The advice I offer below worked for me… eventually! There are always anomalies to any rule. But this is the standard way most authors get discovered.
Self-publishing is also becoming a lot more popular these days, and can be a great route into getting a contract with one of the bigger book publishers.
What advice would you give to writers wanting to get their work published?
I often get asked this question, and I always say: “Don’t give up!”
Why? Because unless you’re extremely lucky, and one of those rare cases in the publishing world – an author who gets picked up straight away by a literary agent (more on them later.) or a publisher, then there’s A LOT of rejection before the joy of seeing your first book in a bookshop, or if you’re very lucky, on the shelves of a major supermarket.
I had over 100 rejections (agents and publishers) before my first published book (which was actually the third novel I’d written) had any interest from a literary agent. Even then, Hannah Ferguson (my agent now) was a rights assistant at the Marsh Agency when she first came across my novel From Notting Hill with Love…Actually languishing on the slush pile, and she offered to work with me to try to get my novel published. (Hannah was later promoted to a junior agent, and is now a very successful and sort-after literary agent in her own right.)
I’ll always be grateful to Hannah for the chance she gave me, and now many published novels later we’re still working together, and Hannah now has over 20 authors she works with at the Hardman Swainson Literary Agency.
So if you can stand a little (or a lot) of rejection, then how do you go about getting the right people to look at your precious story?
I always advise people to get a copy of a book called The Writers and Artists yearbook. It’s published annually, and has a complete list of all literary agents and publishers in the UK, but more importantly, it tells you what their submission guidelines are, and what sort of books they’re interested in representing. It’s no good sending your beautifully written historical love story to someone who’s only interested in crime and fantasy, and vice versa – it’s a waste of yours (and their) time, and also your money. If you’re sending the first three chapters of your manuscript off to lots of agents, the postage costs soon mount up! Luckily these days many agents and publishers accept digitally, but many still like to do things the more traditional way.
What do you send off in your submission package?
Well that varies, I refer back again to the yearbook above which will tell you exactly what to send in each submission. Often an agent’s website will give you further details too. Do read them and take note, it not only looks more professional, but agents like to think you’ve take the time to chose them personally. They all know you’re submitting to many of their rivals too, but at least play the game!
So you’ve done your research, chosen a suitable literary agent, and you know how much of your novel this agent wants to see – lets say your first three chapters, what else should you include?
You need to send an accompanying letter; again tailored to the person you’re sending it to. Never send a general Dear Sir/Madam letter, that’s just bad form, and also a synopsis of your complete book.
All authors hate writing a synopsis, but its worth getting it right, as its something you still have to do when you get published and you’re pitching your next book idea to your editor and agent.
I won’t go into the ins and outs of synopsis writing here, as there are many fine articles about it on the Internet. But from my own point of view I go for a more blurby style, like you’d read on the back of a novel. One page max!
You keep talking about submitting to literary agents rather than publishers. Why shouldn’t I cut out the middle-man and go straight to the horses mouth?
Generally because you can’t. Most publishers will only look at a submission sent by a literary agent they trust. Although just occasionally publishers will open themselves up for a short time, to allow unsolicited submissions (as they’re called) directly from authors, so that’s worth keeping an eye out for.
But aside from the ‘rules’ for submitting, signing to a literary agent before you try to get a publisher can be helpful in many ways.
An agent will know the right editor to send your book to at a publishing house, they know who is looking out for your style of book, and who might be interested in publishing it. They can also help you deal with (and understand!) your first contract when you get offered one – a lot more complicated than you might think. And possibly more importantly, when the initial euphoria of simply getting your book published has worn off, they can help to negotiate you the best deal possible for this and your future books…
But an agent is more than just a negotiation tool. They can also be your sounding board when things aren’t going well, they can deal with the tricky stuff if you have problems with your publisher, and more importantly they can become your friend, in an industry that can be quite lonely at times.
I’ve written my book, but how do I know if it’s something that someone will want to publish?
Simple answer is you don’t.
I think getting published is as much about luck as talent. I don’t mean the old ‘It’s not what you know, its who you know.’ adage, I mean your manuscript has to fall into the right person’s hands, or even onto their desk at exactly the right time for them, and for you.
I waited a long time to get my first book published; it was heart breaking at times when I kept hearing ‘thanks but no thanks,’ but now in retrospect I know that when it happened it was the right time for me. I found the right agent, and the right editor who not only wanted to work with me, but also more importantly loved what I’d written.
And that is what I’ll finish with. If you love what you’ve written; its something that you 100% know you would enjoy reading if you picked it up from a bookshelf or downloaded it onto your Kindle. You’ve edited that piece of work until it squeaks perfection; and removed all spelling mistakes and glaring grammatical errors. Then I promise you Dear Author, that one day someone else is going to love it just as much as you do, and if they don’t, then keep trying until they do!