Let’s start with the bad news: there’s no definitive answer to getting published. If there was, someone would have turned it into a bestseller.
Now for the good: there are lots of things you can do to give yourself a fighting chance of success. As someone who’s made the journey from would-be writer to debut novelist, I’m happy to share what worked for me. Let’s hope it works for you too.
So here’s my nine-step plan to turn your writing dream into a reality:
- Already had a great concept for a novel? Jot it down. Brilliant ideas often turn up at awkward moments – like in the shower – and if you don’t record them, they’re easily lost. If you haven’t found one yet, don’t worry. Keep a notebook handy for thoughts. You’ll settle on something soon.
- Now get planning. This can be a detailed A to Z of the plot or a rough sketch. Personally, I like to know where I’m starting from and where I’ll end up, but I leave room for twists and turns to develop along the way.
- Get writing. Form a regular habit or you’ll never move from dreamer to doer. Write every day. I find setting a daily or weekly word count helps. But you must stick to it, so be realistic. Even if you only write 2,500 words a week, in 10 months that’ll be 100,000. Keep going. Concentrate on reaching the end rather than looking back.
- You’ve finished? Have a break. Rest the manuscript for a month to gain detachment before reading it through and editing/polishing. Then ask family/friends to read it and give honest feedback. Take their views on board without offence. Digest their comments before deciding what to incorporate. Focus above all else on what’s best for the book.
- Proofread your manuscript and get someone else to do so too. It’s easy to miss your own mistakes. This is crucial. Errors could seriously hamper your progress later. Now is also the time to correctly format your manuscript. Plenty of information is available online, including this post on my personal blog.
- Carefully select a handful of literary agents to approach. The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook is ideal for this. And yes, you need an agent. They’re the gatekeepers of the industry and worth every penny you’ll pay them. A genuine agent won’t request money upfront. They work on commission, so only earn when you do. Stick to submission guidelines on their website. Usually they want the first few chapters, a cover letter and synopsis. Spend time getting these right and tailoring them to each recipient.
- Wait for responses and don’t be surprised or upset if you get rejected. Everyone does. It’s an agent’s default response. I got rejected a lot. The key thing is to pick yourself up and carry on. You only need one agent to say yes. It’s the reason I advise only approaching a few at first. That way you’re not burning all your bridges; you can change things in future submissions. If you have any industry contacts, use them. Don’t be proud. It’s tough to get a break. Help yourself where possible.
- Assuming you eventually get an agent, listen to them. They know the industry and will provide you with the best chance of landing a deal. If you still haven’t got an agent, it’s probably time to re-evaluate. Is there a way to change your approach? Maybe you could rejig your cover letter or first chapters. Worst case scenario – if you really want this – perhaps you should return to the drawing board, writing off your first book as a learning exercise and moving on to the next. You’d be surprised how many unpublished early novels are in the drawers of successful authors.
- Finally, let’s assume you’ve landed an agent and a publishing deal. Now it’s time to listen to your editor. Don’t be precious. There will be things they want you to change: maybe even the title. But they’ll make these suggestions for the good of the book. They want it to do well as much as you do. Let them do their job. That way you’ll maximise your chances of having a marketable book with a decent shot at success. You don’t have to agree with everything, but you should definitely pick your battles.
So there you have it. This isn’t a journey for the faint-hearted. You need dedication and buckets of self-belief. There will be plenty of times you feel like quitting. But in my experience sticking with it eventually pays off. Good luck.
(c) S.D. Robertson
About Time to Say Goodbye
HOW DO YOU LEAVE THE PERSON YOU LOVE THE MOST?
Will Curtis’s six-year-old daughter, Ella, knows her father will never leave her. After all, he promised her so when her mother died. And he’s going to do everything he can to keep his word.
What Will doesn’t know is that the promise he made to his little girl might be harder to keep than he imagined. When he’s faced with an impossible decision, Will finds that the most obvious choice might not be the right one.
But the future is full of unexpected surprises. And father and daughter are about to embark on an unforgettable journey together . . .
Time to say Goodbye is in bookshops now or pick up your copy online here!