With January over and those New Years resolutions underway, we’ve recently had several inquiries from new writers who have finished their books and want to know what they should do next – while we have masses of content about getting published and self publishing, we don’t have a guide that takes the mystery out of starting the process, so *drum roll* here it is.
Writing is rewriting
The first thing for every writer to remember is that writing is rewriting. The moment you put the last full stop down at the end of the last sentence of your first draft isn’t the time to start thinking about sending it out – it’s the time when the work really begins.
No published author submits a first draft and expects success, but rather they draft and redraft, write and rewrite until, as author Mary Malone says, ‘you’re so sick of your book that you never want to see it again!’
So how do you know what to change as you redraft? Here are some tips:
- Read your work outloud, particularly the dialogue, making sure that nothing jars. If it helps, record yourself reading and play it back, or use the text to speech function on a Kindle to play back passages.
- One of the problems with writing is that our brain thinks it knows the words that should be on the page, and can be blind to the words that are actually there. It is essential to print out your entire book and read it in hard copy as part of the editing process. Choose a different font from the one you normally work in and it will help you spot the problems. We have some great tips on structural and self editing here.
- Ask a writer who works in your genre to read your book and give you their comments. Even an enthusiastic reader will not understand the techniques required to make your story work – a writer will, and if there is too much backstory or not enough description in the right places, they will spot it.
- Join a critique group or writers group to get feedback on your manuscript.
- Use sites like Scribophile or YouWriteOn.com to submit parts of your book (the opening chapter is a good place to start) to get feedback from other writers and to be in with a chance of an editor spotting your book. Take their points on board.
The next step: length & genre
As you are redrafting, it’s time to check that your book is:
- The right length (word count) for the market – we have guidelines here.
- If you are writing for children, your reader – and the age bracket you are writing for – has a direct impact on the age of your protagonist and the length of the book – make sure you have got this right. Children’s Books Ireland have fabulous resources and we’d urge you to join them if this is your field – from workshops to advice, this is the organisation that can help.
- If poetry is your area, check out Poetry Ireland who again have specific resources to help you.
- If your book is fiction, does it fall within a recognised genre (crime, romance, women’s fiction, humour) or subgenre (historical crime or women’s fiction for instance)? Books that cross genre can be hard to place with publishers as it can be tricky to know how to market them/where to put them on the bookshop shelf. Understanding genre will help, read as much as you can in the genre you write in. That said, if your book is brilliantly written genre will not be an issue.
- If your book is non-fiction you need to be aware of what the competition is in the marketplace – what makes your book different from what’s available already, and why are you the best person to write it?
Who to approach?
Matching your manuscript to the right type of publishing house or agent is essential to success – not every publisher publishes every type of book, and if you submit a children’s picture book to an academic publisher you are guaranteeing a rejection.
You can reduce your chances of rejection with a little detective work. We have a complete list of Irish publishers here at writing.ie, plus a list of Irish agents. For information on UK agents and publishers, The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook is an invaluable resource (there is a specific edition for anyone writing for children).
Go to your local bookshop or library and find books that are like yours – read the acknowledgments and find out who the author’s agent and editor are – use this information to start a list of who to approach. Read our section on tips for submission.
Your submission package
Every publishing house has slightly different requirements for authors submitting to them. It is essential that you read the guidelines and follow them to the letter. There is nothing more annoying for editors than maverick authors who have a better idea of how to submit. Make the editor’s job easier by following the guidelines.
Essentially you will be required to submit a covering letter, a synopsis of your book and the three opening chapters (info on format here) – some publishers want the first fifty pages, some want a query letter outlining your book before you even get to this stage (this is the norm in the US). Their guidelines will be on their website – check them to see what they want.
Essentially your book needs to be in tip top condition before you send it anywhere – editors today just don’t have time to detect a glimmer of genius in a unpolished draft. At the risk of driving editors and agents to distraction, you really only have on chance to submit your book, so don’t send it anywhere until you are absolutely sure that you cannot do any more to it. You can get professional help on your manuscript before you send it from a range of services – Ireland’s leading publishing consultancy, The Inkwell Group has a team of published authors and industry professionals who can read your book and give you report on it, give you a line by line critique of the opening chapters, or edit all or part of your book. You can get information on their full range of services and read their success stories at their website.
Understanding the business
If you are serious about becoming an author it is vital that you get to understand the business side of writing and how it works. You can do this by reading author’s publication stories and tips (we have masses of information on writing.ie), attending workshops, book launches and festivals (lots listed in our events section) or joining a writing course that includes a publishing element.
There are several events coming up where Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin, who founded Writing.ie and is Ireland’s leading literary scout will be talking about getting published and what you need to think about. Every event is tailored to the needs of the participants so whatever you write, think about going along, you will be guaranteed to improve your chances of publication. Check out The Big Smoke Writing Factory (3 March 2018) The Mountains to Sea Festival in Dun Laoghaire (24 March), the World Book Festival in Cork (28 April) and the International Literature Festival Dublin as part of Date with an Agent (26 May).
When you understand the options available to you, you can consider whether traditional publishing (with a publishing house) or self publishing is the best route to get your book to readers. For self publishing tips, check out the Irish Writers Centre Mindshift event that Vanessa will be presenting at on 24th February.
What not to do
If you Google publishers often the first few results you get are actually ads. As a general rule bone fide commercial publishers really don’t need to advertise for books, they have more than they need being sent by agents or directly by authors every day. Please, please, check anyone you submit to carefully before you commit to a contract of any sort – we would urge you to get professional advice from a publishing professional (join the fabulous Irish Writers Union and they can help, or contact Writing.ie) so you know exactly what you are committing too. Sometimes a shiny publisher or agent may not actually be offering what you think they are.
Think about your author profile and how you will sell your book
Publishers are naturally inclined to be interested in authors who understand a little bit about marketing, who have a blog or website established and who have a social media presence. Having lots of connections with people who will buy your book has to be a good thing. Think about starting a blog and getting onto Twitter – we have lots of tips if you click the links.
If an editor likes your chapters there is a good chance that they will Google you to find out more about you. Google yourself and see what they will see! Now might be the time to take down those stag night pictures…your own blog or website allows you to be in full control of the images and information that is available about you, and gives an editor a good idea of your personality.
If you hate social media and don’t want to blog, think about other ways of connecting with potential readers. Can you give library or schools talks? Not a public speaker? Now is the time to think about changing that, marketing is a vital part of every author’s life.
Publishers need writers
The most important thing to remember as you look for a publisher, is that the industry cannot operate without writers. Writers are the fuel that keeps the machine going. There is no question that there is a high level of rejection in this business (this article might help), and that is something that writers must prepare themselves for early on, and often. But at the same time, there are more opportunities open to you with the growth of digital and print-on-demand/self publishing, than ever before. It’s a great time to be a writer!
Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin is the founder of Writing.ie and The Inkwell Group publishing consultancy, and has helped many award winning and bestselling authors to achieve their dreams. Vanessa writes crime as Sam Blake and is the bestselling author of Little Bones and In Deep Water, part 3 of the Cat Connolly trilogy, No Turning Back is out in May 2018.