Monday, April 20, 2009

Advice To Unpublished Writers

I got an email today from a chap who is trying to get noticed by the big publishing houses. A company produced his first book but is doing it by POD -publishing on demand - which means that they only print copies once they are sold. It's very hard to sell in decent quantities with POD. The chap wants to get noticed by the mainstream publishers and wanted to know who he should send his second book to. He complimented me on my first book, which was nice. Anyway, I thought others might be interested in my reply, so here it is -

Yeah, I was lucky with Pay Off. It's a very short book and the plot is full of holes and I doubt that it would be published today. The Fireman was better, but still wouldn't be publishable in today's market, I think. It wasn't until my third book, Hungry Ghost, that I wrote a book which deserved to be published. Writers are very, very lucky if they sell their first book.

The market is much harder now than it was twenty years ago. Part of that is because there are so many more novels being written. When I started writing I had to work by hand or on an old typewriter (manual first, then electric) and if I made a mistake the whole page had to be retyped. These days computers and printers and Spellcheck take all the drudgery out of writing so more people are doing it. As a result, it's much much harder to get noticed. And publishers are much more demanding regarding sales these days. The first print run for Pay Off was 1,000 copies in hardback and about 10,000 copies in paperback. These days publishers really aren't interested in a book unless they think theycan sell 40,000 in paperback. They no longer have the patience to take on a writer and build him gradually, they want to hit the ground running!

Pretty much all UK publishers (and definitely all the US ones) have stopped accepting unsolicited manuscripts. They were simply getting too many and virtually all were unpublishable. Now all submissions have to go through agents, pretty much, so your first port of call is to get an agent.

You'll have to get a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook, or the Writer's Handbook, and write to every agent in it. Without an agent representing you it's going to be very difficult to get anyone to read your work.

I'm assuming that you did send your first book out to agents and publishers, and that they weren't receptive. You have to learn from that and make your subsequent books better. You have to be able to look dispassionately at what you've written and work out how to improve it.

It's not a question of finding a publishing company that appreciates your style of writing , it's about you producing a book that people want to read and, more importantly, that they want to buy.

There are a lot of companies around that will produce a book for you, but just because they will print the book doesn't mean it will get into the shops. And just because the book is in print, doesn't mean people will buy it. You have to produce a book that people want to read. How do you do that? You produce an interesting story with strong characters and you tell it in an interesting way. And that isn't easy. And the skills necessary to produce a publishable book take time to acquire. It's a craft, not a gift, it's something that has to be worked at. I hit my stride with my third book, but many other writers take much longer. The key to improving is to be critical of your own work and to strive to improve it.

Writing a book is like running a marathon. Anyone who finishes a marathon deserves credit for that. It takes time and effort and strength of will. But not everyone who finishes a marathon puts in a great performance. Some just walk it. And not everyone who finishes a marathon has what it takes to be a professional runner.

I know how much effort it takes to produce a novel, even with today's computers and software. Anyone who finishes a novel deserves a pat on the back. It's something to be proud of, it's something that not everybody can do. But just because a novel has been written doesn't mean that other people will necessarily take pleasure in reading it. And, more importantly, just because a novel has been written doesn't necessarily mean that people will buy it! That takes skill, and it takes talent. And it takes practice.

There are times when I find writing difficult, even now, but the thing to remember is that anything worth having has to be worked for. Except the lottery of course....

Good luck with your writing, and best wishes,


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