Debut author Sally-Anne Martyn first encountered us at the Festival of Writing in 2019. Her dark thriller, ‘The Clinic’, was published in October 2022 by Joffe Books.
We caught up with Sally-Anne about finding a community, and the resources she used to learn about publishing and eventually land her deal.
JW: Tell us a little about you – when did you start writing? What are the main themes of your book?
I started writing adult fiction in early 2018, and before then I had several articles printed in magazines and newspapers. I have always enjoyed darker stories, so it was no surprise to me (or anybody that knows me!) that my book was going to be a dark and creeping thriller. The themes of the book are about body image the pressure of fitting in – and ultimately trying to fight against that.
JW: When you realised you wanted to write a publishable novel, what kinds of resources did you seek out to help you?
I read ‘how to’ books and listened to writing podcasts. My favourites were (and still are!) Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ and Will Storr’s ‘The Science of Storytelling.’ My first serious step was to find myself a mentor (the author, Sarah May I saw this as my training in writing, so I was prepared to invest financially and really focus on the work.
Once I had a book I went to the Festival of Writing in 2019 and spoke to agents there through the Jericho Writer’s one-to-one service. This was a huge boost to my morale – I’d worked hard and got very positive feedback from two agents (I have their words framed on my office wall to remind me!). I also went to writing and querying workshops, gathering as much information as I could on the publishing industry and the realities of getting an agent and/or published. Right before lockdown I also went to the Jericho Writers ‘Self-Publishing Day’ in London. This was really encouraging as provided a viable and exciting alternative if the traditional route didn’t work out.
Once I had a book I went to the Festival of Writing in 2019 and spoke to agents there through the Jericho Writer’s one-to-one service. This was a huge boost to my morale – I’d worked hard and got very positive feedback from two agents (I have their words framed on my office wall to remind me!)
JW: You’ve attended the Festival of Writing in York and are also very active as an author on social media. Do you have any advice for writers who are hoping to find a supportive writing community?
It’s important to have people to speak to throughout the writing / querying and submission process. It can be tough and knowing you’re not alone and not the first to go through it is extremely important. I am naturally introverted, so attending the festival was a nerve-wracking experience! I needn’t have worried though – you soon chat to people and create friendships. It’s easy to believe that everyone else is experienced and rallying along in their writing career, but that’s not the case.
There is something for everyone to learn at the festival. If you can’t make a live event or don’t feel comfortable, go online and join writer’s communities like Jericho’s. Join Twitter, which is hugely populated by the publishing industry. Be authentic, follow writers you like and look out for agent wish lists (which are based on what they know publishers are looking for!). Engage with fellow writers and before you know it you will have a virtual community around you.
It’s important to have people to speak to throughout the writing / querying and submission process. It can be tough and knowing you’re not alone and not the first to go through it is extremely important.
JW: How did you hone your feedback and eventually start querying agents?
I always listen to feedback from my mentor and act on it, as she knows much more than me about the industry and the craft of writing. If you don’t have a mentor then I’d suggest finding a trusted source (not partner or parent!) who understands your genre and reads widely. I would wait until you have completed a draft first though. Too much opinion before then could derail your confidence and you’ll never finish.
Regarding agents: Because of the positive experience I’d had with the Jericho one-to-ones when my manuscript was ready to go out, I did a couple more of those. These are a great opportunity to see how you get on with agents find out if they like what you do, and if you gel with them. Just because somebody is a well-known, successful agent, doesn’t mean they are the best for you.
I always listen to feedback from my mentor and act on it, as she knows much more than me about the industry and the craft of writing.
I researched agents on their websites and found out the agents of writers that I enjoyed. Once I had a wish list based on all of the above, I prepared my submission package ready to send. Make sure you have a brilliant cover letter.
There are many resources for doing this – read them first! It is the first thing agents look at and if doesn’t pull them in, they have a whole pile of others eagerly waiting. Think about when you go into a bookshop and can just pick one – you’ll be relying on the ‘blurb’ to draw you in f you don’t like it, you’ll move on quickly, and it’s the same for agents reading your cover letter. Also, the main point of your cover letter is to sell the book you are submitting, to make them believe that it will sell and belongs on the bookshelf – that’s why having recent comps is so important.
JW: Do you have any advice for the querying writer reading this piece?
At the Festival of Writing I attended a talk with James Law who suggested submitting to twelve agents at a time in three-week intervals. Given that some advice says only approach a handful I first thought this seemed excessive, but it works really well. As rejections come in (they will!) you always have more in the bag to wait for and, as it can a mentally draining process, you need all the positivity you can get.
Start a spreadsheet so you can track any requests for full MS or straight rejections. I also had a column for their communication, tone of rejection and comments. This meant that if I was going to submit another book, I already had a shortened list of agents that were positive about my work and / or wanted to see anything else I did. Always be courteous, do your research and remember your comps. These are so important in selling your work, which is exactly what you should be doing when approaching agents / publishers.
My biggest piece of advice is to start writing the next book as soon as you have submitted to agents. Not only is this the best way to take your mind off the book youve just sent, but you will have another book ready to go. The process can take a long time and you don’t want to waste that time checking emails for replies. Resilience is the most important part of being a writer, and keeping going no matter what. Only then will you succeed.
Sally-Anne is a writer of dark thrillers in creepy settings. She loves to write female led stories and to create very bad women! Her debut novel ‘The Clinic’ is out now and inspired by her time working in one of the last Victorian asylums in England.
Find out more on her website, or follow her on: