So, where to start on the road to publishing? I think, and this is only my opinion, that we should start with ‘The Dream’.
Set your sights on a dream and run with it. Make sure it’s big enough too, and I mean aim high! Shoot for the stars and even if you miss, the trajectory should carry you somewhere good and the view will have been great.
But what do I actually mean? Well when I set out on my writing journey in earnest, I did a number of things:
1. I started acting like I thought an author should act. I started writing a book every year, setting my own deadlines and sticking to them. I sought help from readers and other writers for feedback and I submitted my completed books to agents.
2. I started networking. I went to events, super events like the Festival of Writing where I met more writers, readers and, of course, some agents and publishers too (usually in the bar, long after Cinderella’s ride was being carved into a scary face). I pitched my novel when asked, or when it was polite, but really, I just wanted to be recognised and known as someone who was serious about writing, so that when my next manuscript hit their desk, they knew the face behind the words.
But I think the next is the most important one (so important, I split it in two).
3. I started treating getting published as though it were a project. I gathered intelligence on what I’d need to do, who I’d need to submit work to, exactly how they wanted it submitted, what books they liked and had bought or taken on, where the good places were to meet them etc. I created a plan that I thought would offer me the greatest chance of success – then I stuck to it.
4. I decided in my own mind what ‘success’ looked like for me, and defining this can be hard to do. I decided that, for me, success looked like this: a ‘top’ agent from a major British agency and a publishing deal with a ‘Big 5’ publisher.
There, I said it! Outrageous, but that was the target I set myself. This was what success would look like in my project, the stars I was going to aim for.
Now, let’s not be silly about this. This is a target, the ultimate end goal, but there could be steps along the way. I’m not saying I’d have turned down almost any agent in the beginning, I simply wouldn’t have, and I’m a loyal person so it’s unlikely I would leave an agent I liked and trusted, but this was The Target and I’d urge you all to identify yours and stick with it.
If it’s to be a massive self-published success story, then go for that too, whatever your goal is, get at it with vigour and verve and don’t let any set-back, upset, rejection (I’ve had loads of them!), or dismissal put you off.
‘Publishing is broken! They don’t take debuts anymore! I submitted to five agents and got rejections from all of them!’, etc., etc. (Ring any bells?)
If you submit your work to five agents and then give up, then you lack the tenacity for this business. I submitted my work through the usual channels – the slush pile – and got well over thirty rejections. (Some weren’t even rejections, they simply didn’t even acknowledge me at all and never have.)
I kept going. I wrote six novels. The first four are pants, some not even that good. The fifth started getting noticed. I had some requests for the full manuscript and got some valuable feedback from great agents (and even a hint of an offer of a very small publishing deal with a small press), then I wrote Tenacity and submitted that. It got nowhere.
I had easily twenty rejections and had all but given up, even though it was still out with some other agents. I was already writing my next novel, when I got an email from Curtis Brown – the office of Jonny Geller – yup, there are some agents who are so super that you’re allowed to swear in the middle of their name – Jonny ‘Freaking’ Geller called me.
Excited doesn’t begin to cover it.
Then, in the same day, more agents showed interest, more great ones. Suddenly, I was in business and that aim, that definition of success, didn’t look so outrageous after all.
I signed with Jonny, having been picked up from the slush pile, and my debut novel Tenacity was published by Headline on July 30 2015. I also sold very quickly in the US, too.
So my message is hopefully clear. Decide what you want to do, set out a plan to do it, and hang on to that plan as though your life, and the lives of everyone you hold dear, depend on it.
Grit your teeth, be ready for rejection, but know absolutely where you want to go. If you want it bad enough, then show the world that you have the Tenacity to get it. And I love that word, Tenacity, so much so that I made it the title of my debut novel, and it’s hopefully one of the strongest traits you’d recognise in my lead character, Danielle Lewis.
She doesn’t give up, ever, and neither should you.
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