
In publishing, the pile of incoming manuscripts at an agency is called the slush pile. This is where your work will sit. It will be looked at by someone very junior within the agency. If you get off the slush pile, and I’m in no position to tell you exactly what that takes, then your work could be passed through to the agent.
If you ever get a personalised response then you should be very proud of yourself. If an agent has taken the time not just to read your work but to comment on it then you should be very proud. Put that shit up on the fridge.
If an agent decides to take you on then it doesn’t immediately mean you are guaranteed to be published but it will mean you have someone to work alongside and something to work towards.
Make sure you are in a good place before you consider submitting to an agent.
Get people to proof read your three chapters.
Make them read your synopsis.
Prepare for it like a marathon.
Training is everything.
Good luck if you are there. Enjoy the ride.
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