Bestselling author Claire McGowan has recently added some free tips e-books to her website www.ink-stains.co.uk (well worth downloading – they’re free!), so we asked her for her tips about writing a great book…
First, let me tell you the good news: it is entirely possible for you to get published. Agents and editors are always on the look-out for new talent with exciting ideas. But maybe you’re feeling a bit worried. You may think you don’t know anyone in the publishing industry. You may not live in London, or be under thirty, or even have gone to university. You don’t have a blog or a ‘platform’, and you hate Twitter. I firmly believe that none of this matters, and could cite you dozens of examples of people who don’t fit any of these categories, but who went on to get exciting and substantial book deals. And you can too.
Of course, as with all creative industries, there’s a large amount of luck involved. Hitting a trend. Landing on an agent or editor’s desk just when they’re looking for someone like you (as Adele said) or they have money burning a hole in their pocket. None of us can plan for that – but what we can do is maximise our chances in the meantime. And here’s how.
The most important thing you can do before you start writing is come up with a story that will sell. Obviously, this is a huge topic – in fact I teach a two-year MA in it! – but probably the main factor in deciding whether you get published or not, assuming you can write to a good standard already, is choosing the right idea. So here’s how to find it. Decide what you’re going to write to start with – if it’s a novella or something else that isn’t traditionally publishable then this will automatically hurt your chances of getting published.
Next start studying the market. Look at the bestseller lists (you are allowed to feel raging envy at this point. Raging envy is quite a good motivator). Read the books that do well, and judge them if you like. Scan the books in the station bookshop as you’re waiting for a train. You might even like to check out the Bookseller magazine, the trade publication of the industry. If you don’t want to splash out on a subscription the website has a lot of free content, including announcements of new books that have attracted big advances (or perhaps your local library might have access). Notice the kinds of books and stories that get published. Crime fiction is always popular, and in recent years psychological thrillers and dark suspenseful tales have topped the charts. Women’s fiction featuring big, emotional storylines also does well, as does historical fiction. You may have heard the phrase ‘high concept’ bandied about as well, which essentially means an idea that feels fresh and original. The main thing you’ll notice is that most of these books have strong stories – big things are happening to the characters. The books feature interesting people. Engaging or unusual settings. A strong ‘hook’: in other words, an idea that makes you want to read the book. Notice which blurbs appeal to you and make you want to pick up the book and read the first line (or use the Kindle Look Inside feature).
Think about the kind of book you would choose to read, and ask yourself honestly if yours is one of them. Does the idea fit alongside these successful ones? Of course, there will always be the odd ‘quieter’ or literary novel that does well – usually after it’s won a major prize – but these are the exceptions. You have a much better chance of selling your book if you have a strong and compelling story. Something that keeps the reader gripped. High stakes, emotional and/or physical. A character that suffers, and changes, and grows. An important point to make or message to give. So, if you don’t have this, it may be time to go back to the drawing board. If you’ve already written your novel and you’re getting some praise but no one is biting, the story is probably the issue. You may have to write another book in order to get published, but this is by no means unusual. Most writers have a few unpublished manuscripts lurking under the bed – I have two! Also, think how much better your writing will be this time.
It may even be time to get some objective feedback, such as an MS read, or taking a short class or even an MA. Make sure you get feedback from people who know the market and the kind of books that attract big advances. Read Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass, a brilliant book that breaks down exactly why some books generate excitement and sell well. Having a great idea can lead to big advances, auctions at book fairs, editors and agents wowing you. So I think it’s worth spending some time coming up with one.
(c) Claire McGowan
About Blood Tide (Paula Maguire Book 5)
Forensic psychologist Paula Maguire returns in BLOOD TIDE, the fifth novel in Claire McGowan’s acclaimed series. If you loved Sharon Bolton’s LITTLE BLACK LIES or Elly Griffiths’ THE WOMAN IN BLUE, you will love this new novel from the author acclaimed as ‘the new Ruth Rendell’ by Ken Bruen.
Called in to investigate the disappearance of a young couple during a violent storm, Paula Maguire, forensic psychologist, has mixed feelings about going back to Bone Island. Her last family holiday as a child was spent on its beautiful, remote beaches and returning brings back haunting memories of her long-lost mother.
It soon becomes clear that outsiders aren’t welcome on the island, and with no choice but to investigate the local community, Paula soon suspects foul play, realising that the islanders are hiding secrets from her, and each other.
With another storm fast approaching, Paula is faced with a choice. Leave alive or risk being trapped with a killer on an inescapable island, as the blood tide rushes in…
Order your copy online here.