Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Big Question: What should you do if you want to get your first novel published?

By Boyd Tonkin, Literary Editor, The Independent
Published: 04 January 2008

Why are we asking this now?

Former retail manager Catherine O'Flynn from Birmingham has won the Costa First Novel Award for her fiction debut, What Was Lost, after the manuscript was rejected by 14 literary agents. The novel, set in the kind of Midlands mall where she worked, also reached the longlists of the Orange and Man Booker prizes. Her victory will revive the hopes of the thousands of wannabe novelists who, in spite of the huge odds stacked against them, bombard agents and publishers with their creative offspring. Also this week, J K Rowling – another survivor of multiple rejections – broke down in tears during an ITV interview when she returned to the flat in Leith where she lived while writing Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. End-of-year statistics showed that the final novel in the septet, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, sold more than 4 million copies in the UK alone during 2007.

So will fiction ever make a writer rich?

No. No. A thousand times: no. Even successful career novelists earn infinitely less from their writing alone than the rumours would suggest. As Martin Amis pointed out during one of the periodic media squalls over his large advances, a hefty-sounding deal averaged out over the time that a book or three takes will often result in something closer to the annual salary of a provincial solicitor. And that's for the starriest names. Many illusions about the wealth of up-and-coming authors arise because the media publish wildly exaggerated estimates of the sums involved. Next time you read about a "£1m advance", try dividing by 10 – at least.

If it works, could you give up the day job?

Almost certainly not. For briskly marketed and well-reviewed debutants, we're usually talking about the sort of adult pocket-money that a bedroom eBay business might easily exceed. The few exceptions take the form of chance lightning-strikes, usually with a bidding auction involved, or carefully-planned new brands in mass-market genres such as crime. Plenty of acclaimed writers of fiction never give up their previous occupation, or else acquire a new one (in teaching or journalism, for example).
I still want to try. Where can I get the best advice?

Be wary of creative-writing courses offered as part of local adult-education programmes. In many cases more therapy than apprenticeship is involved – unless you trust the tutor.
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.

For the rest of the story.... and it is good advice.

1 comment:

uk employment law solicitors said...

Its not the fact that the only fiction can make peole rich ,,, any thing good is always appriciated !