“A good book is the best of friends, the same today and forever” wrote 19th century writer Martin Tupper, a sentiment almost universally shared.
But what about the author? Whenever I’ve had a new book published, along with some congratulations, you’d be surprised at some of the comments. “You’re so lucky” from a fellow-writer, meaning that talent had little to do with it. Several readers have told me that they have thought about writing a book “but I just don’t have time” as though that’s the only thing needed, and they are far too busy to waste it, as I have obviously been doing. I had one phone call from a lady who gushed: “I was delighted to read that you have a new book out, as I thought you’d died years ago!”
Such is fame! But what about if you seriously want to write your first book. What are the chances of having it published? Think positively and remember no-one was a famous author before writing that first novel. There is always the fear of “will I be good enough?” because writing a book demands an enormous commitment in time and energy, with no guarantee that it will be successful. You do need an almost demonic compulsiveness to invest perhaps years in such a project. You should choose a theme which reflects a way of life with which readers can identify. If a book doesn’t move you, if its characters don’t arouse your compassion and the emotional progress of the story isn’t fascinating, then the writer has failed.
This applies to every genre, even to children’s books, where a lack of sincerity is immediately spotted. Each book, like each life, is unique – the rites of passage of courtship and marriage; the birth of offspring; the onset of old age; personal tragedies and triumphs; the painful losses we accrue, and the people we meet and learn to love. This doesn’t mean that every book we write is an autobiography, yet in a way it is for every work of creation is a self-portrait. To be a writer, you must autograph it with excellence.
How do you get a book published? In practical terms, you write it – or a large part of it – and then send it out in the market-place. If you can’t do it alone, you try to find a literary agent to represent you, although for unknown writers, this can sometimes be more difficult than finding a publisher. Study successful books of the same genre you are writing, and see who publishes them. Then you might write to the publishing house, asking for permission to send them a synopsis and three sample chapters (never the whole ms. unless they ask for it). Don’t send anything without a query letter first – if it just comes across the transom, it will be consigned to the dreaded slush pile.
If your letter, which should be very creative, triggers their interest, you may get a reply – especially if you send a stamped-addressed return envelope, or the equivalent postage in International Reply Coupons (obtainable at main post offices).
With non-fiction, such as popular “How to….” Titles, send a Book Proposal consisting of a cover letter outlining your idea and your personal expertise in the area, plus clippings of anything you’ve had published on the subject. You should also include a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, with the title of each chapter, plus a brief summary of what it will contain. Make the Book Proposal as attractive as possible, even using some computer graphics.
The bottom line for all publishers is how many copies they anticipate it will sell, for publishing is, after all, a business. There are publishers, the so-called vanity press, who will publish your book for a price and you must decide if you want to follow this route, which may be the only possibility for a first novel if you are unknown. However, there are some publishers who will take a risk if they see great potential and talent, or if they believe the author will enhance their prestige (it helps if you are a famous politician, military general or rock star).
With fiction, whether in the realm of novel or short story, to be effective you need a compelling plot, a hook opening, a successful and satisfying ending, and a middle that keeps the reader hoping, guessing and involved. Don’t overlook short stories as a break from your novel. In American and British magazines they pay very well and are a good way to give yourself short term rewards while you’re working on that full-length novel.
Very few authors become rich from writing books, unless you’re another John Grisham or can invent a Harry Potter, who is a phenomenon. Usually after your initial triumph, your book will only have a short shelf-life – some of mine disappeared a few months after I finished a book tour across America. Remember, there are thousands of new books coming out every year that you will have to compete with.
That said, being a writer is an exciting life. You don’t need capital to begin; you can write at your own speed; you can work from home and, as a male colleague once informed me, “you don’t even need to shave every day!”
The one quality you need to develop as a writer is the ability to accept rejection, because no writer can escape it. Insults are also par for the course. William Faulkner once wrote of Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary”; while Hemingway replied: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” But the greatest put-down I’ve ever heard came from someone called Moses Hadas: “Thank you for sending me a copy of your book; I’ll waste no time reading it!”
Happy writing! Several of my books, including my latest novel “Searching for Sarah” are available at discount from me . Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
I am always happy to hear your comments and to help you with any writing problems.