Who doesn’t harbour a dream of packing in the day job and becoming a published author? Unfortunately, the road from rough manuscript to published author is a tricky one, with less than 1% getting a literary agent and even less securing a publishing deal. But remember, JK Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishers before Bloomsbury fell for Harry Potter and she made the first female billionaire. Follow Stylist’s guide to getting your book noticed...
CHAPTER 1 - DO YOUR RESEARCH
Finding a literary agent is essential, very few publishing houses accept manuscripts from writers without one. Buy the 2011 Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, it lists hundreds of agents’ contacts by genres. Subscribe to trade magazine The Bookseller for an insider take on the industry. Not only will this enable you to pinpoint the agents you want to approach - it will also give you an insider take on industry trends. For example, 2008 was the year of the misery memoir, 2009 all about supernatural novels, like Twilight - but what about 2010? Literary agent at United Agents, Simon Trewin, says: "In these times of economic uncertainty, readers are retreating into fictional worlds that give them comfort. I think we'll see a resurgence of feel-good fiction that inspires conversations and fosters relationships.
CHAPTER 2 - SEND OUT YOUR QUERY LETTER
This is a single-page covering letter introducing you and your book, and according to literary agent Hannah Westland, of Rogers, Coleridge & White, it should be tailored to the specific agent you are contacting. She says, “It’s the perfect way of showing me you've found out what kind of agent I am and what kind of writers I represent. I'm more sympathetic to people who I can see have done their research.”
CHAPTER 3 - SEND IN YOUR WORK AND SYNOPSIS
If they like your query letter, agents will ask to see part or all of your manuscript and a synopsis. Every agent has different submission guidelines, which can be found on their websites, so read these carefully. Literary agent at David Higham Associates, Lizzy Kremer, says, "By following the recommended guidelines, prospective clients are showing that they can follow simple instructions and are happy to let their work speak for itself.
For agents that ask for just three chapters in the first instance, always make sure you have the whole manuscript ready.
Presentation should be professional. Use standard A4 white paper and go for a double-spaced, 12-point typeface like Times New Roman or Courier.
A synopsis should act as a short digest of your book and can be anything between 2 and 20 pages depending on an agent’s particular preference.
Top agents receive up to 5000 approaches a year, so increase your chances by avoiding Easter and autumn, when the book fairs take place.
CHAPTER 4 - MEET WITH AGENTS
When an agent wants to meet up, it's usually a positive sign. Westland says, "The chances are they're keen to represent you, so the onus should be on them to impress you, not the other way around." Trewin adds, "It shouldn't feel like a job interview, it should feel like two people who are starting a nice partnership, almost like a date."
CHAPTER 5 - SIGN WITH AN AGENT
According to Trewin, choosing the right agent is the most important decision a writer will make. Publishing director for fiction at HarperCollins, Sarah Ritherdon, says, "We wouldn't favour one agent over another but there are definitely individuals who specialise in certain genres whose submissions might get opened immediately."
How to pick the right one? Author Mark Billingham has this advice: "Always pick the one who seems least likely to give up on you if things are not going well. A good agent will sometimes need to be a scrapper, and that’s the one you want."
And remember, never pay an agent to take you on – they work on a purely commission basis (15% on UK business and 20% on international business), only making money if they sell your book.
CHAPTER 6 - SEND POLISHED MANUSCRIPT TO PUBLISHERS
Your agent is likely to suggest a few adjustments they think would benefit your manuscript. Ideal length? Trewin says there’s no such thing: "Manuscripts should be as long as they need to be – not a word more or less." Once agreed, the next step involves them sending it out to the publishers they think are best suited to your book.
CHAPTER 7 - GET A DEAL!
Publishers usually negotiate a deal through a writer's agent but according to Ritherdon, things are done differently when a number of publishers want to pitch for the same book. 'Each publisher presents their vision for the author, either in person or on paper, and then each one tries to put together the best financial package alongside that.' she says. 'An auction can go through a number of rounds with publishers dropping out along the way. It's usually settled either with a best and final offer from the remaining houses, or an author and agent will prefer a particular vision for their book.'
CHAPTER 8 - NEGOTIATE THE CONTRACT
Payment is best left to your agent. Kremer explains, 'Advances vary from quite low (the price of a diamond ring) to very high (the price of a nice house). The advance is usually paid in thirds or quarters, due on signature of your publishing contract, delivery of your finished book and publication of the book.'
CHAPTER 9 - THE EDITING PROCESS
Before a book hits the shelves, more re-drafts are requested by the editor you’ve been assigned by the publishing house. Will Atkins, publisher of Macmillan New Writing, explains: This second pair of eyes can make improvements to structure, character and clarity of expression. You should be able to trust your editor: their interests are the same as yours, to make your book as good as it can be.'
CHAPTER 10 - ENSURE IT'S A SUCCESS
The marketing of a book counts for a lot, the writer must be willing to partake in publicity. 'Around publication we ask our authors to take part in a blogging, press interviews, festivals and library events,' says Ritherdon.
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