Nick Fletcher offers essential tips on how to get your novel into print
• Aim to write about something which interests you and about which you may have experience or specialist knowledge. You can then write enthusiastically and this enthusiasm will be transmitted to the reader. It is a good idea to write the sort of novel you love to read because you will already have inside knowledge of the genre and this will help provide a fast-track start to your writing.
• Don’t try to get it perfect, or even close to perfect, as you go along. This is the big mistake made by most would-be writers. Writing and editing should be separate processes. Write your first draft as quickly as possible – mistakes and all. Get down the basic structure, plot development, key characters and dialogue. Don’t try to find the right phrase or adjective, or even the names of key characters at this stage – these can be filled in later. This way you lay down the essential narrative fast and fresh. Then you can begin the process of filling in, revising, refining and editing. Fast-draft writing gives you a sense of satisfaction that something is being achieved quickly and tangibly, a great inspiration to carry on. Try it – it really works!
• Make sure you grip and involve the reader from the first sentence, certainly from the first paragraph. It doesn’t necessarily have to be dramatic – intriguing or amusing can work just as well. Maintain reader interest by a combination of significant events, sharp dialogue and a variation of pace. Try to end each chapter with a key character facing a dilemma, or a threat.
• When you have completed the manuscript, perhaps after several revisions, don’t think it is ready for submitting to a publisher or agent. It isn’t! Put it aside for a week or two, and then come back to it and give it another hard edit. Aim to trim at least 20 words per page. This sharpening process is vital. If you can afford to pay a professional editor, do it. A good editor can make a massive difference to a manuscript and greatly enhance its chances of acceptance.
• Before submitting your novel, research the market. Use the internet and/or The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook to look for publishers who sell the sort of book you have written. Never send a publisher an unsolicited manuscript. Always submit an enquiry letter or email first. But better still, find an agent. Most major publishers prefer to deal with a middle man or woman – they feel they will filter out the rubbish! A good one has the best contacts at his or her fingertips and years of experience of placing the right book with the right publishing house. An agent will also be skilled at negotiating the best deal for you. Normally, their payment will come from the amount secured for you from the publisher – you should not have to pay anything up front .
• Securing an agent is even harder than finding a publisher. First step is to do an online search and once more thumb through the Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book. Again, never send out an unsolicited manuscript – agents hate having an unexpected three-kilo Jiffy bag thudding onto their doormat. Instead, send a polite enquiry, typically 150 words, either in an email or letter. Keep it factual. Give the title, length and brief outline of your novel and add any previous writing experience you may have had, if any. On a separate page, or in a separate attachment, write a three to four paragraph synopsis of the plot. Some agents like to receive the first three chapters of your novel too. Before getting in touch, check their website to find out whether they prefer to receive proposals by post or email.
• If you do send a letter instead of an email, enclose an SAE, and don’t expect a quick reply. And if you haven’t heard from publisher or agent within two months, either phone or email them again – or don’t bother and try someone else.
• Should you contact several agents at once or is it better to do it sequentially? There are no rules to say you can’t fire off a proposal, synopsis and early chapters to several people at the same time. At one time, etiquette dictated that you approach them one by one but this practice has gradually eroded.
• It’s important to find an agent whom you like and with whom you can develop a rapport. There is someone out there waiting for you. You just have to keep trying until you find the right one – the person who believes in the marketability of your book.
• Finally, don’t get discouraged! It is possible that you or your agent won’t find an interested publisher straight away. Rejection doesn’t necessarily mean the work is not good. Persistence is often the key to success. Always remember that many famous authors had their share of initial rejection slips – including, famously, J.K Rowling. More than a dozen publishers turned down Harry Potter. And Andre Jute had his novel Reverse Negative rejected by 44 publishers. Yet the 45th loved it, published it and it became an international best-seller. •So never give up!