Do you remember the first time?
When I was sitting in that limbo-land of trying to get my book published, I would hear established writers on Twitter and Facebook moaning about having to meet deadlines and go through laborious edits with publishers. The pressure, the pressure! And all I could think was, let it be me! Put me in that position! Is it so easy to forget how damn hard it is to get a book deal? The agony of the wait.
It took a long time for me. And as always it’s about who you know. Let’s face it. I was also plagued by indecision. Do I try to get an agent first? If a publisher doesn’t get back to me in six months, do I call and hassle (I’m not the type)?
Today is the last day I have to make any changes to my manuscript. I’m learning how to let it go. After seven years, the final copyedit seems a frantic flurry. Even though I’m an editor in my other life, I see only a sea of track changes.
For all you aspiring writers out there, I thought I’d get it down. What I’ve learnt from writing my first novel.
Do the novel as part of a postgrad university degree.
I started my novel as a research masters in creative writing at University of Sydney. If you do a research masters degree you don’t have to pay any uni fees (or this used to be the case), and I took extra joy in the fact that John Howard (yes it’s that long ago) was funding my future writing career. It also means you have one-on-one with a supervisor (in this case, the wonderful Sue Woolfe), can get your feedback in private, and have to meet deadlines. This last point was the most important in my case. I had to write four thousand words a month. By the end of the year I had a novella. Bingo.
The most important thing to have is a business card (from a publisher).
If you meet an editor or publisher in person and they offer you a business card, this is your golden ticket. Don’t lose it. It has the most important thing you will need: a direct email or telephone number. The publishing world is like some spy network where everything is secret. Once you have a direct email, things change. Doors open.
If you have a publisher contact, you don’t always need an agent.
I know everyone talks about having an agent, but my personal experience was that it was completely demoralising dealing with agents direct, and almost put me off trying. The publishers and editors were respectful and kind. The agents were aloof, conservative, and often just plain rude (this is when they bothered to reply to my emails). They talked about the market a lot (and I’m sceptical about this kinda talk). I know agents are busy, but so is everyone else. One agent asked me to pay so he could get the manuscript sent to another reader. Come on! In the end, I got a publishing deal, and then sought an agent (note: she was nothing like the above). Not ideal but it worked in a roundabout way.
When the structural and copy edit comes back from the publisher, don’t put your defence shield up.
Okay, I did. It’s not easy to invest your soul into something and see it torn apart in front of you. But if you’ve got a bit of time, sleep on it. Have a cry and scream if you need to, but come back to it in a week. Copy the manuscript into a new file that you call ‘just for practice’. Have a go at what your editor suggests. Does it help characterisation? Clarify things for you? It’s likely the answer will be ‘yes’. But also listen to your gut. Some things might not feel right. You can absolutely refuse to change something. Save these for special moments. It’ll make you feel better.
If a number of people start making the same suggestions, listen hard. It’s time to change tack.
Get a professional author headshot.
As an editor of a magazine about writers, getting author headshots via email can be challenging. Many authors have no idea about resolution for print and send images of themselves taken sitting in front of their computers. Nope. Find a friend or a professional photographer and get some high-quality shots taken. Try and make them visually interesting in some way. Avoid the cliches. Don’t sit in front of your bookshelf or with your chin resting on your hand as if you are the study of a brilliant thinker — unless you always pose that way or you can make it mockingly cool. I’m not happy being photographed so I dreaded this bit. My husband can take a good shot but even with him I was awkward. My tip? Go Zoolander pose. I found as soon as I started being stoopid the shots were better. And you’ve got to straddle that line. You don’t want your author shot to look so young or Photoshopped that no-one recognises you when they meet you in person.
WHAT ABOUT YOU? WHAT ARE YOUR TIPS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS TRYING TO GET PUBLISHED? OR ARE YOU A WRITER LOOKING TO GET PUBLISHED? I’LL HELP IF I CAN…