Monday, 30 May 2011

Writing a Novel and Getting Published

Now that I've moved from an almost successful writer to a somewhat successful writer I am still asked how one traverses that tricky hinterland between the gloomy forest of obscurity to the sunlit uplands of actually getting paid to write. I cannot speak to the journey that others may take but I can certainly describe my own rock and cowpat strewn path to occasional success.

I've covered much of this ground before but I thought I'd consolidated in one easy to find blog.

Part 1: Prior to Writing the Novel
1. To paraphrase Yoda 'Write or do not write there is no fucking endlessly telling people you're going to write a novel if you don't write it and BTW you fucked up badly in that cave you're worse than fricking Obi Wan I swear this is why I gave up teaching...'

Part 2: Writing the Novel
1. Go out and buy 'How Not To Write A Novel' by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman.
2. Read this book at least twice.
3. Write your novel following its advice.
4. Do not rewrite earlier chapters until the book is finished.
5. Do not show your work to more than 1-2 people until it's finished.
6. Do not ask professional writers to look at work unless you are a) sleeping with them, b) related to them, c) prepared to give them more than £2,000 in cash or d) all of the above.
7. I don't need to defend these rules to anyone since they worked for me but you can ignore them as much as you like - I'm easy.

Part 3: Selling Your Novel
I did the conventional get an agent and let them sell the book route so if you want to sell direct to publishers or self publish I can't help you and my speculation is just uninformed as anyone else. Also all of this applies to the UK - I have no idea how you'd do this in a different country.
1. Buy the latest copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook.
2. Turn to the pages that list Literary Agents and pick 10 agents by whatever criteria suits you, I started with the biggest London based agencies but you could do it by reverse alphabetical order because it actually makes very little difference.
3. Follow the following procedure with exactitude...
a) Check the agency website to ensure that they are open to submissions, that they are looking for the genre you are writing in and what their submission guidelines are. If they don't have a website then make a quick phone call to determine these things. Be friendly and do not overstay your welcome or pitch over the phone (unless you are explicitly invited to).
b) prepare a submission package following the exact guidelines you were given in a). You do not win points for innovating your submission or trying to explain why you should be an exception.
c) Repeat the process for the other nine agencies.
d) Post or email your submissions.
4. Pick another 10 agencies and repeat until you have submitted your material to every single agency in the book that is willing to look at a submission. I did about ten submissions a week I can't see any reason to do it slower unless you really like to string out the agony.
5. Once you have an agent selling the book becomes their problem.
6. I can't really help you if this doesn't work since I got an agent.

Part 4: Some Statistics
I submitted my work to 45 agencies...
Of which 10 subsequently asked for a full manuscript...
4 asked for meetings of which...
Only 2 made offers of representation.
The fastest rejection took 6 days and the longest 6 months.
The average time before a manuscript request was 4 weeks.
Meetings, when they happened, were requested within 7 days of submitting a full manuscript.
To this day 13 agencies have failed to do so much as reject me by email.

That's the sum total of knowledge of how to get your work published - I hope it's useful.


Michael Jervis said...

So how do you do the actual writing?Microsoft Word? Something else?

Ben Aaronovitch said...

Whatever programme floats your boat. I use Word but when I started it was Locoscript all the way.