By Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor, The Independent
Published: 04 January 2008
Why are we asking this now?
If it works, could you give up the day job?
In contrast, established MA courses in universities will demand strong evidence of talent and commitment (even if part-time) but should deliver a climate of encouragement and serious advice, both artistic and professional. What no course can ever do is guarantee eventual publication: no, not even the legendary star-factory at UEA in Norwich.
Several reliable guides can keep your head out of the clouds and your feet on the ground. The annual Writers' & Artists' Yearbook (A&C Black) and The Writers' Handbook, edited by Barry Turner (Macmillan), always offer solid information on the state of the market and the changing requirements of agents and publishers, along with those all-important contact details.
Among the many authors who offer help to their aspiring peers, no one has a better record than former publisher Alison Baverstock: check out the new edition of her Marketing Your Book (A&C Black). The question of who precisely to approach (publisher or agent, and which ones?) and how to do it will vary from case to case. One size does not fit all.
Aren't unsolicited works automatically rejected?
Always check whether newcomers can even make it through their door. Horror-stories do abound of future bestsellers batted back unread. One recurrent media trick involves sending some classic work to the gate-keepers of literature and then scorning their ignorance when it comes back with a standard rejection letter. Budding writer David Lassman did this last year when he sent out chapters from Jane Austen novels. Only Alex Bowler at Random House wrote back warning that "there is such a thing as plagiarism". Does that mean that no one else who replied could spot an Austen? Worse, probably: they hadn't even read the work.