Tuesday, 12 April 2011

10 Shortcuts to Getting Published?

My beloved son is contemplating a career in law, which his old mother is frankly encouraging, imagining the rest of her life with free legal advice on tap, along with the champagne that he will undoubtedly supply when he's earning squillions. But I digress. He's thinking of doing an internship as a way of - yes! - getting a leg up (look, this blog is on the cutting edge of political stuff!).

Can writers get a leg up with an internship or are there any other quick solutions to getting published?

1. Get a creative writing MA
I've got one. My personal writing process needed me to take the year out to dedicate myself to writing, and that process ended up with me getting a deal a year later. So it helped my writing. It didn't help me get published.

2. Go to Oxbridge
No one has ever asked me if I went to university, let alone where I went, or what degree I got. I have been asked if I've had lots of affairs (after Adultery for Beginners came out) or taken drugs (after Nice Girls Do) so people do ask some interesting questions, but university? Nope.

3. Be blonde
Look at my photo....

4. Be young
Look at my photo....

5. Work in publishing
I did set up a publishing company, but it doesn't really count as it was only me in a cottage on Salisbury Plain. Having said that, it was a very good experience and I learnt a lot about how books are produced and sold which been useful knowledge, though it made no difference to getting published as a novelist. Recently I advised a student who wanted to become a writer not to do an MA, but get a job in publishing - publisher, marketing, agent, bookseller - to learn about the business and be paid for it at the same time, so I do think this one helps you once you've been published but it won't make any difference to your chances of getting published.

6. Have lots of contacts in publishing
See no 5. I knew no one when I started writing. I went to classes and conferences and met other would-be writers, and joined the Romantic Novelists Association, and gradually met people who worked in publishing - including my agent at a RNA party.

7. Be a celebrity
Well, I was one for about 15 seconds in the mid 1980s, and it did make a difference to the press coverage I got for my first novel as each and every one mentioned the Only Fools And Horses connection. But did it really make any difference? OFAH fans tend not to overlap with the sort of people who buy my books, so I'd say no, except it was an easy peg to hang PR on.

8. Write a good book
Says it all really.

9. Re-write the really good book you've written
Because it's never as good as you think it is. Sad, but true.

And finally....

10. Write a good book
It's not really a short cut, but it's the only way that will get you there in the end.

This post was inspired by one on Nicola Morgan's Help! I Need a Publisher which is not only a good post, but has also attracted some very funny comments and several recommendations on how to get rid of moths.


Jim Murdoch said...

#5 and #6 jump out at me: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. I know no one. I’ve never known anyone and I’m not particularly well equipped for getting to know people; just the word schmooze is off-putting. I’m also not young but even when I was young I wasn’t young. I think I’ve got #8 through #10 licked but that’s because I take so damn long writing my books and I spend even longer editing them. But I don’t have an MA and I’m not sure I’d enjoy getting one at my age, I’ve never even been to uni and what’s so great about being blonde?

If I was to add something to this list then I think it would have to be dogged persistence. I made a half-hearted effort to get my first novel traditionally published about fifteen years ago but I let work and life get the better of me. What spare time I had I devoted to writing and completely neglected doing anything with the writing. In the meantime the publishing world has changed so radically that I’m not sure I could cope with it now. I’ve left it too late.

womagwriter said...

The great thing is that the one shortcut (well, 3 actually by your list!) which really works is the one you have complete control over as a writer. The ones relying on luck of birth, background and contacts don't actually mean anything. That's quite encouraging really.

Sarah Duncan said...

Dogged persistence certainly helps in this game.

And yes, I agree absolutely that 8-10 are encouraging. A few people may get published because of who they know etc but the vast majority get there on the strength of their writing. Hooray for that!