This summer was very exciting for me as my first novel was published. I was incredibly lucky as it was accepted by the first publisher I sent it to but there have been other occasions when I haven’t been so lucky. So this definitely isn’t advice from on-high but an invitation to other new writers to learn from mistakes I’ve made and the knowledge I’ve gained so far along the way.
1. Write the novel
Although it sounds obvious, most agents and publishers will refuse to consider a book that isn’t finished. They will want to know how any words it is, they’ll probably want a detailed synopsis including the ending and they might even ask for a chapter breakdown.
Would anyone be daft enough to send off a submission before they had written/finished the book? Well yes, I have done that! In my defence I was acting on the advice of a creative writing teacher so I imagine it must work for some people. When you see under the submission guidelines that they will take at least three months to come back to you (if at all) it’s tempting to fire off a submission and think you can write the book while waiting for the reply.
But Sod’s law states that they will get back to you asking for the full script during the busiest week at work, the weekend of your best friend’s wedding or your child’s birthday party sleepover. It’s impossible to knock out a book in a few days – or at least not one that’s good enough to publish.
2. Re-write the novel
While it’s tremendously satisfying to write ‘The End’ at the bottom of your manuscript you still have a lot of work to do. Now’s the time to go back over your work and edit it. You might find it helps to put the manuscript aside for a week or two and then read it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself if the characters feel real, the plot works, the dialogue is natural, chapter endings have hooks to make the reader read on and if the ends are all tied up. Don’t forget to use the spellcheck.
3. Get feedback
But not too much! My mistake in the past has been to spend too long in online writing groups, receiving lots of conflicting advice and going round in circles. You aren’t going to please everyone before or after publication so just listen to one or two friends you can trust to be honest, members of a writing group that regularly read the sort of book you are writing and/or a professional critique service.
4. Build your social media platform
Don’t wait until the book is published – that is too late! For starters you will probably want a Facebook page, separate Facebook author page, twitter account, website and blog. It’s a good idea to join some relevant online groups but gradually so you don’t get overwhelmed. Engage with others so your contact isn’t all about promoting yourself and your book as this can put people off.
I made the mistake of thinking that blogging about my writing before I had a book published would look a bit sad and desperate – but here’s what I learned: it really doesn’t and everyone does it!
5 Re-draft the novel
…using advice from the feedback you have been given. There are sure to be changes worth making – you might learn that a section you thought was clear is in fact confusing, a character you thought people would love (or love to hate) needs fleshing out, or something that you thought was a great twist is predictable.
6. Research agents and publishers
Submissions can be hugely time-consuming. But you can save time and improve your chances of getting accepted by making sure you’re approaching the right people. Draw up a list of agents and publishers who have books similar to yours. Familiarise yourself with the books and authors they represent and read about what they look for in a good book.
7. Write and polish your synopsis
Some writers (me!) find these harder to write than the book itself. Write a few of different lengths that can be adapted. Get ready with the elevator pitch for your enquiry letter – you need to be able to sum up the book in the time it would take to explain it to someone in a lift.
8. Follow the submission guidelines
Each company has its own way of doing things, which makes it difficult to send out several submissions in one go. Some will ask for the first three chapters and a two-page synopsis including the ending, while others may want the first ten thousand words and a 200 word synopsis which doesn’t give away the ending. Some insist on attachments, others want the extract pasted into the email. Focus on one submission at a time so you get it right.
9. Send the full script
If they get back to you and ask for the full script give it a quick read through and make sure the pages are numbered and your name and email are on the document.
10. Sit back and wait
Not really! Keep building up social media contacts, blog about your experience and engage with bloggers and readers of similar books. Read other novels in the same genre and get ideas for the blurb and cover design. If your full manuscript isn’t taken on this time you’ll be in a stronger position for next time.
I hope this helps – good luck!