Types of editing

Types of Editing: How To Choose

Types of editing: developmental, structural, line editing, copy editing, proofreading


Developmental editing. Structural editing. Line editing. Copy editing. Proofreading.

Yes, we know: you’ve written a manuscript. You know it needs some kind of professional help. But what kind of help? Copy editing or line editing? Structural editing or developmental support? There seem to be so many options to choose from.

But never fear. We’ll tell you exactly what each of the different types of editing are – and offer some suggestions on what editing you do/don’t need right now.

The good news is that, quite often, you need less editorial input than you might think. (The bad news is that you have to put in a lot of hard graft instead …)

What are the different types of editing?

  • Developmental editing: checks concept, plot coherence, and character development/arc.
  • Structural editing: identifies issues with plot, pacing, characters, settings, themes, writing style.
  • Line editing: looks at details line by line.
  • Copy-editing: is much as above, except with less attention to line-by-line correction of clumsy writing.
  • Proof reading: looks for simple typos or errors in the text.

How editing works

Before we go any further, it’s worth explaining the editorial heirarchy. Essentially you go from large to little, from structural to detailed.

So it’s like building a house: you start with foundations, walls and roof. Then you start thinking about doors and windows. Then you start thinking about paints and wallpapers. Last, you go around sweeping up and sorting out any last little snags.

The same thing with editing, where the hierarchy runs roughly like this, from big to small:

  1. Developmental editing. Is this concept sound? Does my plot cohere? Are these the right characters for this book?
  2. Structural editing. Identifying and addressing any number of issues covering (for example) plot, pacing, characters, character development, settings, emotional turning points, themes, writing style and much else.
  3. Line editing: this starts to look at the detail. Is each sentence clear? Are there typos? Unwanted repetitions? Minor factual errors?
  4. Copy editing: much as above, except there’s less attention to line-by-line correction of clumsy writing.
  5. Proof reading: At the proof stage, you generally expect that all the essential work has already been done, so this is really just rushing around the manuscript looking for last bits of lint to pick off and typos to clear away.

That’s the overview. Not all manuscripts will go through all of these stages – indeed, if you’re doing a decent job as an author then two or three of these stages are probably redundant.

All that said, let’s jump straight into the meat …

Developmental Editing

We’ll start with the biggest, broadest, most sweeping kind of editing you can get: developmental editing. That’s a type of editing that used to have one meaning, but it’s kind of morphed into two distinct beasts for reasons, I’ll explain in a second.

Definition: What is developmental editing?

In the good old days, developmental editing used to have one precise meaning. It now has certainly two, and maybe three.

A. Developmental editing – traditional definition

But we start with the first, core, and most precise definition. To quote the ever-reliable Wikipedia:

“A developmental editor may guide an author (or group of authors) in conceiving the topic, planning the overall structure, and developing an outline—and may coach authors in their writing, chapter by chapter.”

In other words, any true “editing” took place before the writing. It was a planning and design function, in essence. Because competent authors can probably take care of planning and design perfectly well by themselves, such editing was always relatively rare and, in fiction, very rare. (I’ve authored getting on for twenty books now and have never once had a development edit. I’m damn sure I never will.)

B. Developmental editing as industry euphemism

But of course not all authors are perfect and, now and again, publishers have to deal with a manuscript they’ve commissioned, but which turns out to be absolutely dire. Think celebrity memoir of the worst sort. Or a multi-million-selling author who’s long since stopped caring about how he or she writes, because they know the money will roll in anyway.

So what to do?

Well, the standard solution in trade publishing is to do what is euphemistically called a ‘development edit’. What that actually means is that an editor takes on the role of something akin to a ghostwriter. They rip out everything that’s hopeless and rebuild.

I’ve known a Big 5 editor who had done this a couple of times, and he said it was soul-destroying. He didn’t get any bonus for doing the work. He didn’t get a share of fame or royalties. He didn’t go on the chat shows or the book tours. And he was always dancing on eggshells with the Famous Author, because the author in question was very prickly about having his work slighted in any way.

Even though the work in question sucked.


So that’s the second meaning of a development edit: basically a euphemism designed to disguise what is basically a ghostwriting job.

When is classic developmental editing right for you?

It isn’t. You don’t need it.

What you probably need (either now or in due course) is a professional manuscript assessment and possibly some of the add-ons normally associated with developmental editing. But in the classic sense of the term, you just don’t need it. We’ll talk about what you do need right away.

Developmental editing, structural editing, editorial assessment

Structural Editing, Substantive editing, Editorial Assessment

Right. So I’m not a big fan of developmental editing, but I LOVE the type of editing we’re about to talk about. But first up: definitions.


Structural editing is, strictly speaking, a set of comments on the structure of your work. That will certainly involve plot and pacing. But it may also include comments on character, mood, emotional transitions, dialogue, character arcs, writing style and much more.

If you’re being strict about it, structural editing should focus only on structure, but in practice editors tend to comment on anything that, in their view, needs attention. (Which is good. Which is what you want.)

Basically, a good structural edit will tell you:

  • What’s working (though they won’t spend too long on this)
  • What’s not working (this is where the report will concentrate all its firepower)
  • How to fix the stuff that isn’t yet right

A good report will quite simply cover everything that you most need to know. It’ll do that from the perspective of the market for books as it is now. So the kind of crime novels (say) that could have sold 25 years ago may not be right for the market now. A good editor will know that, and set you on the right lines.

Substantive editing is basically the same as structural editing, except that technically it doesn’t have to limit itself to structure alone. But since structural editors don’t in practice confine themselves to structural comments, it’s pretty safe to say that, in practice, the two things are exactly the same.

Editorial assessment, or Manuscript assessment. These two things are exactly the same as structural editing. The difference is that an editorial assessment gives you an editorial report, but doesn’t usually also give you a marked-up manuscript as well.

Again, in practice, these things blur into each other. Our own core editorial product is, indeed, the manuscript assessment. The main deliverable there is a long, detailed editorial report on your book. That said, a lot of editors will, if it’s useful, also mark-up all or part of your manuscript. Or if they don’t, they may quote so extensively from your work, that it’s kinda the same as if they did.

In short, and give or take a few blurry bits on the edges:

structural editing = substantive editing = editorial assessment = manuscript assessment

Easy, right?

Is Structural editing / Editorial assessment right for you?


Almost certainly: yes.

Now, to be clear, I own Jericho Writers and if you trot along to buy one of our wonderful manuscript assessments, you’ll make me a teeny-tiny bit richer. So in that sense I’m biased.

On the other hand, I just told you not to buy developmental edits, and I’d make myself a LOT richer if I got you to buy one of those things, so I hope I have a little credit in the bank. I’m speaking truth, not salesman yadda.

And the reason I like structural editing so much is that:

  1. It is and remains the gold-standard way to improve a manuscript. Nothing else has ever come close. I’m not that far away from publishing my twentieth book. (I’m both trad & indie, and I love both channels, in case you’re wondering.) I’m a pretty damn good author. I’ve had very positive reviews in newspapers across the world. My books have sold in a kazillion countries and been adapted for TV. And every single one of my books have had detailed editorial input. And they’ve always, always got better as a result. Always.
  2. It makes you better as a writer. You always emerge from these exercises with new skills and new insights. You will apply those to your current manuscript, for sure, but you’ll apply them to the next one too. The more you work with skilled external editors, the more you’ll grow as a writer. (And, I think, as a human too.)

So that’s why I think structural editing works so well, and for such a huge variety of manuscripts, genres and authors.

When should you get structural input on your work?

Well, OK. The businessman in me wants to say, “Get that input right now. Hand over your lovely hard-earned dollars / pounds / shekels / yen, and your soul and career will flourish, my friend.”

But that’s not the right answer.

The fact is that the right time for editorial input is generally: as late as possible.

If you know you have a plot niggle in Part IV, then fix the damn niggle. Fix it as well as you can. Don’t go and pay someone to tell you that you have an issue. That’s dumb.

Same thing if your characters feel a bit flat, or your atmosphere is a bit lacking, or whatever else. If you know your book has issues, then do the best you can to fix those issues. You’ll learn a lot and your book will get better.

That means, the right time for editorial input comes when:

  1. You’ve worked hard, but you keep going round in circles. You’re confusing yourself. You need external eyes and buckets of wisdom.
  2. You’ve worked hard, but you know the book isn’t right. You don’t know what’s awry exactly, but you know you need help.
  3. You’ve worked hard, you’ve got the book out to agents, but you’re not getting offers of representation. You know you need to do something, but you don’t know what.
  4. The self-pub version of 2: you have a draft you’re reasonably happy with, but you’re about to publish this damn thing, and your whole future career depends on the excellence of the story you’re going to serve the reader. So you do the right thing and invest in the product. You’re going to get the best kickass structural edit you can, then use that advice as intensively as you can. (Editing, in fact, is one of the only two things that should cost you real money at this early stage: the other one is cover design. And, no surprise, they both relate to developing the best product it is in your power to produce.)

In short: work as hard as you can on the book. When you’re no longer making discernible forward progress, come to an editor.

And – blatant plug alert! – Jericho Writers is very, very good at editorial stuff. We’ve got a bazillion people published, trad and indie, and the success stories just keep coming.

Developmental editing – as premium manuscript assessment

I love manuscript assessments – I think they’re the single most helpful thing you can do to improve your work. At their best, with author and editor working well together, they’re like a magic formula for improving your work.

But a lot of people still find them insufficient. In particular, a manuscript assessment might say something like, “Your character Claudia isn’t yet cohering. Here’s what I mean in general terms [blah, blah, blah]. And here are some specific page references which illustrate my general point [page 23, page 58, etc].”

Now that’s helpful, but it still leaves you to do an awful lot. If Claudia is a major character, the specific changes you need to make are likely to go well beyond the handful of examples the editor uses to make their broader point.

So what do you do?

Well, hopefully, you understand exactly where your editor is coming from, and you make the necessary changes, and your manuscript becomes perfect.

Only maybe not. Some people just are helped by having their manuscript marked up page by page. That’s not instead of the more general report. It’s in addition. That way you get to see the broad thrust of the comments, as well as the more specific issues as well.

So you get an overview of (for example) why Claudia isn’t quite working as well as a detailed laundry list of all the specific places where her character grates a bit.

And it’s not just characterisation. It’s plot issues. It’s matters of writing style. It’s sense of place. It’s everything that goes into a novel.

So – and this is because our clients have specifically asked us to create the product – we now offer a version of developmental editing that combines these services in a single package:

  • Manuscript assessment – overview report
  • Detailed mark-up of your manuscript – literally page, by page
  • One hour discussion with the editor, so you can resolve any outstanding questions or niggles you may have.

Pretty obviously, this is a deluxe package and, pretty obviously, it’s expensive. It’s also, honestly, not what most of you need.

Will I benefit from developmental editing, Jericho-style?

As a rough guide, very new writers are probably best off building their skills by taking a writing course or, of course, just hammering away at their manuscript. (That’s still the best learning exercise of all.)

After that, once you have a first, or third, or fifth draft manuscript, it makes sense to get a regular manuscript assessment. That way, you can grasp the main issues with your work and you have a plan of attack for dealing with them.

Because developmental editing is as much concerned both with the broader issues AND with the narrower ones, it doesn’t really make sense to purchase the service until your manuscript is in pretty good shape.

After all, the outcome of a manuscript assessment might be “That whole sequence set on Venus just doesn’t work and needs to be rethought from scratch.” If that’s the case, then having detailed page-by-page comments on the way you write isn’t really going to help you much.

So as a rough guide, you will benefit from developmental editing, if:

  • Your manuscript is in pretty good shape (ie: this should be the last major round of work before submitting to publishers or self-publishing the manuscript)
  • You want both broad and narrow comments
  • You want the opportunity to talk at length with your editor
  • You are OK paying for a premium service.

You will not benefit from developmental editing, if:

  • Your manuscript is still at a somewhat earlier stage in its journey
  • You feel able to handle the narrower issues yourself, so long as you have reasonable guidance from your manuscript assessment report.

Because we don’t want to take your money if developmental editing is not right for you, we have made the service by application only. That’s not because we’re going to stop you doing what you want to do. Just, if we’re not sure whether it makes sense for you to splash the cash, we at least want to be able to check in with you before we go ahead.

Types of editing - copy editing, line editing, proofreading

Line Editing, Copy Editing, Proof Reading

OK. We’ve dealt with the broader, more structural types of editing. We’re now going to home in on the ever finer-grained types of editing.

We’ll start as before with some definitions.


Of the detailed, line-by-line type edits, line-editing is the one that has the broadest remit. I’ll start with proof-reading (the most narrowly defined of these editorial stages) and build upwards from there.

Proof-reading comes at the final stage prior to printing/publication. It basically assumes that the manuscript has already been checked over thoroughly, so this is really only a final check for errors that have managed to slip through the net. (And, in fact historically, the process of type-setting for print often introduced errors, so proof-reading was partly necessary to reverse those. These days, unsurprisingly, you can format a document for print without messing it up.) The kind of errors a proof-reader will catch include: typos, misspellings, punctuation errors, missing spaces, and the like. It’s a micro-level, final-error catching task, and nothing much else.

Copy-editing includes everything included in proofreading, but it’ll have a somewhat broader scope. So a copy editor will also be on the look out for factual errors, timetable and other inconsistencies in the novel, occasional instances of unclear or weak phrasing, awkward repetitions, deviations from house style (if there is a house style), and so on. In the traditional publishing sequence, copy editing will take place after all structural editing has been done, but before the book has been set for print.

Line-editing will cover everything that’s detailed above, plus a general check for sentence structure, clarity and sense. In other words, it is part of a line editor’s job to fix clumsily phrased, repetitious or otherwise awkward sentences. Yes, you the author should not be writing clumsily in the first place, but if by chance you do, the line editor is there to put things right.

Why does anyone ever want or need line-editing? Well, some authors are brilliant at generating character and story, but their actual sentence-by-sentence expression of that story just isn’t so great. In these cases, a publisher will commission a line-edit to put those things right.

Do literary agents edit manuscripts

The Editing Process: What You Need & When You Need it

Right. What kind of editing you need and should pay for depends on what kind of publication you are looking at. So:

The traditional publishing sequence

The normal publishing sequence (for traditionally published books) would be:

  1. Structural editing (ie: a detailed manuscript assessment)
  2. Copy-editing (or line editing if the author really needs it, but never both things)
  3. Proof-reading

That’s it.

If you are aiming at traditional publication, then you may well need to invest in a manuscript assessment, in order to write something of the quality needed for a literary agent / publisher.

You certainly won’t need copy editing, or anything along those lines. That’ll be carried out, for free, by the publisher down the line. (They’ll also do some more structural editing work too, but don’t worry about that – you can’t get too much, and your book always gets better.)

The indie publishing sequence

Indie publishers, inevitably, focus more on cost-cutting than the Big 5 houses do, so a typical indie process might look simply like this:

  1. Some kind of structural support – probably an editorial assessment or something similar
  2. Some kind of copy-editing support

If you don’t have the budget for both, I’d urge you to get the structural help: that’s what will really make the difference to the sheer readability of your book. That’s where to spend your funds.

Indeed, though we at Jericho Writers offer a full range of copyediting and proofreading services, I don’t usually advise writers to invest in them at all.

If you are an indie on a lowish launch budget (which is the right kind of budget to have when you’re just starting out), then I’d recommend an editing plan along roughly the following lines:

  1. Full editorial assessment, ideally from Jericho Writers (because we’re really good at it.)
  2. You then rework your book in the light of what you’ve been told
  3. You then give it a good hard proofread yourself for any errors and typos
  4. You then enlist the help of any eagle-eyed friends to do the same

That plan won’t give you a manuscript as clean as if you give it the full cost-no-object Big 5 treatment … but it’ll be just fine. Don’t overspend at this stage.

header 83 self edit your draft

What kind of editing is right for you?

OK. You know the basic layout of what editing is and when it’s used. Here’s what I think the big questions are.

Developmental editing vs structural editing

You know my view on this. I think for 99% of you reading this, you are best off (a) working and self-editing as hard as you can yourself, then (b) getting professional input on your work from a structural editor.

That’s going to be miles cheaper and the end result will be better too. Yes, you’ll need to do a lot of work, but you’re a writer. You like work. (If you don’t, you’re in the wrong job.)

If you are a newer author, you may well need two or three rounds of structural input. That’s fine. That’s not a failure on your part. That’s you learning a new trade. It’s money well spent – and you can prove it to yourself too. Just ask yourself: are you a better, more knowledgeable, more capable writer at the end of the process? If the answer isn’t yes, I’ll eat my boots, jingly spurs and all. (*)

* – disclosure: I don’t actually wear spurs.

Structural editing vs copy editing

OK, these are two very different things, but of the two, the structural editing definitely matters more. The purpose of structural / substantive editing is simply: make your book the best book it can be.

The purpose of copy editing is simply: make the text as clean as it can be.

Both things matter, but if your budget only permits one of those things, then go for structural editing, every day of the week. A wonderful story is much more important than tidy text.

And again, though we sell copyediting services, you shouldn’t need them at all if you are heading for trad publication, and you should probably be able to find an acceptable but much cheaper substitute if you are self-publishing.

Line editing vs copy editing vs proof-reading

If you are going to get line-by-line corrections to your MS, then the default answer is to go for copy editing. Proof-reading is really too narrow, and only really makes sense if your book has already been copy edited. (Which is fine if you have a Big 5 budget, but makes no sense for you.)

Line editing is really only required if your sentence construction isn’t yet all it could be, in which case I’d urge you to invest in upskilling. Quite simply: as a pro author, you should be in command of your language. If you’re not, and have to pay a line editor, and if you intend to write 10, 15, 20 or more books over the course of your career, you’ll end up paying a fortune. Much, much better to nurture those exact skills in yourself, and you’ll never need to spend a penny on a line edit.

Also: writing well is good for your soul and writing beautiful sentences is a source of beauty and joy forever. So don’t give anyone else the pleasure.

And finally …

That’s it from me. Thanks for reading. If you’ve read this far, you may also like:

Help on how to present your manuscript

Help on how to self-edit your novel

If you need help figuring out what kind of editorial process (or, indeed, other support) might be right for you, then get in touch. Jericho Writers does not have a sales team or employ salespeople or pay anyone on commission. Our customer service people are only allowed to recommend a particular service if they genuinely think it would be helpful to the writer concerned.

We’re run by writers for writers, and we’re on your side.

Thanks for reading – and happy editing!

About the author

Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books).

As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)

More about editing

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template


Developmental editing: What it is & where to get it



What is it? Do you need it? Where can you get it?


In the good old days, developmental editing used to have one precise meaning. It now has certainly two, maybe three, and possibly four meanings. In short: no wonder you’re confused. And no wonder it’s unclear whether developmental editing is something you need or not.

But let’s start with those definitions. Here goes.

Developmental editing – traditional definition

But we start with the first, core, and most precise definition. To quote the ever-reliable Wikipedia:

“A developmental editor may guide an author (or group of authors) in conceiving the topic, planning the overall structure, and developing an outline—and may coach authors in their writing, chapter by chapter.”

In other words, any true “editing” took place before the writing. It was a planning and design function, in essence. Because competent authors can probably take care of planning and design perfectly well by themselves, such editing was always relatively rare and, in fiction, extremely rare.

I’ve authored getting on for twenty books now and have never once had a development edit. I’m damn sure I never will.

Developmental editing as industry euphemism

But of course not all authors are perfect and, now and again, publishers have to deal with a manuscript they’ve commissioned, but which turns out to be absolutely dire. Think celebrity memoir of the worst sort. Or a multi-million-selling author who’s long since stopped caring about how he or she writes, because they know the money will roll in anyway.

So what to do?

Well, the standard solution in trade publishing is to do what is euphemistically called a ‘development edit’. What that actually means is that an editor takes on the role of something akin to a ghostwriter. They rip out everything that’s hopeless and rebuild.

I’ve known a Big 5 editor who had done this a couple of times, and he said it was soul-destroying. He didn’t get any bonus for doing the work. He didn’t get a share of fame or royalties. He didn’t go on the chat shows or the book tours. And he was always dancing on eggshells with the Famous Author, because the author in question was very prickly about having his work slighted in any way.

Even though the work in question sucked.


So that’s the second meaning of a development edit: basically a euphemism designed to disguise what is basically a ghostwriting job.

Developmental editing in self-publishing

That second meaning – basically, “complete text overhaul” – has given rise to a third one.

Unless you’ve been sleeping under a particularly weighty hardback for the last few years, you’ll have noticed that indie authors – that is, self-published ones – have done rather well. They’ve gobbled ever more market share. Their books look better than ever before. They read better than before. They are marketed superbly. (So much so, that every single notable marketing innovation of the last few years originated with the self-pub industry. That’s astonishing. You can find out more about self-publishing here.)

Over time, whole sections of the market (romance, SF) have been pretty much eaten whole by these indie authors.

But let’s say you’re one of the modern breed of self-pub demigods. You publish 4-6 books a year. You have a backlist of 20+ titles. You know how to exploit all the key marketing channels at your disposal, and you exploit em good. You earn, for sure, a good six-figures. Quite possibly, you’ve hit seven. A million bucks plus in annual income.

Wow! Kudos to you, my friend. We mortals bow in awe.

But those demigods still have to write the damn books! And do everything else! And sleep!

How do they fit it all in?

Well, the answer is often that those authors complete their full-length novel in 3 months – something I’ve done just once in 20 years. They’re skilled and experienced writers and they’re also just plain good. That’s why they earn what they earn. (You can’t market rubbish.)

But still. A first draft is a first draft, and first drafts aren’t normally known for their wonderful excellence.

So these pro authors often work with a developmental editor. That editor’s task is basically to clean up the text. Solve plot problems. Clean up sentences. Add a bit of setting and colour, if those things are sometimes wanting. Make sure that if the hero starts with blue eyes, his eyes haven’t changed colour halfway through. And so on.

The author and editor will often form a team who know each other very well, understand each other’s roles, and produce genuinely excellent books together. That’s not how the traditional industry ever worked, except in crisis, but then again the traditional industry was never all that great at churning out authors earning six- and seven-figures a year.

That’s the third definition, but it brings us to the last, most relevant one:

Developmental editing as juiced up manuscript assessment

Now for me, the gold-standard method of improving a manuscript is quite simply the good old-fashioned manuscript assessment. You write your book. You send it to an editor. You get a report back saying, in essence, “this worked, this didn’t, here’s how to fix the bits that were off.”

That sounds simple, but it isn’t. And often enough the effect of good manuscript feedback is a total revitalisation of the work. Many, many times, I’ve known a manuscript assessment to be the single most pivotal moment in a writer’s path to publication.

But –

A manuscript assessment is mostly just that. A long, written report. In the case of Jericho Writers, you get a fabulous editor, a report of no less than 3,000 words, and a long track record of success. But what you don’t get, or not mostly, is a page-by-page list of things to think about.

And sometimes you need that too.

Sometimes you need the rounded, structural commentary of the report but with detailed page-by-page advice alongside – actual annotations on the manuscript. Comments written in Word. Sample edits made to the document itself.

That’s the glory of developmental editing. The big and the small. Both things delivered together.

This kind of service is what we, Jericho Writers, offer by way of developmental editing. Others offer it too. It’s a very, very good service. It’s the ultimate gift you can give your work.

(And yes. I know. That just sounds like a sales pitch – but read on. Developmental editing isn’t right for everyone. It’s probably not right for you.)




You want my most honest opinion here?

OK, here goes.

Developmental editing – traditional definition

Do you need help conceiving, structuring, planning and shaping the manuscript before you have written it?

Well, yes, maybe if you are hoping to write subject-led non-fiction. So if, let’s say, you’re an expert in optical physics. A well-known publisher wants a book on that subject for laypeople. They come to you. It probably makes sense for you to spend a day with your editor, planning the book that you will write.

Your subject expertise + the editor’s market expertise = a proposition that might actually sell.

I sincerely doubt that this situation applies to even 1% of those reading this article.

 Developmental editing as industry euphemism

Are you a global celebrity who has written a terrible book that needs reshaping by a pro?

No? Then you do not need developmental editing of this, second, flavour.

 Developmental editing in self-publishing

Are you a self-pub demi-god? Do you pump out 4-6 books a year and earn enough revenue to employ a pro editor?

If you do, then sure, you need developmental editing, but I don’t understand why you’re wasting your time reading this post. Go write another book.

 Developmental editing as juiced up manuscript assessment

Are you an ordinary writer slowly working your way to a manuscript (probably a novel) of publishable quality?

If you are – and I’ve been in your shoes myself – then I get why you are thinking about developmental editing. It’s a sensible thing to think about and, for maybe 10-15% of you, it’s a sensible thing to purchase.

The advantage of developmental editing is that it forces you to look at the big and the small. You’re asked to think about characterisation, and place, and story arc, and theme. And at the same time, your attention is being drawn to sloppy sentence structures, loose images, clunky dialogue, and erroneous habits of punctuation.

That is one hell of a mix and it is powerful. Yes. So developmental editing – such as we offer – is a great service. It’s awesome. It could do wonders for your manuscript.

But –

Here are some downsides:

  1. It’s expensive
  2. Many of the page-by-page points will be picked up in some way in the editorial report. You won’t normally get a complete list of (say) poor sentences, but you’ll be given examples, so you know what to look for.
  3. Very often the structural advice will demand some significant level of rewriting, which means the page-by-page comments may be less relevant.
  4. If your prose quality and general writing technique are reasonably strong, then the most important feedback will live in the editorial report anyway.
  5. If you go on to get an agent and a book deal, your publisher will end up paying for a full professional copy-edit (and proof-read), so they’ll end up addressing all the things that a developmental edit might have addressed – and more. That says, if your work is strong enough to do without the development edit, you should do without it. Someone else can pay.

Those things aren’t small. If you have all the money in the world, then yes, sure, hire a developmental editor. For the rest of us, the matter demands thought.

If I were advising a serious amateur writer on the subject of manuscript assessments, I’d say, “Get one if you can. It’ll probably be the biggest single jump you can make.”

If I were advising the same person in relation to a developmental edit, I’d say, “Think hard. It might or might not be right for you.”

Yeah. Helpful, I know.

Still not sure if a developmental edit is the right choice? Then you’ll probably find this article on the different types of editing really useful.


In the end, whether you hire a developmental editor or not is your call. It is a great service. It is expensive. The manuscript assessment alone does normally provide most (not all) of what you need.

If you’re reading this post and still don’t know what you want, or which way to turn, then do reach out. Our customer service team at Jericho Writers are not employed to sell; they are employed to help. We don’t offer sales bonuses. We don’t hire salesmen. A good proportion of our workforce are writers like you. We’re on your side.

I’m telling you all that, because if you want to get in touch with us to ask our advice, we’ll give that advice honestly, to the best of our ability.

I hope that helps. And whatever you decide, may you and your writing thrive. In the end, that’s all that matters.

About the author

Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.) 

(You can read more about Harry here and here, and more about his books here). 

Other areas of interest

Free plotting worksheets

Make the hardest part of writing easier

feature 56 write a book 6 weeks

Can you write a book in 6 weeks? (Yes!)

header 56 write a book 6 weeks

Can you write a book in 6 weeks? (Yes!)

Guest author, journalist and blogger Sam Jordison shares how he wrote Enemies of the People in six weeks.

One of the biggest challenges any writers must face is, you know, actually writing. The sitting down in front of a computer and typing side of things. The finding the time. The ploughing on: despite blocks and distractions. The getting out of the words even though you might have a headache. The thinking and the doing and the typing. Did I mention the typing? No books are ever published without typing.

And put like that, it sounds too obvious to even mention, yet the physical act of writing is one of the most fascinating and difficult parts of the process. At literary festivals, writers are invariably asked questions about how they carve out the space to sit down and write, and how you keep going when the going gets tough. Some of the best interviews on the craft of writing in the world are those published by the Paris Review and the first thing they always ask is a variation on the question of pen, pencil, typewriter or word processor?

Free plotting worksheets

Make the hardest part of writing easier

When I teach my Creative Non-Fiction Course, meanwhile, I always like to try to address the question of how you physically get the words down. The advice I offer is generally to try to be flexible, because not only is every person different, every writing day is different. One of the worst things you can do is beat yourself up and obsess over the fact that you haven’t hit an arbitrary word count. Equally, another of the worst things you can also do is to fail to get any words down on a regular basis. Most often I try to suggest that people get into a sensible routine that fits them, not to worry too much if progress is slow, but to always try to make progress.

I like to hope that this is good advice. I’ve followed it myself in the past – and managed to produce a dozen books and plenty of journalism by doing so. But more recently, I have discovered two things that can work even better: a fierce deadline and a burning sense of injustice.

If you have a burning desire to write a memoir, a piece of journalism, or a biography then use that energy to propel your writing.

In early spring of 2017, I was asked to write a book about the people that brought us Trump and Brexit and the general sense that the world is spinning off its axis. I was also asked if I could write it in about six weeks. And make it reasonably long.

My first thought was: oh, hell yeah!

The rage I was feeling at the collapse of our democracies and the rise of a dangerous and malevolent right-wing would perhaps start to feel a bit less impotent. If I could channel my anger into a book that would tell the truth about post-truth and provide real facts instead of alternative-facts, I might have a small hope of influencing things for the better.

My second thought was: oh, hell.

I’d have to do an awful lot of writing and research in a very short time. And I’d have to – as already discussed – actually sit down and do it.

But that’s when the two weapons of clock pressure and anger really kicked in.

I didn’t spend any more time wondering about how I was going to write the book. I didn’t have time for that. All I could do was get going. If I wanted to nail the people who had done so much to make things so bad, I just had to get going.

I’m not going to lie and say it was easy. It was stressful and tiring and my head was whirring for six solid weeks. But lots of the things that usually get in the way of writing just weren’t around. There was no putting it off until tomorrow, because tomorrow was too late. There was no wondering if I was doing things the right way – because I was arguing with people who seemed so obviously wrong.

And it worked. At the risk of sounding like a Nike advert, the thing I realised that sometimes the best approach to writing is to just do it. I got the words down. And as I type this article, I’m waiting for the first copy of the resultant book to come through the post. It’s called Enemies Of The People and even though it probably has a few rough edges, and a few clumsy sentences that I might have improved if I had more time, I also hope that the way it was written has given it rawness and energy and a burning sense of indignation. It feels important. And I’m very glad I sat down and wrote it.

Sam Jordison’s Enemies Of The People was published in the UK on 1 June 2017.

More on how to write a book

Free plotting worksheets

Make the hardest part of writing easier

feature second novel syndrome

Second Novel Syndrome (the Disease, the Symptoms, the Cure)

traditional publishing vs self publishing

Second Novel Syndrome – the symptoms and the cure

Sarah Ann Juckes is part of Jericho Writers’ marketing team . . . but like a few of us at JW, she’s also an author. Her debut novel, The Proof of the Outside, is published with Penguin Random House in 2019.

And that’s great news – she’s being published! Yay! – and also terrible news. Because it means she’s in the middle of second novel purgatory. Here’s her take on all of that . . .

I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need to read a blog post about Second Novel Syndrome, when I haven’t even finished the first?

Well, publishing is a funny thing. In January 2017, I wondered if I’d ever get a novel published. By March that same year, I had an agent and my book was in the London Book Fair catalogue.

When it happens, it can happen fast. [Ed’s Note: It kinda helps if you come to one of Jericho Writers’ events. That’s where the magic happened for our Sarah.]

Free plotting worksheets

Make the hardest part of writing easier

What is Second Novel Syndrome?

Second novel syndrome (SNS) isn’t talked about a lot. I spent twelve years writing books and trying to get an agent, and I didn’t think much about what would happen after that. Getting an agent felt like an impossible end goal.

It wasn’t.

Second books are actually notoriously difficult to write. I know – I didn’t think they would be, either. I wrote three ‘practice’ books before I made it with my debut. What’s the big deal about writing one more?

SNS symptom #1 – you have way less time

I started my debut novel in July 2014. In 2015, I completely trashed the draft and started again. In 2016, I wrote my next draft as part of a writing course, and then completely changed it again in the summer of that year, thanks to some feedback from an agent.

All in all, the novel took me two and a half years to write – and then another year editing it with my agent and editors after that.

When I casually asked my agent when publishers expect an author’s second book, she said ‘usually a year after delivery of the first’.

Yep – a year.

Somewhere in that year, I had to come up with an astounding concept that was as good as the first. I had to research, plan and write a terrible first draft (that I could bin and re-write entirely, before no doubt re-writing again). All of this whilst trying to hold down a full-time job and all those other things that go with being a human being.

The cure: make more time

Certainly not an easy feat. For me, I’ve had to cut my working week to four days, so I have at least one day to donate entirely to writing. I work from home as much as I can, so I have more energy to write in the evenings.

This won’t be doable for everyone. Find the pockets of time you can squeeze out of your day, no matter how big or small, knuckle down and make that happen.

SNS symptom #2 – you now have multiple projects on your hands

I’m a bit of a loyal writer. When I have my head in a book, it consumes me.

Over the last year, I’ve learnt that it’s not really possible to write a second book and have it consume you. I’ve had to split my time between writing my new book and editing my old one – occasionally dropping the new project completely to make a deadline.

Some writers are already brilliant at project juggling. For me – it’s been a big learning curve.

The cure: learn how to juggle projects

As your writing career progresses, you’re going to have more and more projects to juggle. When you’re writing your fifth book, you might still be doing events on your debut.

No one talks about it, but it is one of those skills you have to learn if you want to be a professional writer.

I’m still in the process of learning it, but so far, I’ve found that sectioning my working week can help differentiate between projects. In the morning, I could be working on debut edits from home. Then in the afternoon, I take my laptop to a café and I throw some words down for book two.

SNS symptom #3 – you can’t shake off your last book

My debut was written in first person present, from the point of view of a girl with a distinctive voice and a weird way of seeing the world.

I’ve spent three and a half years with her, and I’m still with her now. She’s difficult to shake off.

I’ve written over a hundred first pages of my new novel, and they’re still not quite right. I need a new, equally distinctive, but completely different voice – but everything I write still seems to be about her.

The cure: get out of your comfort zone

If, like me, you’re struggling to find a new voice, try writing your story in a completely different way to your first.

For example, I’ve found writing in verse to be a helpful way in. Writing poetry means I can get to know my new character in a place my previous protagonist doesn’t belong.

Yes – I’ll probably scrap every word. But with first drafts, everything and anything you can write will help you reach the finish line.

SNS symptom #4 – your next book needs to be as good as your first

Nothing I can say here will sum this up better than this tweet by @AdamSilvera:

As a writer, I feel the need to impress. My agent is amazing – she fights in my corner and believes wholeheartedly in my writing. I want to hand her a new novel that is even more amazing than she thought my first one was.

Unfortunately, what I’m actually writing is terrible. I mean – of course it is. She saw my debut after two rewrites and a year of edits. All she’s going to see now is that first draft I’m going to throw away.

Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.

And, of course, when we’re writing something we don’t think is as good as it could be, it can be difficult to keep going. It becomes easier to stop for a bit, maybe have a tidy up, or obsessively scour Pinterest for home décor ideas…

(Not that I do that.)

The cure: forget about other people

This one I definitely find the hardest, as I have a (somewhat ridiculous) need to please people.

The truth is though – other people don’t matter when it comes to first drafts. Anyone who writes, or who knows writing, will know that first drafts are for the writer to work out what it is they want to write.

First drafts of book two do not need to be as good as your finished debut.

And – all because you have an agent now, doesn’t mean you are suddenly a know-it-all, master writer. All writers need to keep learning and – importantly – keep making mistakes.

The important thing is that we keep writing. That’s the only way horrible first drafts get turned into published novels.

Second Novel Syndrome: a Cure

There is no complete cure for Second Novel Syndrome other than just doing it.

But do remember this:

Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you. Like us, in fact.

It’s low cost. It’s got an easy cancel-any-time structure, which means your upfront risk is minimal. And the basic idea is, we furnish you with all the tools and resources you could possibly want to develop your skills as a writer and as an author. If that sounds even half interesting to you, then pop over here to learn more about our Club. It was built for people like you. We’d love it if you joined us.

More on how to write a book

Free plotting worksheets

Make the hardest part of writing easier

feature 41 building strong author brand

3 key steps to building your author brand

header 41 building strong author brand

3 key steps to building your author brand

Author branding, when done right, can be critical to future success. And self-publishing authors must be able to do this right.

Even when choosing traditional publishing, something many authors miss at the beginning of their careers is creating an authentic online presence to engage readers. If you’re self-publishing, though, it’s central. You’ll be your own editor, designer, social media coordinator, production team, etc., and everything traditionally done by a publishing house, you’ll need to be doing yourself.

And you may not like imagining yourself as a marketer when all you want is to get on and write.

In this article, graphic design platform 99designs walks you through a few key tips (and how to keep it fun, too).

Solve your self-pub problems

With these free resources

Why branding is essential for authors (self-published or not)

Building a brand for yourself helps your audience find out what your work is all about, what you stand for and what they can expect from you. It establishes a connection with your audience and takes no more than a few careful steps to consider.

Step 1: Defining yourself as an author

The following aspects can help you communicate your unique personality and engage with readers.

Your author persona
Use the storytelling skills you (almost certainly) possess already. Then apply them to you. What is the character of your public self? Are you snarky, quirky? Or more introspective? What is it you are sharing with your audience? Defining yourself will help you understand what you want to create. So consider your story, or “public persona”.

Your readers
Next, think about your reading audience. Who is reading your books right now? Who do you want to read your books? Are they the same? Think about what kind of person would represent your current or ideal audience. Then examine why they are interested in your writing. By defining who your ideal audience is and understanding what they are looking to get from you, you’ll be able to communicate with strength and clarity to the right people, and think about the community you want to create.

Your specialty
Finally, and most importantly, you will need to define your specialty. You may not be the only romance or fantasy writer in the world. But whatever you are writing about, you are bringing your specific one-of-a-kind perspective, voice and way of thinking to the page. This differentiates you from other writers out there. This is your “Point of Difference”. Do you have a specific style, unusual skill or experience? Consider how these things may make you or your writing special. (But, please, never show off.)

optional header 41 building strong author brand

Step 2: Presenting yourself as an author

You need the right tools to communicate with readers. So here are a few tips on presenting yourself as a writer through design and social media.

Get your author website designed
You’ll need to get a website and logo designed. And both must look clean, polished and professional, no matter how wacky the design. Your logo could be your name or a graphic, as long as it works with the style of the website and doesn’t clash. The look and feel of your logo and website should depend on this vibe you are going for. Look up any images that inspire you. Note down hues and typographies you like for CSS. Then once you’ve decided on a look, keep it consistent.

Then build a presence
It’s not enough to simply have a website. You also need to actively build your online presence around it. Engage with readers and other writers to have the most impact.

One of the most effective ways is regular blogging, keeping your audience engaged and helping them to know you better. It’s also good to be active on social media, but consistency is everything.

So select the channels you’re sure you’ll use. Stick with them until you’re happy to experiment. Share updates and answer questions, but don’t just tell us about you. Look up chat hashtags to join (i.e. #amwriting on Twitter). If you see things you like, repost and reply. Others will be likelier to reply to you, too, building your following.

And engagement is better than constant self-promotion. Look also for Facebook groups, forums or other blogs, where you can comment, write posts or share your content and opinions.

Brené Brown’s website, for instance, is an excellent example for author branding.

Find your readers where they are
Though it’s good to stick with the social media you’re confident with (especially if you’re new to it), look online for where you would find readers that could be interested in you. Say if this is Instagram (i.e. perhaps you’re a novelist, but also an aspiring poet), and you’re not an Instagram user, then it might just be time to learn. Join in the likes of Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav. Get to grips with hashtags, too. You can become part of the conversation and people will get to know you.

By interacting via social media, as a general rule you can find vast groups of interested people to engage with, spread the word and start building a following of your own, leading them back to your site.

Step 3: How to stand out as an author

The true challenge is to create a one-of-a-kind-brand for yourself as a writer that sets you apart from everyone else. To achieve this, here are some last pointers.

Be true to yourself
To really be successful, you need to be authentic. Only if you let your authentic personality shine through in all your efforts can you build a strong and compelling presence as an author. Your readers will appreciate your honest voice, so stick to who you are to build a connection. The most important core of your author brand is you.

Be consistent
It’s easy now to be impressively consistent with your site design. Online tools exist to help you create matching Twitter and Facebook cover and profile photos, etc., for a polished look across your site and social media. To establish a clear idea, and so everyone knows it’s you, create a consistent style across the digital channels your audience can find you on.

Incorporate your ‘Point of Difference’
As discussed earlier, this is your biggest selling point. The clearer you can let it shine in all you do, the easier it will be for you to build a loyal audience.

Your aide for success

So, the obvious: good writing is what will get you read as an author. Nevertheless, building an authentic brand as a writer is well worth it, despite the effort involved.

A clear and convincing image of your work to the world will be key to building a loyal and engaging audience – vitally, one which loves you not just for your writing, but also for who you are as an author.

Enjoyed that, but still got some self-pub questions? Then read this huge article on self-publishing. Oh, and if you want to find out more about which ebook format is right for you, then we got you covered.

99designs is an online graphic design marketplace. Cookbook or crime thriller, 99designs’ community can create compelling book covers to stand out on Amazon or the shelves of your local bookshop.

More on self-publishing

Solve your self-pub problems

With these free resources

how to get your book published

How to Get Your Book Published

publishing a book

How to get a book Published in 2020

The all you need to know guide

Getting a book published, even your first book – that sounds like it should be pretty do-able, right?

And so it is, but the publishing industry is (inevitably) pretty complex, and can generate massively different outcomes depending on the choices you are about to make.

In the same way, you might want to be a professional musician … but does that mean you do a paid gig in a local bar? Or get signed by a massive record label? In this blog post, we will weigh up the options and show you how you could get your book published. It’s possible to get published for free, and it’s also perfectly achievable even if you are a first time author.

It’s also true that the publishing industry has got way more complex since the rise of Amazon and all that went along with that. That complexity is confusing, for sure, but it’s also good. The fact is there are more routes to publication than ever before in history. You just need to pick the route that works for you.

And that’s what this post is all about. We’ll tell you:

  • What your options are
  • Which option is right for you
  • What the pros and cons are, and
  • How to access the particular publishing route of your choice

If you need extra info on any topic, we’ll direct you to a resource that gives you everything you need.

Oh – and you probably want to know about me. Well, I’m Harry Bingham. I’ve been traditionally published all over the world, with in the company of the world’s top #3 trade publishers. Furthermore, I’m the founder of Jericho Writers, so I’ve helped literally hundreds of writers just like you through to publication, so I know exactly what’s involved for a writer like you.

But I’m not just about traditional publishing. I’ve also self-published (and love it.) I’ve sold fiction and non-fiction. I’ve sold full-length manuscripts and skinny-as-you-like book proposals. I’ve also had experience of plenty of other publishing routes. And this post is going to tell you EVERYTHING.


How to get your book published in 2020:

That’s a lot to get through, so buckle up and read on …

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template


What’s involved?

The “Big 5” traditional publishers (outfits like Penguin RandomHouse or HarperCollins) dominate the world of trade publishing. They have huge financial resources. They have huge marketing and sales reach. They already publish a stellar list of names.

And they reach right across the English-speaking world – so in that sense getting published in the US is much the same kind of process as getting published in the UK or Australia … and quite likely with the same group of firms involved as well.

Obviously, those big publishers need to acquire material to publish, so they go out and buy it. They buy manuscripts (ie: novels or non-fiction which haven’t yet been turned into actual books). They buy those manuscripts off authors in return for an upfront cash advance. That advance is highly variable – think anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000+ for a book – and will be supplemented by royalties if sales are sufficient to ‘earn out’ the advance.

And the publisher isn’t just there to write the checks. They are also there to sell your book, which they do by:

  • Working on the manuscript editorially. That’ll normally involve a structural edit, a copy edit, and a proof read – layers of editing that in turn fix story, then typos/clarity, then a final check before printing. (More on types of editing.)
  • Designing cover art and preparing the book for production. Books are normally produced in four formats (hard cover, paperback, e-book, audio)
  • Selling the book to bricks & mortar retailers. Retailers – such as Barnes & Noble in the US or Waterstones in the UK don’t automatically stock all books that are printed. Far from it. So arguably the key part of a publisher’s job is to convince specialist retailers (basically bookstores) and generalist ones (notably supermarkets) to order and stock the book. Ideally, your book will be entered into promotions, that place your book in the most visible store locations and with an attractive price reduction.
  • Selling the book via online retailers. Although Amazon pretty much does stock every book out there, publishers still have to persuade Amazon (and Apple, and Kobo, and so on) to promote your book as much as possible. That means your book will start popping up in “deal of the day” or “recommended for you” type promotions.
  • Marketing the book. That will probably involve a mixture of traditional publicity (such as newspaper interviews and book signings) and digitally driven campaigns, probably involving social media, email marketing and perhaps some use of pay-per-click advertising.

To most writers, all that sounds pretty good, but – no surprise – there’s a catch.

The catch, quite simply, is that your book has to be pretty damn good, because there’s a hell of a lot of competition out there and publishers are only interested in buying the very best crime books / romances / diet books and whatever else.

So how to publishers find those amazing books in the first place? Well, the shortest answer is that they focus nearly all the efforts on the manuscripts that come to them via a literary agent.

Literary agents are basically salespeople who sell manuscripts from writers like you to the big publishers. They don’t charge any kind of upfront fee for that service; they take a commission on sales made, typically 15%.

Just to emphasise that point: agents cost nothing until they make you money. So (setting aside all your trouble and effort in writing the damn thing), with the agent/publisher route to publication you will get your book published for free. Not even free actually: you’ll be paid. You won’t be expected to buy your agent coffees or fund the cover illustration or anything like that. When I wrote my first novel, I didn’t spend a single penny (other than for paper and ink and stamps – we used all those things in those days.) Next thing I knew: people were offering me six-figure sums for my work.

OK. So agents are good; they make sales; they work on commission. But it gets better.

In addition to that basic sales activity, literary agents also:

  • Offer you editorial advice to help you get your manuscript in shape for sale
  • Run the auction process
  • Negotiate the resulting contract
  • Supervise the publishing  process, advise you on it, and act as your bull terrier if any conflicts arise
  • Sell other rights, such as foreign language rights, audio (if not part of the original deal), and film and TV rights.

In short, a good literary agent will end up making you far, far more than the cost of that 15% commission, so you should have no hesitation in working with an agent, if you get the chance.

Because the Big 5 publishers publish all types of work – adult novels, children’s novels and plenty of non-fiction too – literary agents work with all these things too. Most agents aren’t that specialist either. Yes, a children’s literary agent may exclusively work with children’s books, but most literary agents for adult work will work with novels and non-fiction. In that sense, how your publish a novel (for example) works exactly the same as publishing any other type of book.

How do you get an agent?

If you’re getting a book published for the first time, you need an agent. And the only really difficult step in getting an agent is the very first one: you have to write an absolutely superb book.

Remember that, as a rough guide, a literary agent is likely to take about 1 manuscript in every 1000 that they come across. If you’re writing a spy story, your work will be competing head-to-head against John Le Carre, Tom Clancy and every other great spy novelist out there. So your manuscript has to excel. It has to dazzle. It has to be wonderful.

But let’s assume you’ve already got a great manuscript, what then? The steps you need to follow are these:

  1. Generate a longlist of literary agents. You’re looking for agents who are taking on new clients and who are interested in work in your genre. You can find a full list of literary agents here for the US and here for the UK. If you sign up for AgentMatch (free trial here), you can use simple tools to filter by genre, client, and more.
  2. Whittle that down to a shortlist of 10-15 names. To generate your shortlist, just go through your longlist and look for possible points of contact. An agent represents one of your favourite authors? They’re a keen rider and your book is set in a racing stable? The agent has Irish ancestry and your book is about Irish emigrants in the 1920s? Any of those gives you a good reason to pop the agent onto your shortlist. (Oh, and why only 10-15 names? If you send your material out to about a dozen agents and don’t get a positive response, that’s a pretty damn good signal that your manuscript is not yet strong enough to get a book deal – in which case, getting third party editorial feedback probably needs to be your next step.)
  3. Write a query letter. That tells that agent why you’re writing (you’re seeking representation), what your book is and who you are. It’s easy to write a great query letter. Just follow the advice and look at a sample query letter here.
  4. Write a synopsis. A synopsis basically summarises your story, and it’s a quick way for an agent to get a handle over whether the basic structure of your story feels OK. A synopsis can be a nightmare to put together, but it doesn’t have to be that way. All the advice you need, plus a good example of a synopsis, can be found right here.
  5. Double-check your opening chapters. Most agents want you to send them some sample chapters along with the query letter and synopsis. Typically, those sample chapters will need to be the first 3 chapters of your book, or about 10,000 words. So make sure that opening chunk is looking great. Tips on presenting your manuscript right here. Tips on the commonest errors in first time novels can be found here.
  6. Send your submission pack out to your shortlisted agents. You need to allow about 8 weeks for agents to read and decide on your submission. And, sorry to say, but loads of agents don’t even have the courtesy to send out a “sorry, but no” email if they are rejecting a manuscript, which means that you have to work on the assumption that, after 8 weeks, no news is tantamount to rejection.

At this point, you have other won – you’ve been offered representation, in which case, congratulations. Your path to publication is now in the hands of a very experienced professional, and you should be fine from here. If there are problems en route to getting published (and, believe me, there will be), your agent should be able to guide you. (For what it’s worth, I’d guess that agency representation leads to a publishing deal in about two thirds of cases. Your mileage may very though – this number varies widely.)

Or you’ve lost – that is, you have no offers of representation, and not even any close misses. In that case, you really need to go back to your manuscript, figure out why agents aren’t getting excited by it, and then fix whatever needs fixing. The best way to do that is by getting pro editorial help, of the sort that we at Jericho Writers can offer.

But there’s a middle ground too, where you haven’t quite won but you haven’t quite lost either. That’s the ‘nice rejection’, often where an agent asks for your full manuscript but ends up, reluctantly declining. If you’re in that category, then it’s GOOD NEWS. The fact is, you’re in a zone where some editorial work really should ping you over the line. Again, we can help.

Extra resources

We have a whole bunch of resources available if you want to pursue these topics further. (Clue: yes, you definitely do.)

Free resources:

List of all literary agents in the US

List of all literary agents in the UK

How to get a literary agent

Do literary agents charge fees?

Do literary agents edit manuscripts?

How to write a query letter

How to write a synopsis

All your literary agent questions answered

Additional resources
These resources are for Jericho members only. Not a member? Then join us.

Behind the scenes at a Big 5 publisher (feature length film)

Interviews with literary agents Diana Beaumont, Kate Burke, Piers Blofeld

Finally, we have a complete course on how to get your book published – and not just published, period, but published well, published successfully. That course (here) is costly to buy but it’s free to members. Do consider joining us if you need that further help.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

The first question is whether or not you want to pursue traditional publication. Trad publication will suit you, if:

  • You are writing literary fiction or one-off non-fiction (eg: memoir)
  • You are writing genre fiction but aren’t super-prolific (eg: you don’t want to write more than a book or two a year)
  • You want the kudos of traditional publication
  • You want to be sold via physical bookstores, as well as via Amazon
  • You want a shot at newspaper book reviews, book signings, radio and newspaper interviews etc
  • You don’t want the hassle of self-publishing

If that sounds like you, then traditional publishing should certainly be your goal. The next question is whether you need an agent. You basically have to have an agent, if:

  • You are writing fiction, for adults, young adults, or children
  • You are writing mainstream non-fiction (of the sort that might sit on those front-of-store tables in a large bookstore)
  • You are writing specialist non-fiction in a big, rich category (such as diet or cookery, for example)

If your book is very niche, your likely advice is small, which means an agent’s 15% won’t be especially tempting. In all those cases, you can forget about getting a literary agent and just proceed to option 2, which is traditional publication, but without a literary agent.

Pros and cons

The advantages of trad publication are:

  • You get an advance
  • You get some experienced professionals handling the production, sale and marketing of your work
  • You have a literary agent to guide your journey
  • You have all the kudos and other pleasures of traditional publication: you will have become a published author and will have earned all the respect of your new role. I bow to thee.

The disadvantages are:

  • You lose control over your intellectual property – you’ve sold it, remember? The book now belongs to the publisher, not to you.
  • It’s harder to make a living as a trad author than it is as an indie one. Watch our YouTube video on author incomes here.
  • Traditional publishing is a bit of a crap-shoot. Most bestsellers are made via huge supermarket sales, but there are many fewer supermarket slots than there are books, and the process by which supermarkets choose which books to stock is scarily random (for newbie authors, at least.)
  • Traditional publishing isn’t so great at publishing on Amazon. You can see my thoughts on that (via Publishers Weekly) here.

how to get a book published


What’s involved?

The actual publication process is exactly the same as for Option 1 – so everything I’ve said above applies here too.

The big difference with this route is that you’re not going to send your work out to literary agents; you’re going to send it direct to publishers. Obviously, the publishers you choose will need to be carefully chosen. So if you are looking to sell a volume of military history or something on Early Colonial interiors, you’ll need to approach the publishers who work in that field.

Otherwise, the basic approach is the same. You locate your targets. You send a query letter. You include enough sample material that the publisher can make up their mind. And that’s that – you see what responses come back to you. (The big difference: agents are slow, with response times often around 6-8 weeks. But publishers are way slower: you need to allow 4-6 months to get a proper response. That’s crazy, I know, but …)

How do you find a publisher?

Not easy.

Services like Jericho AgentMatch don’t really exist in the same way for publishers. Yes, you can trawl through the membership pages of the American Association of Publishers or (in the UK) the Publishers Association … but those guys have a lot of members, the vast majority of whom will be irrelevant to your needs.

So really the best way to find a publisher for your book is to find other titles in your niche. That should be easy for you, because it’s your niche. So if your book is about motor maintenance, look at the other engine-related books on your shelves. If you’re writing about bonsai growing, look at who publishes books about bonsais. How to find who publishes a book is simple – just look inside the front cover. That page with all the tiny, boring print about copyright and that kind of thing will also tell you who the publisher is. Note that publishers (eg: “PenguinRandomHouse”) generally operate through a multitude of imprints, eg, Bantam, Ballantine, Doubleday…). You need to identify both the publisher you want and, where relevant, the imprint in order to wriggle through to the right desk in the right office.

Make a list of those publishers – then approach them direct. They’ll welcome your submission and they won’t expect you to have a literary agent. (In fact, they’d be mildly frightened if you did have one.)

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

Assuming you definitely want traditional publication (and again, see Option 1 for more on this), you should only really avoid using a literary agent, if:

  • Your work is in a small subject-led, but consumer-oriented niche (eg: “How to Maintain Your Motorbike” or “The Complete A-Z of Roses”)
  • Your work is academic and destined for an academic publisher
  • Your work is business or professional, and destined for the kind of publishers that handle that kind of thing

Agents don’t want those kind of books and they don’t add much value to the publication process either. For those reasons, direct submissions to publishers make the most sense.

Pros and cons

The advantages of this route are that:

  • You get the pluses of trad publication
  • You get to publish work that’s too niche or specialist to warrant an agent’s involvement

The downsides are simply that:

  • Bookstores don’t shift very many copies of niche books – they’re mostly sold via Amazon. But in that case, self-publishing looks like a particularly attractive option, because you can retain all the proceeds from sale for yourself.

If you have a mailing list or other platform – for example, you have a popular blog on rose growing, and your book is all about growing roses – then self-publishing should be very simple and immediately lucrative.

publishing a book


What’s involved?

When we talked above about trad publication and literary agents, it was kind of assumed that you’d already written your book. If you are looking to sell a novel, then you basically have to have written the book and edited it until it sparkles.

But that sounds like a hell of a lot of work for a project that might never sell, right? Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just outline a project, see if anyone wants it, then complete it only if a sufficiently attractive deal is laid under your nose?

Well, luckily for you, that option certainly exists. It exists only for non-fiction, and not even for all types of non-fiction, but yes: you can offer literary agents a book proposal in place of an entire book. That book proposal might in total amount to only 10,000 words, and should include:

  • A query letter
  • A personal bio, including any platform or authority you bring
  • An analysis of the market and audience
  • An introduction to the book
  • Approximately three sample chapters. Unlike with fiction, it isn’t always necessary that these chapters form the first three chapters of your work,

You can read much more about what’s needed right here.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

The book proposal approach will work, if:

  • You are writing non-fiction
  • That non-fiction is not narrative-led (in which case, an agent or publisher might need to read the whole book before making a decision)
  • It’ll work especially well if you bring significant authority (“I’m a top physics professor”) or terrific platform (“I’m a teenager with 2,000,000 Youtube followers.”) Read more about author platforms here.

If your work is mainstream and could provide a ton of sales, then you will want to navigate via a literary agent. If not, you can go direct to publishers.

Pros and cons

Pros? Simple:

  • You can secure a contract and get paid before you’ve done a ton of work.

I once secured a $250,000 / 2-book deal on the back of a book proposal that ran to about 10,000 words. Nice, right?

Downsides? I can’t think of any. You’ll have to invent your own.

literary agents and traditional publication


What’s involved?

Although the Big 5 publishers dominate the market in sheer volume of sales, they do have one not-so-little weakness. That is that their sheer size entails a prodigious cost base, and therefore an inability to handle small but important or interesting work. For that reason, we are living in a golden age of tiny, but very successful micro-publishers. Some of these – Black Lawrence or Coffee House Press in the US, Galley Beggar or Fairlight Books in the UK, for example – are tiny but mighty, accumulating awards and literary kudos far out of proportion to their size. You can find a useful list of such presses here.

Most of these presses have a firmly literary bent, and you probably don’t need a literary agent to approach them. (Though if you have one, your agent should make the approach, not you.)

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

If your project fits with one of these companies’ mission statements, you should absolutely think about submitting your work. I know several talented authors with real passion projects. Big 5 firms and agents just weren’t interested (market too small; not enough money to be made), but the authors ended up with smaller presses and were extremely happy with the result.

If you’re a member of Jericho Writers, you can watch a filmed conversation with the founders of Galley Beggar Press here. If you’re not a member, you can join us here.

Pros and cons

Pros and cons are nice and simple. The big advantages of these presses are:

  • You can get a quirky, small-market literary project off the ground
  • Or a niche project, like this one, the attention it needs
  • You’ll be published with real passion and commitment by people who love your work

The downside is equally simple:

  • Money? Not a chance. If you leave with $1-5,000 in your pocket, you’ll have done very well!


What’s involved?

Self-publishing via Amazon (and other online retailers) is, quite simply, the biggest story in publishing – it’s not just been the biggest revolution of the last 10 years. It’s probably the biggest revolution since the invention of printing.

In terms of what’s involved – well, duh!, you get to sell your work via the world’s largest bookstore to pretty much every reader this side of Mars.

Amazon charges you nothing to stock your book. It has easy tools to create your ebook and your print book. Its royalties are brilliant. (70% of the ebook sale price? That’s over 4 times what you’ll get via a trad publisher and agent.) Plus of course there’s a whole ecosystem now which enables you to promote and sell your work.

Because that sales process is complex, however, this blog post isn’t going to talk about it at all. You can find everything you need right here, in our Ultimate Guide to Self-Publishing.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

Self-publishing will suit you, if:

  • You are writing genre fiction, or clearly subject-led non-fiction, such as “How to Win at Email Marketing”
  • You are relatively prolific – with 3 or more books a year being your goal
  • You are happy to write in a series (because series are way more profitable than one-off books)
  • You positively want to be in control of your own small business
  • You aren’t going to start crying if you have to handle a little tech and a few numbers
  • You have a little cash to invest – a first publication will probably cost you $1-2,000, but you won’t, most likely, make your money back with that first book.

The two things I’d emphasise here are (A) you’ll do well if you write fast and capably, and (B) you need to want to run things yourself. Yes, there are people who self-publish simply because they didn’t get picked up by traditional publishers – but their whole body language is one of reluctance. Those people never succeed. Yes, they may sell a few books, but that’ll be that. To win at self-pub, you have to seek success. You have to want it.

Which is good. Which is the way it should be, right?

Pros and cons

The advantages of self-publishing are:

  • It’s lucrative. Boy oh boy, it can be lucrative. If you look at recent debut authors, and look at how much they are earning from publishing, there are far more indie authors making money than trad authors – that’s true, whether you set the benchmark at $10K, or $25K, or $10K, or even $1,000,000. More info on our YouTube video here.
  • You retain control: you’re the author; you’re the publisher. If you two fall out, then your problems go well beyond just publishing issues.
  • You have a brilliantly close relationship with your readers. When I started self-publishing my Fiona Griffiths series, I came to have the best relationship I’d had with my readers in 15 years of being a pro author. It’s been wonderful.

Downsides? Well, not downsides exactly, but:

  • You do have to work hard. You have to engage in the marketing as well as the writing.
  • You have all the issues of any small business person – namely, all the problems land on your desk in the end
  • It’s competitive. You still have to write a stunning book. Then do it again, and again, and…

It does take some upfront spending, without any guarantee of return. The biggest issue with self-pub, in fact, is arguably that writers want their first book to make money and give up when it doesn’t. In truth, the game is usually slower and more incremental than that.

publishing a book


What’s involved?

In the old days, if you wanted to be a publisher, you needed to be able to print books, arrange warehousing and logistics, and you needed a big corporate sales team to persuade retailers to buy the books. In short, things were complicated, and publishers ended up combining into ever larger units in order to compete.

But then a new breed of publishers came up with a radical thought. Who needed bookshops any more? The fact is that 70% of all adult fiction is digital. E-books and audio books dominate the market. And plenty of print books are sold online as well, so the sales pathway is digital even if the product isn’t. Add online print to the total, and you’ll find that more than three-quarters of the whole adult fiction market is sold through digital channels.

Why shouldn’t a publisher attack that 75%, and simply leave the rest for the big boys to squabble over?

That’s precisely what a new breed of “digital-first” sellers did. They focused purely on that online sales channel (selling print as well as e-books, but only via online routes.) And there have been blisteringly successful examples of such sellers: Bookouture in the UK, TCK in the US, plenty of others too.

Those guys are traditional publishers in the sense that they’re still very choosy about what work they take on (albeit that they accept more like 1 in 100 submissions as opposed to something more like 1 in 1000.) They are also like traditional publishers in that they will take care of your book’s publication – the editorial, the design, the marketing, and so on. The one real difference is that they won’t seek to get your book into the big chain bookstores or into the supermarkets – but your online sales might be such that you really don’t care.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

You need to write the kind of books that are right for a digital-first approach. In fiction, that means you are writing series-led genre. In non-fiction, that means you’re writing something with a clear interest-group led appeal (that “How to Grow Roses” book, or “How to Train Your Memory”, for example.)

And then you need to not care too much about bookstore distribution, because you won’t have it. Or national newspaper reviews, because (almost certainly) ditto. And any advance you get will be very small (but the royalties you can expect will be correspondingly generous.)

And bear in mind, the scale of success here can be huge. Angela Marsons was used to getting knocked back by trad publishers … but digital-first Bookouture turned her into a million-selling sales sensation.

Pros and cons

The advantages of a digital-first route are:

  • Your chances of acceptance are higher
  • You can submit your work via a literary agent, but most digital-first houses will also accept direct submissions
  • E-book royalties are likely to be anywhere from 50-100% higher than at a traditional house
  • Publication success is a little less of a crap-shoot than it is with a regular publisher. So if a particular cover doesn’t find favour with its clients, a digital-first house will just change the cover and go on seeking sales. A Big 5 firm would simply send a truck to collect all those returns coming back from a supermarket and move on, sadly, to the next author and the next book.

The disadvantages are:

  • A lower initial advance
  • Less kudos
  • You won’t have the trappings of traditional publication, such as distribution through bookstores and newspaper reviews, etc

If you succeed the way Angela Marsons did, you really won’t care about the downsides.


What’s involved?

Amazon is a bookstore, and a self-publishing platform, but it’s also a publisher in its own right. The name of that publishing arm is, imaginatively, Amazon Publishing, or just APub.

It is an odd one, though. Because other retailers hate Amazon, they won’t stock its books. So an Amazon author is sold by … just Amazon.

That’s weird, yes, but the model has been astonishingly successful all the same. More than 35 APub authors have hit 1,000,000 in sales, and that number is expanding all the time. Amazon does a great job at editing, design and all that, and I’ve never met an unhappy APub author.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

Uh, well, the answer is: a successful one.

Amazon doesn’t take unsolicited manuscript submissions. Mostly it looks for existing authors who could fit its template, and reaches out to them. Alternatively, literary agents can call direct.

In fact, I’ve included this option on the list not because APub is relevant to you today – it isn’t. I’ve included it because (A) it might become relevant to you in the future and (B) APub is such a large force in the marketplace, you can’t really have an overview of publication channels that doesn’t include it.

But if you do get an agent and are interested in APub, it’s worth a chat. More likely though, you’re likely to be headhunted by APub if you self-publish or trad publish and they see something in you they like.

Pros and cons

Uh, the advantages of APub are quite simply:

  • You can sell a lot of books
  • And make a lot of money

The disadvantages are:

  • Right now, that door is closed in your face.


self-publishing to trad, crowd-funding publication, Social publication,


What’s involved?

Quite simply, what’s involved here is that a bunch of loathsome vipers try to steal your money.

You send your book off to a vanity publisher, and you’ll get some letter back saying something along the lines of, “Yeah, we really loved this book, but you know what, it’s a tough market, and our editorial board didn’t quite feel all right about taking on the risk here. But if you pay us $X,000, we’ll partner up with you and sell this book worldwide.”

Exciting, right?

Except they’re not partnering up. They’re taking your money. Yes, they will produce a book, and it might even look OK. But their marketing promises are meaningless. They will not – not meaningfully – sell your book. They’ve already earned their cash: you just gave it to them. Selling books is hardly necessary.

Run, run, run from these awful humans. They’re not technically committing a crime, but the gap between their promises and their delivery is huge.

Avoid, avoid avoid.

If you want a longer discussion of these appalling people and all the reasons why vanity publishing is terrible, please just read this short guide.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

No one. Ever. These people are snakes in human form.

Pros and cons

The advantages of vanity publishing are quite simply:

  • None whatsoever

The disadvantages are:

  • You waste your money and feel like an idiot afterwards.


What’s involved?

Here, you’re basically paying a third-party outfit to design and produce your book. That’s not actually so different from what a vanity publisher offers. But the big difference is one of honesty.

If a print/design company charges you a fair price to design and produce your book, and to make it available through the obvious outlets (Amazon, other e-tailers, the book wholesalers), then that’s just fine. Lulu is one example of this kind of company, but there are plenty of others. They’ll make a perfectly nice book for you and yes: if you create a reader-demand for that book, the book will be available for purchase or order.

But if the basic operation of creating a book comes garnished with flaky and unrealistic promises about marketing, some horrible high-pressure sales tactics, and topped off with a crazy price, then what you have is a vanity publisher.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

This option will be right for you if you just want a nicely produced book. One personal example: after my father’s death, my sister had the nice idea of bringing a photographer along to his memorial service. My sister got those photos printed up into a nice-looking photo book of the day. She circulated it to close friends and family, and it’s been a beautiful and treasured object on my shelves ever since.

Another example: if you’ve written a memoir of your time in nursing, you probably have a ton of present and former colleagues/patients who’d enjoy the book. Circulating a PDF doesn’t seem like much fun, so pay a bit extra to have the book properly bound and have a few dozen (or a few hundred) copies made. Your work is worth it.

Pros and cons

The advantages, simply, are that:

  • For a reasonable cost, you get a nicely made product
  • Other people can handle distribution via Amazon and Ingram, etc

The downside is simply that:

  • These companies offer a production solution, not a marketing one. If you actually want to sell these books in any number, this option is unlikely to work out for you.

how to get your book published


What’s involved?

I’ve come across a lot of writers want to get published traditionally, but have difficulty opening the gates of success. For that reason, they think, “I’ll self-publish, see if that works, then use that success as a springboard to mainstream publication.”

And, well, OK. Some authors have done that, and done that successfully – James Oswald, for example. There are plenty of other examples.

But what I’d ask is: why? I’d say that you’d need a minimum of 50,000 free downloads + 10,000 paid ones to get an agent even modestly excited about your trad potential. Really, you probably need to double or treble those numbers to get an agent properly interested. But once your indie career is hitting those heights, what really does trad publishing offer you?

And yes, I know some indie authors who make their money via self-publishing, but who dabble with a bit of traditional publishing on the side, really just to explore new things and to prove they have what it takes there too. But in general, I think if you self-publish, you should do so with the intention of self-publishing over the long term.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

As I say, I don’t think this model makes much sense, except as a bit of fun on the side for successful indie authors.

Pros and cons

If you want to go down this road, then  by all means do. It doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. though.


What’s involved?

A few years ago, a friend of mine, John Mitchinson, had a brainwave. Why should publishers take the risk of commissioning a book if they had no idea whether there’d be a consumer market for it or not?

And flip that around: wouldn’t it be brilliant for consumers, if they were the ones, in effect, choosing what books to commission or not? You wouldn’t even need to stop at books: potential authors could offer other merchandise, the chance to meet, and other incentives too. You could build a whole community around each book project. In a way, the whole thing could be like a modern reinvention of the eighteenth-century model in which people subscribed to a particular book project prior to publication.

That was the idea. Unbound was the result – a Kickstarter for books in effect. (And yes: you can crowdfund your book on Kickstarter too. And yes: though Unbound is a British company, it’ll happily handle submissions from authors anywhere in the world.)

The idea has been prodigiously successful, and the company is currently raising funds for a major expansion into the US. Where books successfully meet their pledge target, the company publishes the books and arranges distribution into bookstores, as well as foreign rights sales and the rest.

What kind of writer/book is right for this publication option?

The site does particularly well with non-fiction, especially where there’s a wholesome quality to the book being offered – a book on whales and climate change may work better than one on German history, say.

But fiction can also work on the site, again especially when that fiction is distinctive and a bit too quirky for ordinary Big 5 style publication. If you’re a member of Jericho Writers, you can watch a filmed interview with Matthew Clayton, head of publishing at Unbound, here. (Not a member? Then join us.)

Pros and cons

The advantages of this route are:

  • You get paid
  • You get top quality distribution from a respected publisher
  • You can find a route to market for non-standard pieces of work

The disadvantages are:

  • You have to rustle up the bulk of your subscribers yourself. That probably means hitting Twitter very, very hard!


What’s involved?

If there’s a large social platform out there, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone’s explored a way to tell stories on it. Of the social-as-storytelling platforms, by far the best known and most elaborate is Wattpad, with some 70 million users who are there for the purpose of storytelling (rather than, say, watching fake news, trolling each other, or sharing gifs.)

Wattpad is a huge site for fan-fiction and romance, but it’s pioneered other genres too. It has a Wattpad “After Dark” site, aimed at romance for adult readers. It’s experimented with an app that delivers story via text messages.

Other sites and other companies have performed similar experiments.

Such sites aren’t quite an answer to the question “How Do I Get a Book Published?”, simply because their product isn’t a book, as normally imagined. But maybe you’re not there yet. Maybe your question is, “How do I get my story published?” and you kind of know that your story is too short or too early-stage to quite justify a book. For those type of writers, social publishing can be a brilliant first route.

What’s more, that kind of social storytelling can lead on to bigger things. The most obvious recent example of such success was EL James’ 50 Shades trilogy, which started out as fan-fiction in the Twilight fictional world, then dumped the Twilight references and was picked up by a digital-first publisher (that’s option #6 on our list). When that digital-first publication started to make waves, James sold the rights to Random House, that propelled the book and its author to mega-stardom. In effect, that one trilogy moved from social publication, to digital first publication, to Big 5 publication (with literary agent attached.)

What kind of writer / book is right for this publication option?

If you’ve come to this blog post wanting to write a book and get it published, then Wattpad and its sisters is probably not the right channel for you, simply because Wattpad isn’t really in the business of publishing and promoting books. Yes, you can practice your craft and build an audience on Wattpad, but you still have to make the leap from that to a more formal publication channel.

If you’re already on Wattpad (or something similar), then fine: keep going, and make the leap to more formal publication when you judge yourself ready. If you’re not already active and successful on one of those sites, then engaging more deeply will probably seem like a diversion from the road you actually want to walk down.

Pros and cons

The pros of social-first publication are:

  • There are no gatekeepers, or upfront costs
  • The readership is supplied by the website; all you need to do is craft a product that those readers want (more easily said than done, of course.)

The downside is quite simply:

  • You end up with readers and with writing … but not an actual book for sale via bookshops or Amazon.

Personally, this isn’t a route I’d advise … you can yell at me if you want to.


I said there were a load of different routes to publication – and by now you probably believe me. But in the end, there are two broad variants:

  • A traditional approach, where the key thing is the concept that someone – a literary agent or commissioning editor – is judging whether or not to accept your work.
  • An indie approach, where there are no gate-keepers and your approach to Amazon and the other e-tailers is direct and unmediated.

Both routes are great. Both options will appeal to different authors – or (like me) the same author at different times and with different projects.

Either way, the essence of success remains the same:

  1. Write a great book
  2. Create a great product (e-book, hardback, audio file, etc)
  3. Get those products in front of a broad and well-chosen audience

And it’s all easy. The whole thing is easy-peasy. All except the very first bit – writing a great book. That’s as tough now as it was a hundred or three hundred years ago. That difficulty is what makes this craft of ours so frustrating – and so rewarding.

Happy writing. Happy editing. And get published.

About the author

Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. (More about Harry, more about his books).

As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.)

More about publishing

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

the power of story and discourse

A letter to myself

launch letterbox checklist

A Letter to Myself

The Festival of Writing 2018 – and How All Was Not Lost
By Sophie Beal

Dear Myself-of-the-Weeks-Before-the-Festival,

This letter is for you, poring over the Jericho resources, searching for wisdom on those ultimate questions: how can I know the Festival won’t be a waste of time and money? And what if, instead of an agent, I get conclusive proof I’m delusional?

These are the things you’ll want to know up front.

  1. You don’t make any of the competition shortlists.
  2. You have a very depressing 1-2-1.
  3. That dream, where agents and publishers stalk you? It doesn’t happen.

You’re now wondering if you should cut your losses, stay in Bournemouth and save the petrol. Keep reading.

Sometimes, people meet their agent in the coffee queue. This is unlikely in your case. Either, you’ll be too scared to strike up conversation, or not be scared enough and say something really stupid.

So there you are. Four hundred and sixty pounds down, no chance of representation and surrounded by three hundred odd people all after roughly the same thing. It’s going to be murder, right? That’s what you’re thinking.

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

That first 1-2-1 is not the agent’s fault. She’s lovely, but doesn’t think you’re the next Tolstoy. “I’m getting caught up in the medical red tape,” she says. She has no idea of the time you’ve spent trying to make sure that didn’t happen. You sit there and listen.

You write notes. You return to your session. Then you go back to your room and grieve. After all, unless something magic happens, this is probably the end of the line for your novel. After eleven years.

If you could fit this into the hour and a half before dinner, it would be an ideal time and place. It’s quiet. There are no children asking you for snacks or arbitration. But you’ve a soul to vomit and mealtime comes all too soon.

You’re not pretty when you cry. People will assume you’re dying of something they don’t want to catch. Or they’ll know the truth – that you’re not as good as you hoped. You drag Rachel, your trusty writing partner, to your room. She gives you a good hug, and supervises you while you rinse your eyes in warm water and make your way towards food.

And there you meet someone else who hasn’t yet had either of their 1-2-1s, but is thoroughly fed up with the submission process. You share your own tale of woe. And the lady on the other side shares hers. And you say things to each other you would usually reserve for the mirror (or Rachel). Like, “I think I’m good.” Someone buys three gins and tonic and instead of slipping out before Friday Night Live, you surprise yourself by staying up to whinge until eleven thirty (that’s three am in young person time).

You’re still feeling a little fragile the next morning, but all that panic-surfing has paid off. You remember Emma Darwin’s blog. You have your first coherent thoughts:

  1. You really didn’t think your world through before you wrote your novel. Your main characters are academic anaesthetists. How many non-medics know those exist? And there’s so much more you need to set up alongside the love story, including the ambition and rivalry. World-building in these circumstances is difficult, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the novel is doomed.
  2. The agent didn’t criticise your prose, your first page, or your characterisation. A lot of your work has paid off.
  3. Mandy Berriman had a difficult journey to publication. People have told you she’s lovely. You will try to speak to her.

the power of story and discourse

Together with a cooked breakfast, you’ve reason enough to get out of bed.

Penny Holroyde and Allie Spencer sit at your table in the canteen. This is the moment you should try and impress Penny who is after all an agent. But when they ask you about your festival, you end up telling them the truth. It’s the best thing you can do. They are both lovely.

“So many published authors I know, have a novel they love but can’t sell,” says Allie. “It doesn’t mean it’s not any good.” You talk about easy reading for thinkers.  She wrote her first romantic comedy about a young barrister, so understands your world-building issues and gives you some pointers. You come away thoroughly inspired.

That is your “all is lost moment” done and dusted.

Having planned plenty of alone time, you don’t miss a thing after that:

Sarah Pinborough may apologise for waffling in her keynote lecture, but has everyone in stitches as she describes life as a published author. And everyone’s crying by the end of Julie Cohen’s session about Pixar story-telling.

At the book club and literary industry panel you’re told genre boundaries are blurring. Pinning your book down as literary or commercial doesn’t matter as much as it did. Finally, someone produces a useful definition of book club fiction. It’s obvious really: “something people want to talk about with their friends.”

You contemplate skiving the Futurecast session. It’s on Sunday morning; you’re tired and already know vampires are out, uplit and psychological thrillers in. But there’s loads more to learn. Afterwards, everyone you speak to is considering self-publishing.

And somewhere in the middle of all that, you have a second 1-2-1. It’s far more relaxed than your first, possibly because you now know the problem. You bring up the world-building issue yourself. She suggests emphasising the love story over the setting from the start. But she says, “You’re clearly a very good writer.” You have time left. You could show her your elevator pitch for novel number two, but you forget and use the minutes up blithering about how much her opinion means to you.

There you are: three competitions, two 1-2-1s and no agent. But you now understand more about how you could fit into the industry. And you’ve found the rest of the people like you in the world. The money isn’t wasted.

On Sunday morning, you listen to Mandy Berriman’s keynote session and her full story of knockbacks, perseverance and eventual success with her second novel.

Over lunch, you tell your fellow writers about your novel number two.

“That one will be so much easier to sell. I can condense the idea down into a few sentences.” You tell them it’s about a couple about to abandon fertility treatment when the woman is raped. She then discovers she is pregnant. She thinks the baby is her husband’s. He thinks she’s delusional and wants an abortion.

Someone says, “I’m wondering what I’d do.” And someone else, “You need to write that.”

Then you remember you’re actually on your second draft. This sets off those pesky dreams again. You see yourself up on the main stage, about to publish your first novel as your second. The editor next to you is saying, “I couldn’t believe she had something so marvellous in her bottom drawer.”

With very best wishes

Sophie Beal

Sophie came to the Festival of Writing 2018. She did not get an agent, but did get inspired.

Has this inspired you to come along next year? Keep you eye on our events for more.

More on getting published

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

Future of book publishing

What authors really think of publishers

Read a sample literary agent query letter

What authors really think of publishers

Jane Friedman and I launched the English-speaking world’s most comprehensive survey of what authors think of the firms that publish them. We invited the views of traditionally published authors only, whether or not they had also self-published.

We sought to create a survey that was both balanced and incisive: one that wouldn’t shirk the questions that matter most to authors.

Our results are in. We’ve had 812 responses all told and the data makes for very interesting reading indeed. My personal take on the principal conclusions to be drawn from the survey follows, I do recommend taking a look at Jane Friedman’s note on the topic as well.

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

Who responded to our survey?

Our authors were typically highly experienced. Almost 50% had published 6 or more books. Almost 80% had had something published within the last 12 months. More than 60% had the services of a literary agent.

Our authors were also typically allied to Big Publishing. 56% of our respondents were published by a ‘Big 5’ firm or by one of the industry’s larger independents. (Such as Bloomsbury in the UK, or Perseus in the US.)

About three fifths of our respondents were based in North America. Almost all the rest were based in Britain or Ireland.

The Bookseller was a strong supporter of the survey, but we also had supportive tweets, blogs, appeals from (among others), the Society of Authors, the ALCS, Novelists Inc, and numerous other author associations and leading industry figures.

In short, the authors who responded to our survey were a well-rounded, experienced and authoritative group. I’m not aware of any reason why our sample should be skewed either to favour or penalise the industry overall. On the contrary, we did all we could to invite views from the entire breadth of the spectrum.

The rest of this post summarises the full data and draws some of the main conclusions.

Conclusion #1: Authors respect their publishers’ editorial and design skills

There’s no doubt about it: authors rate their publishers’ editorial, copyediting, cover design and copywriting skills very highly.

Some 71% of authors thought their publishers’ editorial skills were good or excellent. On copyediting, the proportion was 73%. On cover design and cover copy, the proportions were 81% and 80% respectively. These results are equally strong when we consider only the smaller, indie publishers, implying that standards remain high right across the industry.

These are outstanding results, proof that traditional publishing is indeed expert at taking a manuscript and making a book. It’s an excellent endorsement of some of the industry’s core competencies, and one that comes from those people in the best position to make the assessment.


Conclusion #2: Authors have serious reservations when it comes to their publishers’ marketing skills and philosophy

There’s no kind way to say this. Authors are unimpressed by their publishers’ marketing campaigns and the methods by which those campaigns are developed.

If the top two responses can be taken as broadly equivalent to the “Excellent or good” categories we were looking at before, the 70-80% satisfaction rate has now dropped to less than 40%. Adding the “significant gaps” and “not marketed at all” answers together, we have a Poor/Non-existent rating that’s nudging 50%.

Needless to say, any author would like a splashy launch with lots of consumer advertising and all those other lovely, expensive things. But note that our question explicitly calls attention to budgetary limitations and simply asks about whether the author’s own skills and connections have been properly used – an area where any cost implications are small to minimal.

I would also note that if we look at the responses only of those (400+) authors who have published 5 or more books, the distribution of answers is essentially identical – and it would seem highly implausible that these experienced authors continue to have misguided expectations as to the scale of publisher marketing spend. In short, our survey offers no support for the hypothesis that authors only grumble about marketing because they are unrealistic about budgets.

Indeed, our survey doesn’t simply offer a conclusion as to what authors think – it offers a massive clue as to why they think it. Here’s our data on the extent to which authors felt involved in their publishers’ marketing strategy.

Over 60% of authors felt marginalised or worse by their publisher when it came to marketing strategy. A scant 20% felt closely involved and informed.

These results look broadly similar whether the authors were being published by very large trade publishing firms (the Big 5 and their closest competitors) or by smaller indie or academic presses. They look broadly the same whether we look at North American publishers or British & Irish ones. In short, it seems that our authors – numerous and experienced as they are – feel neglected by their publishers’ marketing departments and feel underwhelmed by the campaigns that result.

Conclusion #3: Publishers are poor at communicating with their authors

In my view, the single most astonishing finding of this survey is this: a full three-quarters of authors are not asked for feedback by their publishers. That proportion is essentially the same if we look at authors publishing with a major publisher, or authors on large advances (defined for the purposes of this post as any advance of $30,000 or more.) British publishers were a little less likely to invite feedback than American ones, but only somewhat and within a plausible margin of error.

This failure to ask authors about their overall experience of the publishing process doesn’t appear to be a one-off glitch in a generally strong and communicative relationship. We also asked authors to rate their publishers’ communications more generally. Answers divide pretty much 50/50 between Good and Excellent on the one hand, and Average or worse on the other. Given the generally strong experiences authors reported in relation to editorial and other book production functions, it seems clear that the industry as a whole could do better.

That conclusion is underlined by a further question, which asked our respondents whether they received “systematic guidance from your publisher about how you could add most value to the overall publishing process”. Half of respondents either received that help or felt they didn’t need it. But a full half reported either that they received some guidance but wanted more, or that they received no guidance and felt marginalised as a result.

The traditional publishing industry often claims to have authors at its heart, but our results suggest, on the contrary, many authors feel somewhat excluded from it. Since communicating better with authors would not entail significant costs (and might, you’d think, bring some significant benefits), it would seem that our data provides a large clue as to how regular publishers could improve their operations.

Finally on this point, I think it’s worth relating a more anecdotal observation. In the course of collecting data on this survey, I was told by three authors – all formerly Big 5, now with Amazon Publishing – that Amazon constantly solicits and responds to feedback. One told me, “It’s night and day. There’s much more of a teamwork attitude there. Completely different from any of my traditional publishers.” That is: the faceless machine of Seattle may actually be better at author relationships than the traditional industry.

If that isn’t a call to action for more mainstream publishers, I don’t know what is.

Conclusion #4: A clear majority of authors are unimpressed by their publishers

The single most important question in our survey was also the simplest. We asked, “For your next book, if a different, reputable publisher were to offer you the same advance as your current one, would you move to the new house or stay where you are?” What authors told us is that people would quit, or would consider quitting, their current firm than would choose to stay. The move/don’t knows together emphatically outnumber the stays, by almost exactly 2:1.

If we look only at authors working with major trade publishers, the results look distinctly better – the “Stay” group now nudges up to 42% – but that still leaves almost 60% of authors who would, or might, choose to switch. The same effect is apparent if we look only at authors with large advances: the “Stay” category is now 44%, but a clear 31% of such authors would choose to move.

I don’t think anyone involved in the industry would or should think that those numbers are acceptable. Given that authors are highly impressed by many aspects of their publishers, the two clear areas of weakness, as identified by our survey, are (a) authors’ involvement in marketing, and (b) the whole area of communications and feedback. Those two things shouldn’t simply be cheap to fix; better performance on those two fronts might well prove profit-enhancing.

Conclusion #5: Authors generally love their literary agents

Reviewing what we’ve learned so far, one might be tempted to conclude that authors are just a grumbly bunch. Maybe nothing would make them happy. Well, that’s a theory of course, but it’s not one with any visible empirical foundation. Our survey also asked the question, “If another reputable literary agent at another reputable agency offered you representation, would you accept it?”

Looking only at the data from authors with literary agents, the reponse we got back was as follows. Fully two-thirds of authors are happy with their current representation, and the positively dissatisfied proportion is little more than 10%. The ratio of stay vs move is better than 6:1, as opposed to the worse than 1:1 ratio we discovered in relation to publishers.

What’s more, authors’ frustrations with their agents seemed relatively limited. Although this survey did not investigate the author-agent relationship in depth, we did ask respondents for a Twitter-style summary of the message they’d want to send their agents if they could. Many authors just wrote some variant on the message, “I love you!”. The one negative issue which recurred again and again was a variant on “Answer my emails!” I’d suggest that if the poor communicators among agents sharpened up their act, there would be extremely few authors who would remain dissatisfied.

Respecting career guidance. Just 3% of authors view their editor as being their main source of career wisdom. A further 17% answered “agent and editor”, as compared with the 57% who replied “agent only”.

Some observers might argue that publishers are there to publish books, agents are there to guide careers, and there’s simply no purpose in the former group attempting to do the latter’s job. That isn’t, however, what the industry itself claims. For example, in its submission to the House of Commons Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, the Publishers Association states that the “the publishing company[‘s] core roles are … to identify, nurture and develop authorial talent.”

You can’t nurture and develop talent if you take no interest in its longer-term evolution. At present, literary agents seem to be performing that role very successfully. On our data at least, few publishers can say the same. Since our site is proud to serve writers seeking agents, we’re delighted that published authors share our favourable view of literary agents.

Conclusion #6: Authors feel poorly paid and poorly treated

It’s common for surveys like this one to report, by way of headline, that authors are badly paid. And, indeed, our median author received an adance that was somewhat less than $10,000 – or, let’s say, about £5,000. That figure, however, includes many academic authors, or poets, or people bringing out smaller books with smaller presses. It would be fair to assume that those people aren’t really turning to publication primarily as a source of income.

On the other hand, if we focus only on authors who (a) have agents and (b) sell their work to Big 5 or other large trade publishers, it would be fair to assume both that those writers are writing primarily as a way to make a living and (certainly) that they represent the most commercially successful cross-section of our sample. Even here, however, our median author received an advance of just $20,000 or so (£13,000), which will not strike most people as a handsome income, (though royalties and overseas rights sales will tend to increase that amount.)

Whether these sums feel like fair rewards, given the broader industry context, is perhaps more telling. And, when asked for their broad agreement/disagreement with a number of possible statements about publishers, only 7.5% of authors feel well-paid by their publishers. If we select only those authors who have literary agents and are with major publishers, that scant 7.5% stat rises … to 9.5%. When you consider that the average Big 5 graduate trainee is paid around 50% more than that median Big 5 advance, you can understand that authorial frustration.

Now, to be fair, the industry has never claimed to offer large rewards to the bulk of those who write for it, yet you would hope a lack of financial remuneration is made up for by good treatment in other respects. Our data, however, do not provide evidence of that good treatment. Only one quarter of our respondents felt well-treated by their publisher “in non-financial ways”. The agented/large publisher authors felt well-treated just 31% of the time.

That seems a dispiriting result.

The only other firm messages from this question were that a clear majority of authors felt that the industry had been “lazy and un-innovative” when it came to digital matters, but that only a smallish minority (about 16% of respondents) think the industry is likely to vanish anytime soon. Curiously, most authors don’t think that publishers constitute a “crucial bastion of culture and learning”, a result I am not able to explain. (Except possibly as a matter of priming: it may be that by asking our authors to think through their relationships with publishers, we accidentally primed a kind of surliness by the time we reached this point in the survey. I’d also note that only 30% or so of authors felt that Amazon treats self-publishing authors well.

Given that Amazon offers access to pretty much every reader in the world via a well-designed author-interface that costs nothing to access, that delivers instant results, that provides real-time sales data and very swift payment – and bearing in mind also that the firm’s sites and e-reader technologies are both state-of-the-art and have cost billions to invent and create – you sort of have to wonder what the 70% of hold-outs want from a self-pub company. In short, I think there is some evidence of surliness towards the end of our survey.)

Conclusion #7: Authors aren’t leaving the traditional industry

You might think that our results so far would imply that a broad swath of authors would consider leaving the traditional publishing industry altogether. And, indeed, there is some support for that view, as evidenced by this: some 44% of traditionally published authors have also self-published.

Yet this data may well mean less than appears. To speak personally for a moment, I have self-published work in both the UK and US. In Britain, I’ve self-published some of my older work, where I never sold the e-rights. I make a couple of hundred pounds a month from the exercise, but not even remotely enough money to base a career on. In the US, I’m currently self-publishing some of my front-list work (for reasons explained rather exhaustively here), but I’m conventionally published in Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, and elsewhere besides. Those relationships contribute the vast bulk of my authorial income and I have absolutely no intention of disrupting them. I’d be crazy to do so.

In short, it may be that plenty of authors are happy to self-publish their older or more marginal work, or self-publish in territories where traditional print publishing didn’t quite work out for them – yet those same authors have absolutely no intention of self-publishing their current, front-list work if they have an alternative.

Just under a quarter of respondents say they’d feel excited by the adventure of self-publishing. Well over a third say they’d feel negative, or worse. But perhaps the key stat in this set of responses is that the question itself was skipped by more than half of respondents … a fact which suggests, to me at least, that most respondents were thinking, “I would never self-publish” (or perhaps “would never self-publish a front-list work in my home market”).

That lack of enthusiasm for the new frontiers of self-pub is also evident when we focus directly on the cash implications of going independent. Our last question on that was skipped by most respondents, suggesting that the topic did not feel involving. And of those who did respond, only 15% of authors felt confident of improving their financial outcomes.

To summarise: authors may have grumbles about their existing publishers, and many authors may seek to switch publishers if they could, but that does not imply authors are about to start leaving the industry en masse. Today, at any rate, authors are in a state of discontented equilibrium: grumbling, but not leaving, the industry.

A parting note

You’ve heard enough from me.

A final hope on which to end. I’m a big believer in traditional publishing. I’ve been with the industry for 15 years and I hope to be with it for more – yet it’s no secret that my own journey has at times been rocky. I firmly believe that the things broken are not just fixable, I also think this industry could achieve better results by acting on these insights. The formula for success is not hard to find.

Talk to authors. Involve them. Ask for feedback. Then rinse and repeat.

More on getting published

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

feature tor udall book publishing 1

What I learned about book publishing as a debut author

header what i learned tor udall

What I learned about book publishing as a debut author

Tor Udall is author of A Thousand Paper Birds (Bloomsbury), longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award.

My debut A Thousand Paper Birds was published by Bloomsbury last June. Here are some of the things I’ve learned.

Agents are heroes

I am in love with each and every one of them.

I know, from a distance, that they can seem like impenetrable gatekeepers but they are passionate advocates for good writing, work ungodly hours for work that they believe in and have no guarantee of financial reward. Sound familiar?

Like writers, they too have to go through the precarious and heart-thumping process of submissions, rejections and deals. Agents not only help hone your work and protect your rights, but are a great sounding board throughout the entire journey. But most importantly they believe in, and fight for, books and writers. If you meet one, you should look them in the eye and say thank you.

(A deep bow to Jenny Savill.)

Book people are incredibly generous

The generosity of the industry has taken my breath away.

Influential editors and publicists from other publishing houses have praised A Thousand Paper Birds on social media and encouraged others to read it –  and I’ve seen them do it with other debuts too. Why? Because they are passionate about books that they love whether it’s from their imprint or not. There are so many inspiring, authentic, brilliant people in this industry – brains as big as planets (a big wave to Georgina Moore and Alison Barrow!).

The same is true of authors.

If they believe in your work, they will shout about it from the rooftops. Being published for the first time is a giddy ride and it’s helpful to meet other authors on the rollercoaster. Having received so much support, I’m keen to help upcoming writers. It’s one massive chain of ink-stained hands and I love being a part of it. I truly believe this industry contains some of the best human beings on the planet.

It is a team effort

After years of solitary writing, it has been a privilege to collaborate with the team at Bloomsbury.

They are brilliant at what they do. From my sublimely smart editor to my sensitive and astute copy-editor, through to my designer and the publicity, marketing and digital teams, they’ve all been fighting my corner and helping the book be the best it can be.

What a freakin’ honour.

It’s not true that you need to be well connected

I got my first agent through the slush pile (most writers do). After losing him, I went to the Festival of Writing and left with 8 agents interested in representing. I put in the graft. I said hello.

At my first meeting with my publicist, she asked if I had any media contacts and my awkward answer was ‘not a sausage.’ But we sent out the proofs and a few people really liked it. They then told other people who told other people and suddenly we had momentum.

I will be forever indebted to the authors, reviewers, bloggers and readers who have championed Paper Birds. And some of these ‘strangers’ have become friends. In an overcrowded market you need people singing about your book.

The beauty is that one voice can become a chorus.

Publishing is a vast eco-system

Pre-publication, most writers learn about agents and publishers, but the vitality of the industry is dependent on a much larger eco-system that includes mentors and editors, literary scouts, translators, bloggers, vloggers, reviewers and most importantly booksellers.

Yes, that person behind the till at your local bookshop is the king or queen you should worship.

Booksellers can make or break a book. If they buy one copy and shelve it in alphabetical order (you will normally find ‘U’ in the darkest corner) there’s not much chance of that book being sold and the shop ordering more. But if they highlight it in a table or window display, things are very different.

Waterstones in Richmond did a gorgeous window for A Thousand Paper Birds. It became their biggest selling hardback for 4 weeks, almost outselling their bestselling paperback.

Get to know your local booksellers. Buy from them. Give them chocolate. They make all the difference.

header 2 what i learned tor udall 4

Your first chapter remains as important as ever

Reviewers and bloggers receive SACKS of books weekly. There is no way they can read them all.

A few reviewers have told me that they read the first page and if it’s not sparked their interest, they move onto the next one. The sheer volume prevents them doing it differently and rightly they want to spend their energy and time on books they love. Many of them are freelancers or fitting reviews in between the day job and yet still they will go out of their way to make a difference. So work hard on your pitch and your first chapter.

Getting past that ‘sack-pile’ is quite a hurdle.

You will, at times, be terrified

A couple of weeks before publication I said to my friend, ‘How can I stop this?’

Yes, those were my words after twenty years of perseverance because suddenly it was too exposing and far too unknown. I spent the first three months completely out of my comfort zone. I was interviewed for ITV news, pranced about in photoshoots, did many Q&A events and readings, gave a keynote speech and later did a live 30-minute radio interview for America.

It’s quite something moving from the private act of writing to the public stage. It requires completely different mind-sets. As hard as it is to come out of your shell, it can also then be difficult to withdraw again and deepen your focus. You almost need to separate these two identities – and with all your might protect the quieter one that is aching to write.

Events are wonderful – and it’s an honour to be invited to talk about your work – but they are also exhausting. They will, at times, scare the life out of you, but they will also stretch you into a bigger person than you knew you could be.

And to be honest, despite the nerves, I would return home, yelling I LOVED IT!

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

header 3 what i learned tor udall

You will juggle many, many balls

You will be promoting one book while writing another and perhaps pitching a third. You will be answering Q&As for various journals and writing articles. You will be reading all the new books that have been sent to you for endorsement as well as trying to keep up with your usual favourites. You will also be setting yourself up as a business, sorting out foreign royalty forms, and for me, having to work out 7-years of expenses for my tax return (HIDEOUS).

While doing this you may also be juggling a day job and caring for children (or the sick or elderly) – and if you’re really crazy folding HUNDREDS of paper birds for displays and promotions.

Anxiety is, unsurprisingly, common. Suddenly the writer is being pushed and pulled in several directions. While writing to deadline you may well have to sacrifice personal hygiene. But to survive, at some point you will need to learn how to say ‘no’ or at least ‘not now.’ And you will need to take responsibility for your own well-being by putting in support mechanisms (for me, it was yoga).

I thought that success would allow me more time to write, but actually there’s been less. There gets a point where you have to prioritise writing your next book over all the chaos.

Social media is both friend and foe

My timeline is full of stunningly brilliant people, fantastic books and new friends who make me laugh on days when it feels like the world is going to hell in a handcart.

On Twitter, I’ve found my tribe, but beware, it is a major time-sucker. Also, if there are days when you’re struggling with self-doubt, it can be tricky to take in the constant barrage of big advances and bestsellers. You must do everything you can not to compare yourself to others. The truth is that there will always be people doing ‘better’ and ‘worse’ than you. (And remember, a published writer isn’t necessarily more talented than an unpublished one – it’s so dependent on timing and market.)

All you can do is focus on your own journey. Twitter is also a great way to find out who is who and how it all works: the eco-system in all its glory.

There are still set-backs

You would think that after getting through agent rejections and years of perseverance that once you reach publication everything is golden. But that gold is sometimes honey, sometimes treacle and sometimes actually a bit pissy.

There are many books of the month and end of the year lists, debuts to watch out for, longlists, shortlists, book club selections and promotions.

When you are listed or selected for something, it is an amazing feeling. When you don’t, it can feel rotten.

All of the above betters your chance of getting a second book deal, so in that context it can feel quite stressful. There have been days when I’ve wanted to google ‘where can I buy extra layers of skin?’ But you can’t buy that resilience, you can only earn it.

My rule is that I’m allowed to wail and beat my chest for one day but for one day only. The next morning, I roll up my sleeves and face the most compelling challenge of all – how to be a better writer than I was yesterday. Everything else isn’t in my power. It is just noise.

The reader is the most important ingredient of all

Stupidly, I didn’t share my work with many people pre-publication – mostly, out of terror. So this year has been a revelation.

Every day I receive messages from readers saying how much A Thousand Paper Birds has moved them. I had no idea how much that would mean to me. Unbelievably I hadn’t got my head around the fact that it is the reader who breathes life into the characters and makes the story live. Now that my characters exist in others’ heads they have become real (and I hear they are sometimes glimpsed in the book’s location, Kew Gardens).

The reader is the true alchemist. The true creator. This has been my biggest and most humbling lesson of all.

Remember why you’re doing this

After Paper Birds was published, a famous author wrote to me saying, I should try to stay ‘grounded and clear-headed. Don’t get confused by events one way or the other.’ I have found this advice to be invaluable.

You can so easily be swayed by great reviews then knocked down the next day with disappointment. It is the way to madness. And the biggest joke, once you’re published, is that you realise that there is no finishing line. After years of striving, you reach the top of that glorious, much-longed-for hill and see that you are only at the start of a vast mountain range. So you have to love the journey itself – the actual writing. To stay curious about your characters. To strive to tell the truth. To fail and start again. To be in love with the work itself. To write with humility and the hunger to learn. The more I understand about both this industry and the craft, the more I realise that I am a mere novice.

But isn’t that a fascinating place to be?

My famous author finished his advice by saying, ‘Crack open a bottle of champagne. … And send a quiet thank you to the realms that deserve it.’ It’s important not to forget the magic. The mystery that you stumble on at three in the morning when you’re been slogging away for hours and then all of a sudden the right words fall through the sky in the right order and you are merely taking dictation. In that instant, the book market fades into the background as a temporary, fickle thing. The ego that fretted about what to wear to that event dissolves and there is just the essence –  the listening. The strange act of writing becomes the beating heart of everything.

And this is what I can tell you.

thousand paper birds small 1At that point it doesn’t matter if you’re published or unpublished, we’re all on the same daunting and heroic journey. The stories we tell each other impact us all. They shape how we respond to the world and what we create in it. In these tumultuous times we need stories more than ever. If you are a writer, I salute you. It takes a certain amount of courage, of innocent madness, to retain a state of wonder, to help us all see more clearly and to be more empathic.

And sometimes, just sometimes, some of us might imagine alternative ways of walking through this world that makes everything brighter.

A Thousand Paper Birds (Bloomsbury) was longlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award and has been translated in six languages. The paperback was released 3 May 2018. You can follow Tor’s journey on Twitter and at her website.

More on getting published

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

feature 119 meeting publishers

6 professional tips for authors meeting publishers

header 119 meeting publishers

6 professional tips for authors meeting publishers

It’s not all that often that would-be authors get to meet publishers to pitch their work, but it happens.

Mostly, literary agents will take charge of sending your work out to publishers. Assuming there’s interest in your work, publishers will come back with offers and then, when you do meet publishers face-to-face, they are pitching to you much more than you to them.

But that’s not the only way it can happen. A client of ours was, in 2011, in New York having had three meetings with major New York based publishers. He had a UK deal from a wonderful London-based publisher. Also, one in Germany. In the US, though, publishers wanted to meet him before committing to an offer.

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template

They wanted that meeting not because of any real reservations they had about the manuscript. If they hadn’t liked the material, they wouldn’t have asked for the meeting. They just wanted to see the author himself. See if he could present himself well to the media. See if his vision for the book was the same as theirs. See also if they liked him. After all, your working relationship with a publisher will certainly last a year and perhaps considerably more, so you might as well like the person you’re to be working with.

So if something like this happens to you, it’s as well to be prepared.

The rules to follow are:

  1. Be nice. That’s the first commandment of publishing. The book deal you’re involved in is unlikely to involve vast sums of money, either for you or your literary agent or your publisher. So be nice. It makes a difference.
  2. Be professional. Know the things you ought to know. What’s the word count of your manuscript? If it isn’t yet complete, when will you be able to deliver it? Who are the major authors in your genre? What competing titles are scheduled for release soon? Have these things at your fingertips.
  3. Scrub up. Contrary to widespread belief, publishers aren’t just chasing books by the young and beautiful. They want good books and they don’t much care who writes them. All the same, comb your hair, dress half-decently, just take a little smidge of care.
  4. Ask questions. It’s fine to ask questions of your potential publisher. When would they schedule release? What format would they release it in? And at what price? When does the e-book come out and at what price? How would they think about marketing it? What kind of cover design do they have in mind? (They won’t have a cover design planned, but they’ll be able to tell you – ideally show you – the approximate kind of cover they’ll be considering.) What success have they had with similar books in this area? It’s fine to ask about numbers. How many hardbacks, how many paperbacks, how many ebooks? You learn a lot from these questions, and you make it clear that you are a professional and will work professionally with your team.
  5. Take guidance from your literary agent. Your agent will already know these publishers and quite likely the exact people sitting round the table from you. If your agent steers you in or away from a particular direction, then take that guidance. That’s true anyway, but it’s extra true if you’re in a geographical market not your own: a US author pitching to a London publisher, a UK author pitching to a New York publisher. In the first instance, you will almost certainly have a UK literary agent sitting beside you, a US agent next to you in the second case. Those people are there to help you. Accept their help with gratitude.
  6. Don’t forget digital. Take a one page sheet setting out what you’ve done already (in terms of blog, website, etc.) and explaining what further things you intend to do. Those things won’t swing a deal all on their own, but they do make a difference, and ask what their own plans are.

And remember, you can go into those meetings with good heart. You’ve been invited because someone loves your manuscript and just needs a little help to make it all the way to a formal offer. You haven’t quite closed the deal yet, but you’re inches away.

Now go and close it. Good luck.

More on getting published

The secret to getting an agent

Free submission pack template