How to get published

A couple of Saturday’s ago I attended a one day course run by the Mumsnet Academy all about how to get published. I thought it might be useful if I were to offer my thoughts on the whole experience (by the way, they are putting on another one in January 2015 too.)

It was a good day, full of useful information and tips. It was especially useful for someone with little or no experience of the publishing world and current approaches. I would highly recommend it.

In this post are my own interpretations and understanding of what was said, other’s may have gleaned slightly different perspectives. I wanted to share the main points that I came away with from the day in case other’s find them useful.

General Perspective
The overwhelming learning curve for me that underlined pretty much the whole day, is that being accepted by either an agent or a publisher (hard though that is) is really only the start of a long process. Patience, belief and dedication are key skills to master or nurture depending upon your personality! On average, the approximate time scale from acquisition to publication is around 12 months for new author’s.

Both agents and publisher’s alike are most keen on hearing an author’s voice and not so bothered by a finished manuscript-it is promise and possibility they’re looking for rather than the polished article. On average though a publisher or agent will take on around a maximum of 3-4 new author’s a year. That’s not a lot!

I kept hearing over and over how it is the authenticity of the author’s voice and the integrity of the writing that is key. They will happily accept partial manuscripts with this in mind.

The covering letter alongside approximately the first 3 chapters of your manuscript are what count, not a professional synopsis. If you grab someone’s attention, everything will be read but it’s not going to put an agent or publisher off if it isn’t all perfectly presented.

A synopsis should not be more than a page in length ideally. It appears that a synopsis is only read once the covering letter and your manuscript have ignited enough interest. So your calling card if you like, is very much the manuscript itself and the covering letter.

Do include a cover page which includes your contact details as well as the manuscript title. I got the distinct impression that if an agent or publisher spot something they like, they will be on the phone to an author pretty quickly, so make sure your contact details are easily accessible.

In your covering letter, keep it brief! Your book pitch in the letter should reflect the conciseness of a book blurb. A few sentences is all that’s needed here.

Include information about yourself, as well as where you feel your book ‘fits’ in the marketplace. Include any relevant and current writing related information, such as writing groups or courses attended or prizes won for example. But keep it relevant and current.

Be transparent over your submissions-if you are submitting to more than one agent or publisher, say that in your covering letter. The advice was also to submit to no more than 3 or 4 agents or publisher’s at a time. Publishing is a small world and everyone knows each other, so it’s important to bear this in mind.

Importance of research
A good place to gauge current trends and who is looking for what is to take a peek at The Bookseller online. It’s the trade publication. So, do your research before you submit and make sure it reaches the inbox of those most likely to have an interest in your story/subject.

Don’t submit during April and October as it’s the big book fairs in London and Frankfurt and your manuscript isn’t likely to get the attention it deserves.

Self Publishing
And finally, the thing that struck me as most significant on a personal level was hearing from a publisher when she said she actively followed the self publication lists on Aamazon. It was also obvious that being self published was in no way a barrier to gaining a traditional publication deal.

What was also interesting was the idea that selling your book via Amazon at heavily discounted rates was more likely to put off potential agents and publisher’s than self publication alone. In other words, they’re not really very interested in a book that sells repeatedly for 59p as research suggests that these books are only bought because of the discount and are rarely read.

They are very aware of the changing market and are constantly looking for new ways to work with it. The bottom line however is one I share too-that the story is key.

So although the competition is very tough and potential sales are obviously significant to whether a book is taken on for publication or not, there is still hope. Basically, if you have a good story to tell, tell it and tell it well and you never know.

And finally,
The other aspect I took away from the day was this-it is much better to find yourself a good agent than submit directly to publishers. Many agents are indeed former publisher’s or worked for publisher’s and so have a very good understanding of the marketplace and how you and your story or book might fit.

For your information, the publisher’s represented on the day were:

  • Jessica Leeke (Penguin)
  • Kimberley Young (Harper Fiction)
  • Frankie Gray (Transworld)
  • David Maybury (Scholastic)

And the agents were from Janklow and Nesbit. Everyone was extremely generous with their advice and knowledge and all appeared genuinely interested in discovering new author’s. So although the statistics might not appear promising, I still felt encouraged nonetheless.