Getting your novel published – what YOU need to do…

I finished my novel, Perfect Ten, on this day last year. When I say finished I mean my finished version. And it wasn’t called Perfect Ten then. I had no agent, no publisher and no idea how I was going to get my novel from my flashdrive and onto bookshelves. Yet it happened, and, in September 2018, Perfect Ten will be published.

I wanted to share some of my experiences on the journey to this point with you. Publishing is a collaborative business, but there are a few things YOU can do to improve your chances of getting published. So, buckle up, this is going to be an honest insight into what YOU need to do…

  1. Decide what you want to do with your novel
    What will you settle for? Do you want a bestseller, or are you happy to have a book published? Do you want to be paid for your work? Ebook only or the full ebook, hardback, paperback, audio book package? This is very important because it dictates what happens next. Traditional publishing isn’t for everyone. It’s difficult to break through and needs resilience. Self publishing isn’t for everyone. Some people need the structure of a publisher. Think about what you highest expectation is, but have a plan B. And probably a plan C. This article makes the assumption that you are aiming for the full package and the top of the bestseller charts.
  2. Are you resilient?
    You are going to get rejections. If you have got to this point, you’ve probably already had rejections. Rejection does strange things to us. It makes us want to write letters and and emails and eat cheese and chocolate and post on Facebook and Twitter and stop writing. Before you submit, you need to understand that this might not be the right time for this novel. You could have written what you think is the best novel ever, but other people have to love it and know that it is going to make money. A novel is a business investment to agents and publishers (see 4 below). This is not being negative, it is being realistic. Rejection is harsh, but if you can take it and get back up again and carry on, you are ready, grasshopper.
  3. Is your novel ‘finished’?
    Really finished? ‘Finished’ does not mean 90k words rattled out at breakneck speed. For the purposes of submission, it means checked, polished, left to gestate, read aloud, beta read by colleagues and well presented. Competition for agents and publishers is tough, and your work need to be as good as it can be.
  4. Do you have a tagline, pitch and synopsis?
    Your tagline, pitch and synopsis are the business cards for your novel. But I’m an artist, not a business person, I hear you exclaim. Submission of a novel is where your art becomes business, in part. Your aim in submitting your novel is that it will sell, and that is business. You need to be able to talk and write confidently about your work in condensed form.
    Tagline – one or two hard hitting sentences that contain the hook of your novel
    Pitch – a short paragraph that describes the whole of your novel
    Synopsis – one or two A4 pages that describe the story
    If you don’t feel confident speaking about your novel now is the time to identify keywords. What is your novel about? Narrow it down to three keywords. Perfect Ten’s keywords are revenge, retribution and recovery. If you have these words in your mind, it isn’t too difficult to put them in a sentence when you are tongue tied.  These words also make perfect social networking hashtags when you get to the stage of publicising your novel.
  5. Do you have an approach letter that really sells you and your work?
    Your approach letter needs to be business-like and explain any writing credits or previous publications, the pitch and tagline and why you are writing this book.
  6. Have you researched which agents you will submit to?
    There are a lot of literary agents. They are experts in what they do and have all the contacts you need to sell your book. They are also experts in negotiating contracts. Most agents (unless they are new and are building a list) only take a few clients per year. Before you bulk-send your submission to every agent in the Artist’s and Writer’s Year Book, take time to read agent’s web pages. Most of them state what kind of fiction they are looking for quite specifically. Be yourself. Address agents personally. Don’t us colored font or tell them that you are the next JKR. You will need to wait for a response, at least as long as it takes them to read it, but more typically around six weeks. Be patient. You will start to imaging the emailed manuscript is somehow ‘lost’. It won’t be. Agents receive hundreds of submissions per week.
  7. Is your novel finished?
    Back to point 3. This is a good time to point out that, should an agent ask for the full manuscript and consider signing you, they are likely to require changes to your novel. If you are resistant to this, you are not ready to publish. Writing is rewriting. My novel has gone through many, many drafts while I polished and gestated it, and several more with my agent and publisher. It is a collaborative effort and better for it. If you feel precious about your work and would argue that it is perfect already/you are the artists and own your story and will not make changes/etc then think again.
  8. Does an agent love your novel?
    If the answer to this is yes, congratulations! Because this is so difficult to achieve. Your agent needs to really love this novel and  believe in it as a project as it is their job to sell it. Yes, that’s right, it will be submitted again, this time by your agent to publishers and there will be more waiting.
    If the answer is no, go back to point 1 and write another novel (did I mention that rejection is harsh?). Don’t worry, the current novel might be ‘book 2’ in your future book deal. Or not (again, harsh)
  9. Have you researched publishers and what marketing and publicity you would like for your novel?
    Let’s jump forwards now and presume the months/years/decades have passed and your agent has sold this/another novel. Authors have many expectations about how their novel will be marketed and publicised, but in today’s world of social networking it is fair to say that you will need to have an online presence. You will also need to go out to literary event and talk about your book. Depending on the size of the publisher and the budget for your novel, the publisher will promote it. When you are sitting in potential publishers office with your agent discussing marketing and publicity, ask for what you want. Find out what they are offering. Talk to your agent about what you expect. Be realistic. If you have no experience of social networking, or feel that this is ‘not your job’, it’s time for a rethink. If you are a shrinking violet with a deep dark secret, a double page spread complete with photo shoot in Cosmo is probably not for you.
  10. Is your novel finished?
    Yes, this again. By this point your agent and the commissioning editor(s) who bought your book will have given you their insights. You will have made these changes and any further changes triggered by their thoughts. But there is more. The copy edits and proofread will finalise your novel to the copy that the public will see. But finally, your novel will be published.

To sum up: What you need is a finished novel that agents and publishers love. In order to achieve this, you need to write. Write lots, make notes, think, dream, get into the creative flow, make time to write. Be passionate about writing your novel. Then, when you think you have finished, it’s time to start on the journey to publication.