How to get published

Lisa Jewell's top tips for new writers

Pen and paper

 

Everyone thinks they’ve got a book inside them.

I sat next to a mechanical engineer on a plane last month who was the most boring man I’ve ever met. When he found out I was a writer he said, 'Oh yes – I’ve always wanted to write a book. I’ve had so many interesting experiences travelling the world with my job.’ I’m pretty sure his experiences were actually of no interest to anyone, anywhere, but I’m also absolutely certain that he is never, ever going to sit down and start writing it.

This might sound daft, but starting really is the most important thing. Well – one of the two most important things – finishing is the other. If you can start and finish a book then you’re already a million miles ahead of all those people who talk about wanting to write a book.

One of the points I make later in my tips is that writing a book is not easy. It truly isn’t. I thought it would be when I started writing, I thought it would be a doddle and I was very, very wrong. I can’t emphasise enough how important it is to bear this in my mind when you start.

So – if you’re prepared to start and finish a book, even in the knowledge that it’s going to be a total nightmare, read on …

Read a lot

Read stuff that’s similar to what you’d like to write and then read stuff that’s more literary, too. While you’re reading, analyse what it is that you like and don’t like about the book. Work out how the writer moves the story along, gets you into the heads of their characters, describes feelings and places. Don’t let the words wash over you – treat it like studying.

Write about what you know

It’s a cliché, but it’s true. Unless you’re very keen on research and are willing to learn other subjects in great depth, stick to your own experiences and feelings – you’ll sound more convincing and sincere.

Have your own voice

Don’t try to be the next Nick Hornby or the new Martin Amis. Just be yourself, and if people like the sound of your voice and what your voice is saying, then they’ll like your book. Agents and publishers are always looking for something ‘different’, a fresh viewpoint and a new voice, not just re-hashed versions of stuff that’s gone before.

Do a creative writing course

You don’t have to do this – most writers don’t. But I did one (one evening a week – three terms – adult ed. college) and it really helped me. It taught me to get into the habit of writing regularly, it gave me the confidence to have other people read what I’d written and accept constructive criticism (very important – criticism is the only way you’ll learn) and it was a good way of discovering whether or not I could actually write well enough to attempt a novel.

Decide on a genre

Do you want to write a thriller? A romance? A drama? With a book like mine, it was more important to concentrate on characters, as they were what led the book. The storyline came from them. However, with a thriller or a drama or a crime novel, you’ll have to do much more forward-planning – map the whole novel out before you start.

Write the ending first

This is what a lot of writers do. I don’t, personally, but it might work for you.

Do a first draft

Again, this isn’t something I do – but most other writers do. It’s like laying down the skeleton and then going back afterwards to put the meat on it. Start with a synopsis and take it from there.

Don’t be afraid to self-edit

My creative writer teacher called it ‘killing your babies’. You might have a cute sentence that you really like, or a character who you’re particularly fond of, but you have to be objective enough to see when something isn’t working and just scrap it. Every time I write a book, I run two documents concurrently – the manuscript and another doc that I call ‘scrap’ and every time I cut something out of the MS I paste it straight into ‘scrap’. ‘Scrap’ invariably ends up being a bigger document than the MS! Just because you’ve written something, it isn’t set in stone. You need to be flexible, even to the extent of cutting out an entire character if necessary. The MS should be a fluid thing, that evolves and changes all the time. Don’t become too attached to things.

Be disciplined

Even if you can only spare a few hours a week, make sure that you sit at your computer for as long as you’ve said you will. You’ll find that you spend a lot of time staring into space, playing computer games, checking your email and making phone calls. But as long as you’re there at your computer, you’ll write when it comes to you.

Keep a notebook

Carry a book around with you, because, without wishing to sound too poncey, inspiration does tend to strike when you’re least expecting it and by the time you get back to your computer, you’ll have forgotten it.

Don’t give up

Writing a book is not easy. It sometimes looks like it is when you’re reading an ‘easy read’ book like mine. It was actually reading High Fidelity that inspired me to write a novel – Nick Hornby made it look like a piece of piss! I soon realised that it’s incredibly hard. It’s frustrating. You can spend a whole day writing and then just delete it all at the end of the day because you know it’s wrong. I deleted 100 pages of my second novel while I was writing it – three months work – that hurt!

You can get stuck for days on end without a clue how to move to the next section – you know what you want to happen next but have no idea how to get there. It’s a bit like being lost on a journey, really. But the thing to remember is that all this is perfectly normal, and even though it feels like you’ll never finish, actually, YOU WILL, and that’s the key. Finishing is the key. That’s what most people who want to write a novel never do. And just the very act of putting the last full stop on the last sentence puts you leagues ahead of everybody else, even if you’re not the greatest writer in the world.

Give it to trusted friends to read

I did this, and it helped no end. Other writers say they’d rather eat their own leg than let someone see a ‘work in progress’. It’s up to you!

Now - presentation

Agents are totally anal about it and most people just don’t bother getting it right. The wrong presentation, basically, puts an agent in a negative frame of mind before they’ve even started reading. Below is the advice that my agent sent me, after I sent her the first three chapters:

Use double spacing on one side of the paper only.

Left hand margin should be one and a half inches, right hand three-quarters of an inch.

Do not justify the right-handed margin, ie. you must have a ragged edge. (Justified margins cause unnatural spaces between words. This is a cause of eye strain).

Use a typeface that most resembles a type-written font ie. Courier. Font should be at least 12pt, if not 13pt.

Indent paragraphs. Do not leave a space between paragraphs unless it is to show a time break.

Punctuation should be within quotes, thus:

'I love you, John,' she said. NOT

'I love you, John', she said.

Always use a comma before a name in dialogue – thus:

'Has the doctor seen her, Fanny?' NOT

'Has the doctor seen her Fanny?'

Learn the difference between ‘its’ (possessive) and ‘it’s’ (it is).

Number each page consecutively, do not start again at each chapter or part. (It is very important to number pages).

Do not put your name, title, lines, etc. on each page, just the page number and the text.

Start each chapter on a new page.

Do not bind your pages, or use staples. Hold together with paper clips or rubber bands, or in a folder.

Once you’ve got your immaculately presented, completed manuscript, go out and buy a book called the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. This is an industry bible and contains comprehensive listings of every agent in the UK and US. Don’t send your work direct to publishers (unless you know someone there) as they don’t even have the time to read them these days.

There is a bit under each agent which tells you what sort of work they handle – be careful to choose only agents who handle the sort of work you’re sending them, otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time. Send them the first three chapters and a nice friendly covering letter, telling them a bit about yourself and what inspired you to write. Don’t do a hard sell or try and tell the agent that you’re going to be a bestseller or the next John Grisham. This goes down very badly. If your work is good then they are skilled enough to know this within a few pages. If you’re attractive, it wouldn’t do any harm to send a photo as well. (But just one small one – don’t overdo it!)

The most important thing, however, is to enclose return postage. If you don’t then you’ll never see your work again and you won’t get any feedback.

For a more in-depth view of the publishing world and what you should be aware of before attempting to crack it, I’ve just read the best ever book about writing and being published. It’s written by an ex-editor and now agent and it’s essential reading. The downer is that it’s only available in the US and only in hardback, so it’s a bit pricey, but if you can afford it I really would recommend that you get yourself a copy. It’s called The Forest for the Trees – An Editor’s Advice to Writers and it’s published by Riverhead Books (an imprint of Penguin Putnam).

There you go. What are you waiting for? Get writing!

 

“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.

It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.

A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.

Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.

Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!

Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!

DWH

These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.

“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.

It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.

A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.

Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.

Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!

Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!

DWH

These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.

“Is your book still not out?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that question over the last year, I’d be one of those rare authors who gets their name on the Sunday Times Rich List. To be fair, before I began this process, I didn’t know that the route from selling a book (to a publisher) to your book being sold (in the shops) would be such a long and involved journey either. So in the interests of demystifying an otherwise cryptic process, here’s how my book journey panned out.

It was September 2012 when Penguin bought my debut novel, The Dead Wife’s Handbook, from my agent, Luigi Bonomi (yes, really, that long ago!) It was one of those moments that lived up to every imaginable cliché when Luigi phoned to tell me the news: heart racing, double-checking that I’d definitely heard right, not being sure whether to laugh or cry, being desperate to phone all my nearest and dearest straight away to tell them the news. The only cliché I didn’t fulfil was jumping for joy, but that was because I was two weeks away from giving birth and so ‘sliding like a beached whale from the top of the bed’ was about as close as I got.

A week later I met Hana – the woman who was going to be my editor – and we chatted about everything from books to babies to timelines. It was then that Hana told me they’d be publishing my book in early 2014. It did seem like aeons away but when she described everything that would need to happen in the interim – her editorial notes, me writing revisions, proof copies going out to press, cover design, copy edits, marketing and publicity, final copies going to more press and book buyers – suddenly seventeen months didn’t seem quite so long after all. And there was, of course, the fact that I was going to have my hands full for a few months with the imminent arrival of a little person.

Six months later – little person now safely ensconced at home and, of course, entirely dominating my life as is their wont – I spent three frenzied weeks working through Hana’s notes: there were a couple of new scenes to add, some secondary characters to develop and various places I needed to lose some text. It was also an invaluable opportunity to re-read and polish the manuscript with relatively fresh eyes: although I’d wrung the book through over a dozen rewrites before it being submitted to Penguin, it was incredibly useful to have another chance to read it through again after a substantial break.

Over the next couple of months, the book travelled back and forth electronically between the copy editor and me: her job was to look for inconsistencies – both in the text, in character’s behaviour and speech, and in the overall timeline. Then it went off to be proof-read and, much to my mum’s annoyance – who’d read it twice by then and is one of the most eagle-eyed people I know – there was still the odd typo to be corrected!

Over the summer, I met the people who were going to be in charge of the all-important marketing and publicity – Joe and Katie – a meeting which set things in motion for eight months of planning on social media and in the press. And it was also when I got to see the cover for the first time: opening up the email attachment that contains an image of the artwork that’s going to clothe your literary baby was probably one of the most exciting and simultaneously nerve-wracking moments of this whole process. Luckily I loved it immediately which was fortunate because so did everyoneat Penguin!

DWH

These final few months leading up to publication have been a hive of activity: designing and setting up my own website, writing features for magazines, penning posts for book bloggers, organising a blog tour with Katie, while all the time crossing every body part it’s possible to cross that we might secure some good reviews.

Now, nearly a year and a half after I squealed down the phone at various family members to tell them that my novel was being published by Penguin, when people ask me whether my book’s out yet, I can finally – happily – tell them that it is. And now all that’s left for me to do is hope that people think the book at the end of this journey is one they’d like to read.

More about the author

The Third Wife

Lisa Jewell

The unforgettable new novel from Top Ten bestseller Lisa Jewell, author of Ralph's Party, The Making of Us and The House We Grew Up In.


You think you have the perfect life.

You're successful. Attractive. Well liked.

And you've just got married for the third time.

But that’s OK because everyone’s happy. Your children are happy. You're happy.

And so is your new wife...

London, 3am: a tragic accident, and Adrian’s life starts to fall apart.

Because everyone has secrets and secrets have consequences.

Some of which can be devastating.

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