The Blogosphere is heaving with writers many of whom are aching to be novelists. I was recently asked a couple of questions about making submissions. Although I’m a debut novelist I have plenty of writing experience and a few cautionary tales which may help anyone about to embark on this path.
1. It helps if you can write
I’ve spent most of my working life as a professional writer. That hasn’t always been my job title, of course, which has been Research Officer or Local Government Officer (of various descriptions) but writing has always been essential to the job description. I’ve written research papers, policy notes, briefing papers and press releases and if you want someone to turn your hesitant speech or venomous rows into concise elegant prose, well, it ain’t me, babe, because I don’t do that anymore.
In addition I’ve been placed in national essay and poetry competitions, I’ve been published in magazines and I’ve sold work to newspapers and contributed to an autobiographical anthology.
If you have any doubts about your writing ability send it out into the big wide world and test the water.
2. Stop if…
a) You think writing’s a chore – it’s not, it’s a privilege and pleasure. Certainly it requires a lot of effort but sewing garments in a sweatshop is hard work, not writing.
b) You are not completely and utterly in love with your writing. If you don’t love your work why should the reader?
c) You think you’re going to get rich overnight. For every dazzlingly successful novelist there are dozens who get two books deals then disappear off the radar. ‘Cracking it’ isn’t enough. You’ve got to keep turning out page after page of sparkling fiction if you really want to be a success.
4. Recognise help.
When my daughters were little I sent a script to Harlequin Mills & Boon. It came winging back with a very nice letter explaining why it had been rejected (not sticking to formula), suggesting amendments (beef up the hero) and inviting me to resubmit. Did I take this help? No. I saw it as criticism, spent the whole day chucking my toys around and vowed never to give M&B the dubious pleasure of reading my work ever again. This is what is known a big mistake.
5. Don’t forget the rest of the book.
After mucking around with bits of genre romantic fiction it was suggested to me by Hilary Johnson, who has been described as ‘the doyenne of doctoring’ and who, at that time, ran the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s ‘New Writers’ Scheme’ that I should try my hand at contemporary fiction. I duly sent three chapters and a synopsis off to a well-respected agent who phoned me up the minute my script landed on her desk and asked to see the rest of it. My personal life then went into freefall and I failed to deliver the goods. This is what is known as a very big mistake and it’s one I’ve taken ten years to recover from! My advice to you is to write the whole book first, apart from anything else it’ll be good practise and teach you to hone your craft.
6. Listen to Beeny.
If you’ve ever seen one of those property makeover programmes you’ll know that there’s always a bit where the expert tells the would-be developers what to do. One of my favourite experts is Sarah Beeny, the presenter and property developer. When faced with amateurs who intend to turn their wreck into a 6 bedroom, 1 bathroom family home, she’ll say something like, ‘If I was you I would add an extra bathroom.’ The so-called developers round on Sarah and tell her that the family they’re aiming at are good at crossing their legs and saving water so they don’t need an extra bathroom whilst the rest of us are screaming at the telly, ‘Listen to Beeny!!’
If a professional is good enough to give you their opinion, please act upon it. Please don’t think that she is wrong and that you, your partner, your best friend and your dog know better!
So there we are, a brief guide of the possible pitfalls you may come across on your journey to becoming a novelist. As for me, when I submitted my novel ‘Turning the Tide to publishers Choc Lit – where heroes are like chocolate, irresistible – the Choc Lit team loved it but requested a couple of amendments and this time I’ve listened.
What advice do you wish you'd had, would like to have or would like to pass on?