How to get published

by Suw on

Last week, Kev and I went to a quiet little event at One Alfred Place with publisher Alan Samson and author Mark Billingham, which was timely in more ways than one. Both Alan and Mark were interesting speakers and I could have quite happily sat down with them and grilled them at length, particularly Alan as it’s not often one gets to talk to a real, live publisher.

Obviously verbatim transcripts are still verboten for me (even though the physio today was pretty happy with my progress overall since the steroid injections), but I did scribble down a few notes, the first two of which should be of particular interest to those of you who write.

  • Write for all five senses, not just sound and vision.
  • Never start with the weather.
  • When you approach an agent or publisher, have a one page synopsis and at least one sample chapter ready, along with a 20 page proposal. [There was a little debate about the proposal – I’d guess that’s more relevant for non-fiction.]
  • There are 300 agents in London, but only ten get Alan’s attention. [i.e. get a good agent!]
  • Most new authors get a two book deal, so if you don’t make it with one of them, you’re screwed
  • Be disciplined: Deliver on time.
  • Quote of the evening: “Writing is work: you sit down and you make shit up.”
  • Be prepared to do all the stuff that supports the book, such as festivals, signings, bookshop visits.
  • When deciding who to send your work to, find out which publisher/agent works with your favourite authors and approach them first.
  • Reviews don’t count anymore, but prizes, awards, and Richard and Judy do.
  • Talking of Richard and Judy, fictions moving much more towards a ‘culture of feelings’, and books focused on families.
  • Short stories never were hugely popular and are even less so now. A collection of short stories will sell 30% of what the same author would sell when releasing a novel. It’s not about the number of words, it’s about the associated feelings and emotions. [Is this because people’s emotional reactions to novels are stronger than to short stories?]
  • Think about your synopsis, tagline, etc.
  • The whole schtick about sending your work to just one agent/publisher at a time is a con. Everyone knows that you’ll send stuff out simultaneously and it won’t affect their opinion. Just don’t send it to too many at once else you might lose track of who’s replied – pick six at a time.

One of the things that Mr Neil said the other week, when asked if it was a good idea for unpublished authors to put their work up online, was that the main problem new authors face is obscurity, not piracy (in a nice hat-tip to Mr Tim). In other words, get your stuff out there, get it read, start building up a community around your writing.

Given my history with the idea of open, I just had to ask Alan if he would be put off by an author putting their unpublished manuscript up online. Mark seemed to be a little bit freaked by the suggestion, and started to talk about how one had to keep certain things off the internet otherwise one would be putting one’s work at risk. After I restated the question more clearly, Alan answered with an emphatic “No”.

That was good to hear. I really would have loved to have had a more in-depth discussion about the internet and the way that it’s changing things for authors, agents and publishers alike. We know it’s game-changing, but the devil’s in the details and I think that there are few authors, let alone agents and publishers, who are really getting their hands dirty and taking some risks. Still, that’s another discussion for another day.

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