Monday, 28 September 2009

How I Got Published: Tell Your Story

I keep reading comments online which insist that you can only get a book deal if you have mysterious connections in the publishing business; and how it's absolutely impossible for new writers to get published at all.

The logic of these arguments is fundamentally flawed, and they're just not true; but how to convince people of that? It must sound so very reasonable if you're an unpublished writer floundering around in the wasteland of the slush-pile, or drowning in a sea of rejections. I can waffle on all I like about the alchemical mix of talent, market awareness, persistence and luck which it takes to get a book written and published well from this side of the publication fence; but unpublished writers don't want alchemy, they want real information, something more concrete and clear. They want a magic key which opens publishing's door for them: they want to see what transforms an unpublished writer into a published one.

Daniel Blythe, a writer who comments here regularly, has had a stroke of brilliance (again: he's good at that). He's suggested that I start to include in my blog writers' own accounts of how they got published.

So, tomorrow the first in what I hope will be a new series: Daniel Blythe will tell us how he first got published. His is a cracking story which shows just how talent, wit and hard work can make you very lucky indeed.

If you've been published and would like to contribute your own story, just email it to me (my address is over there, in the right-hand column) with "HPRW: How I Got Published" in the subject-line. I'm looking forward to reading your contributions, and will use as many of them as I can.


Anonymous said...

My first published book was nonfiction; three chapters and an outline sent to the slush pile. No agent, no nothing. That was 10-15 years ago. I got an agent for my second nonfiction book, sold a few more--then parted ways with that agent.

My first published novel was the third novel that my new agent sent out. The first two didn't sell.

Not worth emailing, but there it is.


Paul Lamb said...

This could be an interesting series.

Nicola Slade said...

A cautionary tale for those who think it's easy to get a novel published! This is how it happened for me:

Short stories published for some years - ongoing:

1979 began historical novel
1989 finished it
1991 wrote a cosy crime novel
1992 wrote another historical
1993 wrote a second ‘cosy’ crime
1994 acquired an agent for the cosy crime novels
1995 wrote an Aga Saga, contemporary women’s fiction
1996 wrote another one
1997 agent dropped me
1999 started another contemporary novel
2000 started a Victorian cosy crime novel
2001-2004 sulked a lot while tweaking novels
2004 most recent contemporary (Scuba Dancing) accepted
2005 Scuba Dancing published by Transita Ltd.
Also 2005 acquired an agent for Victorian cosy crime novel
2006 tweaking, being rejected, promoting Scuba & its LP and audio editions
2007 Victorian cosy (Murder Most Welcome) accepted by Robert Hale Ltd
2008 Murder most Welcome published Started a follow-up to it
Also 2008 rewrote 2nd cosy crime: agent loves it, but no takers yet
2009 Follow-up accepted, Death is the Cure – out 31st December 2009

Jane Smith said...

Nicola, if you want to write it all up and email it to me, I'll add you to the series along with a nice selection of cover-shots (yes, even the purple one).

Charlie Rice said...

JR, it is valuable to learn this. I read a lot on blogs and books on how important it is to keep writing and not just wait around hoping your first book, being the masterpiece it is, to be published. Thanks for sharing.

Jane, I’m looking forward to these posts. Thank you. You’re right; we do want the magic formula that agents and publishers are looking for. I think I’ve discovered the key. Write well, write often and don’t give up. Am I close?

Jane Smith said...

Closer than most, I should think, Charlie.

Go and find Miss Pitch's Pitch Parlour blog, and read her interview with Nicola Morgan. Nicola's an excellent example of how a writer can adapt and find success. She's all over the place now (and will probably be along in a minute, knowing her).

Kate said...

This sounds like a great idea I can't wait to read it.

Kate x Web Admin said...

Hi Jane

This is a great idea for a series of posts - for the published and unpublished alike. It's handy to see the pitfalls, but it's hopeful also to see the success stories.

When I scrape together some time between writing and doting on our five month old son, I'll write up my experiences for you. Like most writers, they're quite mixed, filled with cowboy agents, a delayed Channel 4 writing competition and of course, being published by a "controversial" imprint of a major publisher...

Stroppy Author said...

Maybe I'm having a senior moment, but I can't see your email on the right...

The Voice said...

I had my first book published because I knew a girl whose father professed to be an agent. He read the manuscript for The Perfect Solution and loved it. He came back with two offers, one from Ballantine books and one from (gag me with a spoon) Publish America. Ballantine books wanted me to change the ending and at the time I didn't know who Ballantine books were and the agent advised me not to change the ending so we went to Publish America. I had a brief moment of delusional excitement and kicked the agent to the curb.

The novel The Perfect Solution was published in 2001 with great reviews ( and the second Yes, Sam Takes Care of Me was published soon after. I fought hard after seeing the poor editing qualities and now have my contracts back and have been pushing them and others ever since. Needless to say I have regreted my decision forever.

Jane Smith said...

Stroppy, it's on the front page of my blog and it's "hprw at tesco dot net". I don't like to put it into my posts as I have to change it periodically, and wouldn't like for someone to try to reach me using an out-of-date email address.

And Voice: I'm shuddering now. I'm not clear, though: did you end up self-publishing your novel in the end? After turning down an offer from Ballantine in favour of PublishAmerica? That's awful. I'm horrified that an "agent" (I use the term loosely here) could steer you towards them. What was his name? Is he still at work?

If you didn't self-publish you might want to point out to the people at Wade that this quote from their blog is troublesome: "Fiction and nonfiction novels". Novels are always fiction: so "nonfiction novels" is a contradiction. Sorry to be so picky, it's the editor in me I'm afraid.

Nicola Morgan said...

"all over the place" am I? Do you mean geographically or mentally?? Kuh. I am usually only in one place at a time, even though it's often not in front of my desk. However, as you know, i am happy to show off my gorgeous iphone at any time, so here I am with it.

Anyway, I rather think you've heard enough of me.

Voice - interesting you had there. Gosh, you learnt the hard way, didn't you? I'm v sorry. But, maybe (I hope) you are writing something else now and it will be all the better for the wait?

Lydia Sharp said...

Great idea! Looking forward to reading it.

The Voice said...

This summer I have put the two novels in e-book format. I continue to query them out like little lost lambs and am working on other books.

The agent is no longer working. I can't even explain how upset I was or how I have beaten myself since. But, everything teaches us something. I will take your suggestion on the comment.

Teresa Ashby said...

I am looking forward to this very much, Jane. Great idea.

Daniel Blythe said...

I'd almost forgotten about this!

If people enjoy it and have supplementary questions, I'm happy to answer them.

I'm afraid I don't have a blog, but I am happy to be contacted via my website at - or just comment here tomorrow and I'll do the same!

Melanie's Randomness said...

I'm a new writer and my dream is to one day publish something. I would love to hear how people actually got published. I find this blog very inspiring! =)

K M Kelly said...

What a wonderful idea - _'m really looking forward to reading these!

Nik Morton said...

Good idea, instructive. As for not knowing who Ballantine is, go check out the authors' yearbooks before committing text to mail... The library is a useful (and free!) tool for wannabe writers. As an editor of many years, it surprises me how many wannabes haven't understood the basics which can be found in so many guidebooks freely available in libraries. As for magic formula to get published, there isn't one, otherwise whoever espoused it would be the richest person on the planet. However, there are plenty of do nots to avoid the most obvious pitfalls and rejections. Yes, success stories inspire and every writer needs inspiration, me included!

Anne Lyle said...

I look forward to reading this series - and hopefully contributing in due course :)

Based on my own observations, there is no One True Way to publication. A few writers get there by knowing the right people, most by hard work and persistence - and I know one writer who was "head-hunted" by a major publisher for a media-based novel series, based on the quality of her fan fiction! But what it all comes down to in the end is - writing books that people want to read...

Donna Hosie said...

An excellent idea. I look forward to reading the stories.

R.R.Jones said...

Hi Jane, speaking of unhappy experiences, I was wondering if you had read my email reference giving permission to use your blog's name in a piece I wrote for Struggling
You have given me a lot of good information so I would love to be able to point other struggling, "prepublished" authors, (brilliant)in your direction.
Reg :-)

Anonymous said...

So many write and yet not a lot read or even buy.I am thinking that with Poetry anyway. You have to have something really special to stand out, in the 'word world'
But 'self-publishing' is an anvenue to explore, I am told. To just get yourself 'out there' and read.
I am glad I 'popped' in here. Thanking, you.

Jane Smith said...

Sarah, the problem with self-publishing in order to get yourself "out there and read" is that without a mainstream publisher behind you, it takes a huge amount of effort and time in order to draw attention to your work; chances are that the self-published writer (no matter what genre he works in) will find himself with a published book on his hands, his first rights gone for good (making it difficult-to-impossible to find a mainstream publisher willing to take it on), but not many more readers than he'd have had if he'd have sent a CD with his book on it out to his friends and family.

With poetry, the best route into print is to get published in the well-respected journals and literary magazines. It's how I started, all those decades ago, and it still works.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for that.I will bear such in mind if I ever decided to do!