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HOW TO GET PUBLISHED

1. Write a really good book.

2. By good, I mean the book you actually want to write, written the way you want to write it. If that means writing War and Peace with talking squirrels, then do it. Just write the thing you are going to believe in the most, because that belief will be the wind in the sails of your words.

3. Expect rejections. Agents and publishers expect to reject you so, in turn, you should expect them to. If publishers published every single book that has been written we would all have to live in the sea because there would be no room because of all the books. We’d have to live on a big ship paid for by Lee Child.

4. Do not get jealous. Okay, this is hard. But do not assume that publishers/agents/readers are stupid. Do not automatically assume that if a book does well it is because they were best mates with the publisher or something. Sometimes, things succeed because they are good and people like them.

5. Look for doors, not walls. Stop blaming the system. Yes, prejudices exist. But if you are a) good enough and b) want it enough and c) stop trying to see walls instead of doors, your chances can be as good as anyone’s.

6.  It is entirely self-defeating – though quite easy – to say ‘Oh, I’m not published because my book is above people’s heads’, ‘I’m not published because I didn’t go to Oxbridge’, ‘I’m not published because I write fantasy/sci-fi/about talking squirrels’, ‘I’m too exotic’, ‘I’m not posh/exotically working class enough’, ‘It’s Amazon’s fault’, ‘I’m too ordinary,’ ‘I don’t write middlebrow reading group tat’, ‘I was born with the wrong genitals’, ‘I’m too northern’, ‘I’m not famous/a columnist’, ‘I’m not published because I’m not an alien lizard and everyone who runs the world is an alien lizard’.

7. Ignore the title of this article. Stop thinking about ‘how’ to get published, and start trying to be objective about ‘why’ your book should be.

8. Be persistent and determined and practical. I got 17 rejection letters for my first novel. I used to put them in to two categories -’contains useful information’ and ‘contains paper that is flammable’.

9. Don’t take it personally. Okay, I admit this one is bullshit. If you have written something you care about, if you have put yourself in it, then having people reject or criticise it is personal.

10. Be realistic about what you are aiming for. Being published is great, but it is no wardrobe to Narnia. Your brain chemistry will not be altered for ever. You will still have to work exactly as hard on your next book too (for every new author, an old one falls off the other end of the conveyor belt). Writers are generally not rich. Except the rich ones. But they are all in therapy. And rejection letters don’t disappear, they just evolve into bad reviews. Oh, and remember, if you want a long-term career, with a predictable income, become a publisher. Actually, even better, invent Grand Theft Auto. And only write because you love it, because you have to do it even when it hurts, because you have a story inside you that you would genuinely want to read if it was written by you.

11. Good luck. You could always do with some of that.

 

16 Comments

  1. That was funny. And realistic. But funny.

  2. Loved it! Points 9 & 10 – so true. And you made me laugh – very useful at the moment as am struggling with current work. I’m a novelist trying to write a memoir – have decided I’m really a novelist and only idiots work outside their comfort-zone.

  3. There is a sweetness to your voice that I love.
    Not your actual voice because I’ve never heard it. I mean your writerly voice. It is a compassionate voice, too. It comes through very strong. I am glad to have found it here and in your books.

  4. I take offense at this post, or at least portions of it. We alien lizards have it hard enough without people like you going around proclaiming that we ‘run the world’. How ridiculous. At best we are in control of only parts of the northern hemisphere. Please choose your examples more carefully in the future. Thank you.

  5. Thanks for an entertaining blog.

  6. War and Peace with talking squirrels – now that I would pay money to read – and the film would be even better!

    Another great post, Matt. Nothing in here is ground-breaking but we writers really need the obvious to be continually reinforced, so thanks for reminding us.

  7. Bless you for this. I have just received my 12th rejection for a novel I totally and utterly love (and was on the verge of emptying the lot of it in the bath and setting fire to it. Yeah, I know… not exactly sensible, but the aftermath of repeated rejection kind of scrambles your circuits for a bit) and this kind of helps put it into perspective. Kind of. Maybe, after I’ve had some cake…

    • Only twelve, Claire?…Out of how many sent?

      Most new writers can expect to send batches of ten submissions out at monthly intervals, and if they’re lucky, half will be acknowledged as being received. Often, it’s several months before you get any rejection letters… from those who’ve actually read your submission (others come too soon for them to have been read).

      It’s a numbers game… Writing the book is hard work, but it’s the easy bit compared to securing a proper deal. Beware of scammers who are after your money.

      Good luck, and don’t get disheartened. It takes time.

  8. Fabulous! Your list is totally awesome and realistic. :)

  9. Sarah Menary says:

    It was such a relief to read your post “How to get published” with non-writer friends often commenting on how I should read Twilight and make my book somehow follow that formula because I “want to get published and make lots of money” don’t I? I have also read in writer’s guides in the past about spending loads of time looking at the competition and seeing where my book will fit. I have read a good sample of young adult literary award winners and that was enjoyable and educational as it showed me how much more teenagers today can read edgy, raw/ dealing with serious issues material but then I just got on with what I wanted to write. I always feel kind of guilty/stupid for following my heart but it is what gives me the joy and the inspiration of writing and I always ask myself the question would I get bored now, is this what I would have read at 13+? It is a hard question to answer as I am not 13+ anymore but there is no certainty in any creative activity – it develops as you do it – and I have to go with that.

  10. I’m not hoping for a large advance, just something the size of an envelope will do. Thanks for this, cheered me up perusing a few of your posts today :)

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  15. Nicely put, Matt… and not a sniff of that so often abused word ‘awesome’ – Thank you for that.

    Sadly, the best seller lists are often dominated by ghost written picture books from ‘celebrities’ who’ve only been celebrated for being in the public eye – for whatever reason (or just for shagging someone else who’s been in the public eye for equally fatuous reasons).

    Just writing a great book, doesn’t guarantee that a publisher will risk wasting their own hard earned cash and time on it. It’s always a risk to them and some commercial dead certs, however crappy, are needed to cover those costs.

    New writers should, by all means, aim high with the status of the agents and publishers they submit to… but don’t dismiss the small independent publishers. They’re usually in it for the love, and although they don’t have the resources to fund exhaustive publicity campaigns, they’ll hold a new author’s hand and guide them through the whole journey, often becoming a good friend in the process.

    If you’re lucky enough to get an offer… any offer that doesn’t ask you to part with your own money… take it with both hands as I did. You may not be selling in the JK Rowling league, or even selling many copies at all at first, but you’ll be a published author. You can hold your head up and proudly call yourself ‘a writer’ without resorting to joining the murky world of ‘vanity publishing’ or getting your pride and joy lost among the thousands of unedited and poorly written self published books and e-books that clutter Amazon and bury so many worthwhile new works.

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