Nothing gives us more hope, as writers, than hearing that others have trodden the same path we have, through rejection, despair and flickers of hope, to finally having a published book (or two!) in our hands. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been running a series of posts about how to get published, firstly with a list of useful links and secondly with a blog covering frequently asked questions.
This week, I’ve asked some authors to share their stories about how they got their first books published, and I hope these stories will inspire you to believe that it is possible to be the one author out of ten thousand who succeeds.
First to introduce the writers. We have:
- Sara Foster, who has recently published her third book, Shallow Breath.
- Kylie Ladd, whose ‘third’ book (the quotation marks will make sense when you read on a bit) Into My Arms is due out in May.
- Julienne van Loon whose third book Harmless has just been published and Amanda Curtin, whose third book Elemental is out next month.
- Annabel Smith, whose second book is called Whisky Charlie Foxtrot.
- First-timers Emma Chapman and Dawn Barker, whose new books are called How to Be a Good Wife, and Fractured, respectively.
- And me. Of course!
How long did it take to get published?
The first question I asked the group was how long it had taken them from the time they began writing their first book, to the time it appeared on shelf. I hope everyone out there has a lot of patience because these things just take a very long time.
It took 10 years for Julienne, 8 years for Annabel and 3 years for Dawn (we need to find out why Dawn was so quick compared to the rest of us and follow her example!), and the rest of us were somewhere in between; for Amanda and me it was 5 years, for Sara and Emma it was 4 years.
Kylie’s response was particularly telling – confessing to a ten year timeframe. But, and this is where the quotation marks above begin to make sense, she wrote two books before writing the one that was first published. So her first book, After the Fall, could almost be considered her third book.
She says, ‘Lots of authors I know have a failed manuscript or two buried under their bed or lurking somewhere on their hard drive. That’s our training.’ I also have a failed half-manuscript that I haven’t looked at for years, and Kylie’s right, it was part of my training.
And within Julienne’s 10 year timeframe was a period of five years in which she didn’t work on the book at all – sometimes space from your writing can be just as important as time spent writing.
Writing, then re-writing, possibly discarding and moving on, letting it sit, then re-writing again for the second, third, fourth, one-hundredth time, submitting, waiting – it all takes time. So the message is – don’t be discouraged if it seems as if it’s taking a long time for anything to happen. It does take a long time and patience is the only thing that will get you through it. And perhaps the odd glass of champagne!
What was the one thing you did that was critical to getting published?
I also asked the group what was the one thing they did that they felt was instrumental in getting their first book published.
There were some common answers. For Julienne, Amanda and Annabel, the key was writing their book as part of a PhD program. For those who aren’t aware, most universities these days allow you to write your novel as part of your doctoral thesis, which can be a great way to get ongoing mentorship to help you through the often scary process of writing a first book. As Julienne commented, writing a book in a university setting allowed her to ‘make a commitment to the writing life.’
Amanda also mentioned having a track record in publishing short stories was of benefit to her in having her work looked at by a publisher.
Having a network and/or contacts was critical for both Sara and Emma. Sara had worked as an editor for the major publishers and so she knew exactly how to pitch and who would be interested in her book. Emma went out and found herself a work experience position at a literary agency in the UK and so she had the contacts, but also, like Sara, an intimate knowledge of the industry – not just who to approach, but HOW to approach them.
Dawn’s and Kylie’s paths to publication were also smoothed by making the right contacts. Dawn’s manuscript was accepted into the Queensland Writers Centre/Hachette Manuscript Development program, which meant she was able to spend a week in Queensland working with editors from Hachette, and a literary agent. Of course, her novel also had to be up to scratch – there was no guarantee of publication – but it meant that when she was ready to submit, she had people willing to read her work.
Kylie attended the Emerging Writers Festival’s literary speed dating event 6 years ago. She was selected as one of the pitchees, which got people interested in her book, and then she secured an agent, which she says was ‘the best thing she ever lucked into’. Sara agreed that getting an agent was ‘a major stepping stone’ to publication.
In a similar way to Dawn, for me it was an indirect route to publication via another program set up to unearth emerging writers. I submitted my manuscript to the TAG Hungerford Award, was shortlisted, and then won, which meant I had a guaranteed publishing contract.
So you can see, no path is exactly the same; there are many ways to get published – the more things you try, the more chance you have of success.
What did you/would you change about your path to publication?
I also wanted to find out if there was anything these authors did differently the second time around, based on what they’d learned. I thought that sharing their learnings might help others in their own quest for publication.
I decided I wanted an agent for my second book (I didn’t have one for the first) and was very lucky when Jenny Darling agreed to represent me. I felt that having an agent was a better way for me to negotiate my way through the ever changing world of publishing.
Kylie seconds the importance of having an agent, believing that agents are ‘as vital to your career as your laptop. Possibly more! (Laptops can be replaced).’ In a similar vein, Dawn said that having an agent to help navigate the business side of publishng is something she is very grateful for and had she not had one, she would definitely have tried to secure one for her second book.
Annabel tried to secure an agent for her second book – it seems that amongst this group of authors, agents are highly regarded – but ended up approaching small, independent publishers, one of whom was very happy to take her book.
Of course the natural urge of a writer with one book out in the market is to write and publish another. Julienne noted she felt this sense of urgency when writing her second book, and that she placed a timeframe on herself to finish the book, which caused her to feel pressure and not enjoy the writing. With her third book, she threw away all self-imposed timeframes and let the book take as long as it needed to be written, saying she’s now learned to take her time and that there is no benefit to rushing.
Amanda’s publisher has been incredibly loyal to her and supportive of her work and has snapped up both her second and third manuscripts, as has Kylie’s publisher, which goes to show that relationships are critical in publishing.
Sara and Dawn were both very lucky to have a two-book contract in place, so their second books have and will be published with the same publisher. Sara also mentioned that she learned a lot from editing the first book and so was able to submit a more polished manuscript to the publisher the second time around, which she thinks is crucial in this environment.
Similarly, Emma intends to go through an intensive editing process with her agent before taking her second book to her publisher – her agent worked with her on her first book for over a year before it was sent to a publisher and will do so again on her next book. So even if it’s not your first book, the idea that the manuscript has to be ready before you submit it, is just as pertinent as ever.
Thanks to all the wonderful authors for sharing their stories. It seems that there are some common approaches that you may wish to try if you are looking to get your book published: perhaps investigate university post-graduate writing courses; if you can get an agent, it’s well worth it; and always work hard to make your book the best it can be before you send it off. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!