Thursday, January 06, 2011

So You Want to be Published...

If anyone's got access to The Portugal News this week, turn to page 19 and you might find someone you know.

If you haven't you can read it here :-)

I wrote an article which was published in The Portugal News and here it is:


In case you didn’t know, there are two types of people in this world. Type one are those who, when they hear, I’ve just had my book published, tend to search about for someone else to talk to. Type two respond with, “That is so cool. I plan to do that – I’ve written the first page and I should’ve finished the whole thing by the end of next week.”

Type ones, I suggest you move on to the next article right now. Type twos - do you know what you’re letting yourself in for? Read on.

Writing a story is fun; writing a story and trying to get it published is a huge, mammoth task. If the latter is what you’re aiming for, whether you’re one of those people who make scrupulous, detailed notes on your plot until your desk is flattened by their sheer weight, or whether you’re one of those who just keep-on-going-and-I’ll-edit-it-afterwards, then be prepared.

There are millions of would-be writers all clamoring, “me, me, me”. One agent in the UK says he receives over two hundred unsolicited submissions a week. And does he read them? Not in the first, or possibly even the second, round. They’re dumped on the slush pile (use your imagination) which falls to an unpaid intern’s lot to sift through. Just hope that your precious baby – sorry, manuscript – is not the one she picks up five minutes before she has to leave to catch her train, or the one she reads after a liquid lunch. You might have the imagination of J.K. Rowlings, or the style of James Patterson, but you also have to be the type of person who’s won the Lottery Jackpot three times in a row because that agent with the two hundred queries will probably only take on three or four new clients a year.

If you’re unsure about how to write your novel, you’ll find dozens of “how to” books out there and there’s a gadzillion free articles if you Google “How to Write a Book”. But every one of them advises, Don’t Give Up the Day Job.

Have you looked at who’s on the Best-Seller lists lately?  Jamie Oliver, Stephen Fry, Nigella Lawson, Keith Richards, …umm…Katie Price.

Publishers and agents are feeling the pinch too these days and they’re plumping for the big names, the ones they know will sell and make the big bucks. Who’s going to give a toss about Jane Doe whose first novel begins with the line: “It was a dark, stormy night…”?

Publishers and agents – what’s the difference? An agent is an intermediary between the author and publisher; an agent protects the author’s interests from the big bad publishers who, if left to their own devices, just might produce a contract in which the writer sells her soul; an agent will help the author slap her manuscript into some form of acceptable shape (although it has to be pretty good to start with); an agent has “contacts” which the author doesn’t have. Publishers – and I mean the big, scary ones – do not accept submissions from the general public, only from agents. Agents will send out bids for your book and accept the highest for you. Then they’ll take their huge cut of it

But I’m going far ahead of myself here. Let’s imagine you have written a novel and you have reached the submission stage. Make sure you know what genre it is (romance, suspense, thriller etc.) because how amateurish will you look if you submit a blood-sucking book about the undead to an agent who only likes cowboy stories? Your manuscript must be finished and polished enough to see your face in. Yes, I know you’re only sending out a synopsis in the first instance, but agents want their full dinner not just dessert and if they ask to see more (usually the first three chapters, oh happy day) you have to send it off immediately – not in three months time.

The itchy issue of agent etiquette rivals that of asking the Queen for tea. Put your foot an itsy bitsy out of line and you’re for the chop. Your submission itself is no easy task, you can’t just plonk it out and hope you’ll overwhelm the underpaid, or even unpaid, bored intern. Your submission is a direct reflection on your manuscript and you want the agent to like you. That doesn’t mean addressing the submission letter with “Hiya there Dave”. Be polite, be professional and boot-lick – don’t start the letter with “Dear Sir,” use his name: “Dear Mr. Frogshead”; find out about what books the agent has represented, praise them to the hilt and he won’t think you’re some beanbag from the back of beyond.

Thoroughly depressed? Don’t be. I have just had my book published.

(Next week: My own rocky route to publishing)

Susan Roebuck


  1. Very cool, Susan. Congrats!

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