People often ask me how to set about getting a book published. Readers in general do not have any idea how difficult it is. It is amazingly difficult, and one agent even wrote to me saying that getting a successful book out there is as unlikely as winning the lottery. This was very disheartening to say the least!
Most publishers will only look at a suggested manuscript if it has come via an agent, and most agents are inundated with would-be writers.
I got zillions of rejection letters over many years. Zillions. At one time I kept them all just so that one day I’d be able to say ya-boo. But they piled up so quickly and I am a very tidy person – so they got burnt.
Rejections come in all shapes and sizes, all forms and formats, from a small pre-printed card to a nice letter explaining why your typescript has been rejected. Most agents do not have time to go in to details. They are – especially nowadays – short of funds and manpower. Some of what the agents told me was rubbish: “the story is too improbable ….” or “this will not appeal to the modern reader ….” that sort of thing. Sometimes I could tell that my typescript had barely even been glanced at.
More encouragingly, though, my work usually got read. Several times the agent asked to see the rest of the book. Now, this told me one important thing, and that was that my book was readable, enjoyable, not rubbish and PUBLISHABLE. So I kept trying.
The years went by and there came a point when I decided to move on to other things. I had given writing books a lot of my time, and I felt that I had given it a good shot. Time to try something new. Forget being a writer.
Oddly enough, however, at about the same time I came across a short heartbroken poem I had written in Africa few years earlier “Shadows – for my Father”. I don’t know why, but for some reason I sent it to a publisher – and it was accepted. They say to never bother sending poems because they are nigh-on impossible to get published … far FAR more difficult than getting a book published.
This gave me the spurt of energy and enthusiasm I needed. That was two years ago and I now have four books published and some twenty poems. I have sold (always for a charity) over 400 of my paintings.
A few tips in no particular order and in reference to self- or traditional publishing:
- I bought a self-published book on my Kindle recently. The first page was so full of grammar mistakes that I could not read it. I realize that American English and English English do differ, and that the Americans will accept split infinitives and have a different use, in many cases, of vocabulary and phraseology. But there are limits. If you cannot spell and do not understand grammar, do not try to write a book. (Relying on spell-checks on your computer is a BIG mistake!)
- the chances of your being accepted by a publisher for fiction are very low. If you have a specialist subject it is more likely you will be published. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if your book is fiction, it is better self-publish. They call it “indie” publishing – ie independent. If it is successful it will be picked up by a publisher anyway. More and more writers are doing this.
- if applying to an agent do not try to do attention-grabbing things like using a red envelope or enclosing dried flowers … most agents find this tiresome and have seen it all before
- do spend time looking properly at what is out there to help you. Agents invariably have web-sites that will tell you whether they are looking for new authors and how to submit. Do not send your book in on the off-chance. It will only irritate the agent. There are lots of sites with “do and don’t” information. Do not take it all as gospel! Pick out the bits that seem to suit you and your needs.
- if you self-publish never ever pay for it! You see, the person who publishes for you earns his money out of that up-front fee, usually thousands of $ or £s. Once he has that fee he really couldn’t care less (despite what he may tell you) whether or not your book sells. Only if s/he is getting a commission for books sold is it worth it – which is what an traditional publisher & agent would do anyway
- do not rely, in any way, shape or form, on friends and family to buy your book. It is odd. They want to buy it, they intend to buy it, they say they will tell their friends, they will put up a poster for you … but somehow they just don’t. At any rate only a few of them will. So forget about their support. They do not understand how important it is to you, and you have to look at a far broader picture.
- you must have your own web site and you must be on Facebook, Twitter and as many other social networks as possible. Be careful to not spam. Read the rules carefully or you could get banned
- you will have to do a great deal of marketing yourself, even if you have a publisher. The advantage to having a publisher is that he will tell you what to do. Otherwise you have to learn it and it is a very VERY hard slog.
So … if you stop trying, remember that you are not giving up, you are just moving on to something else – and every writer in the world will understand why. If you do occasionally get an agent who seems to have taken a bit of interest, know that this means you have probably got what it takes. Persevere, even self-publish. Last, but not least, know that once you are published that is not the end – it is the start of a long hard slog of a different nature.
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites. Her sketches are on her web site http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk . Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores or libraries. They are also available as e-books from the turquoisemoon web site.