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Arts & Culture Series: Expert Comment

Ten top tips on how to get published

Published alumnus Rod Reynolds and lecturer Claire McGowan give their advice


At a recent City University London open evening, experts gave their top tips on how to get a novel published.

Prospective students for Creative Writing MA programmes at City heard from:

- Claire McGowan, author and Senior Lecturer at City
- Rod Reynolds, author and alumnus from the Creative Writing (Crime Thriller Novels) MA
- Diana Beaumont, literary agent at The Agency Group
- Katherine Armstrong, editor at publishing company Faber & Faber

Applications are still being accepted for City’s range of creative writing Masters courses, for September 2015. Click here for more information.

1) Go to writing festivals and events

Claire McGowan: “There are loads of events like this happening in London in particular, and most of them are free.

“It’s also worth going to things like York Festival of Writing, for example, because the agents and editors that will be there will be the ones who want to take on new people.

“If you get chatting, it will automatically give you an identity – you’re not just a name. So I think that makes a huge difference in knowing who to pick.”

2) Ask an expert

Rod Reynolds: “Whether it’s a course like this, someone in publishing or an agent, whoever it might be, there are always better ways to go about things – the quality of writing, the way you edit yourself or indeed the way you’re put to the market.

“It’s almost like any industry. You wouldn’t go into any other industry expecting you can crack it without knowledge of that industry.

"Wherever you get that knowledge from, experts or an agent, I just suggest that you seek out that kind of advice.”

3) Pitch to an agent with the right covering letter

Diana Beaumont: “We only accept email submissions and we usually read the first three chapters and the synopsis. And because we get sent a lot it has to appeal really quickly, so you need to write a really good selling letter.

"You need to a have paragraph about what the book is, and a strong title.

“Say a little bit about you as an author – if you have been on a course at City, for example, or if you’ve had short stories published.

"But keep it to about a page and keep it pithy.”

4) Have self-belief

Katherine Armstrong: “There’s no magic formula. Some people can take ten years for a book to get published, for others it could be months. It’s about perseverance, hard work and self-belief.

“Just remember that even JK Rowling didn’t get picked up the first time.”

Diana Beaumont: “You have to really want it. It’s not an easy thing to do. It can be a rollercoaster in lots of ways. You have to be passionate and be determined and you’ve got to refine and keep on editing.”

5) Read your work aloud

Rod Reynolds: “I swear by this and almost everyone I have spoken to or listened to has said the same. You feel stupid the first time you do it, even if you are in a room by yourself.

“You will hear everything that sounds clunky and rubbish.”

6) Consider your next book

Claire McGowan: “Getting the best book deal doesn’t necessarily make a career in itself. You still have to think about ‘What’s your third book? What’s your fourth book?’

“When you’re on the course, when you’re writing your first book that’s all you can think about. But you do need to have some sense of where you would like to go.”

Rod Reynolds: “There’s no time too soon to start thinking about what your second book might be.

"And certainly by the time you’ve got an agent submitting your work, you need to have an idea of where you want to go next.”

7) Know what you are writing

Diana Beaumont: “You’ve really got to know what you’re writing and for what audience, which may sound completely obvious but you have to know to a certain extent what the market is and how you pitch it.

“In some ways you need to be uninhibited in the way you write. But have an awareness, read other people, know what’s going on and then bring what you learn to what you’re writing.”

Katherine Armstrong: “Agents have to pitch to editors and we have to pitch to everybody else in the company. What you are looking for is boiling it down to the elevator pitch.”

8) Re-learn your grammar

Rod Reynolds: “Go back and learn your grammar. It’s a cliché, but you are honestly trying to build a house without knowing how to lay bricks if you don’t.

“It’s the first thing that will make your work stand out as amateurish if you have bad grammar.”

Diana Beaumont: “If you even send in a cover letter that is badly written, we wouldn’t even look at it.

"We wouldn’t look at the chapters. One of my colleagues gets about 600 submissions a month, so it has to be good.”

9) Listen to others, even when rejected

Katherine Armstrong: “It is worthwhile listening to what the feedback is. Get away from the ‘no’ and just look at what’s underneath, because most editors will give you ‘I really like this bit but this bit didn’t work for me, and this is why I’m not offering’.”

Diana Beaumont: “It’s about that balance of self-belief and knowing when to listen and when to take advice, while also having a sense about what you want to be as a writer.”

10) Pick the right agent

Claire McGowan: “You need to know which agent to approach, because there are some who don’t take people on and haven’t for years and years because they have enough clients already.”

Diana Beaumont: "It's so important to pick the agent who's right for you - it's all about chemistry and how well you work together."

Katherine Armstrong: "Some of the bigger names who have been 30 or 40 years in the business, they have 50 or 60 writers, but their assistants might be looking to build their lists.

“Someone who is younger, maybe not as experienced but who is hungry, will spend more time focusing on you, as you might be one of their first clients. You want to have somebody who gets what you’re doing.”

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