I was recently approached by an aspiring author who asked my advice – I thought I’d share with you my response in case it is of help to anyone else:
I am currently writing my first novel (in between juggling work and being a mother to my 2 year old son which has made the process slower than I'd like!) and would appreciate your thoughts on the following if possible:
Q: Would you recommend going through a literary agent or going directly to a publisher? And what do you think is the best way to connect with them?
It really depends on what kind of book you are writing and how you wish to be published. If you are writing the kind of book that is likely to appeal to a traditional mainstream publisher, then I’d definitely try to get an agent as they can submit your manuscript to the most likely editors, negotiate the contract for you, make sure you are paid, and then help you manage and strategise your career. My agent and I work very closely together and I couldn’t manage without her.
There are lots of literary agencies who all specialise in different things. Start researching them and begin a spreadsheet with information on them i.e. agents’ name, contact details, what kind of books they represent. You can find out a lot on the internet, but also look in the author’s acknowledgements at the back of books you love and see who they thank. Your spreadsheet will help you make a list of 12-15 agents who you would most like to work with – and also agents who you know can’t help you so you won’t waste your time and theirs by approaching them.
Q:Some websites I've read have said you only need to send a brief synopsis and first chapter but others have said it's good to provide a complete manuscript. What have you found to be the case?
Each agent and publisher will have submission guidelines on their websites – for each individual submission check their guidelines and follow them exactly. For a debut author, you’ll want to have your novel in the best possible shape before submitting – so work on the premise that they’ll want to see a complete manuscript and get it as perfect as you can.
Q:I wondered if you had any advice about the writing process in general. Do you typically conduct all your research and plot the novel in detail before starting to write it, or is your research/writing process slightly more fluid?
I do most of my research and plotting before I begin, but once I start writing I find the story grows organically and fluidly and my plan may change. I have just developed an online self-paced planning course that will be going live in a month or so – I teach the whole process of plotting and structuring a novel in great detail. I think you’d find it really helpful so keep an eye out on my social media and sign up for it – you can do it in your own time and at your own pace, and receive handouts you can keep for future reference.
Finding your own creative process is a big part of your journey as a writer, and every writer is different, so at this stage trust your story and your process, and do whatever you can to keep pushing the narrative forward. I know it’s hard with a little one! But I wrote all through my kids’ childhoods so I know it can be done.
Q:I'm sure a big factor of your success has been the ability to dedicate time to the writing process too and I wondered how you find juggling everyday life with your writing and blocking out distractions, etc?
Thank you! That’s so kind of you.
I have always been a fierce defender of my writing time. Only my first book was written without kiddies – and at that time I was making my living as a freelance journalist and so very short on time and creative energies.
What worked for me was having a set writing routine. When my children were very small, like yours, I wrote when they slept (which was never often enough). That meant an hour or two a day while they napped, and evenings and early mornings. I found that if I got up an hour earlier than they did, and went straight to my computer in my pyjamas and dressing gown, I was able to get quite a few words down before they woke up and the havoc of the day began. That eased my frustration at not being able to write – and then when they napped, I could read over what I’d written, fix it up, push it along a little – and so it was always growing and I stayed connected to it, thinking about it, and wanting to get back to it.
I’d also have at least one night a week where I’d write in the evenings too – usually Monday night as it meant that I could get the week off to a good start.
Then I had an arrangement with my husband that Saturday was his free time (he went to the football usually) and Sunday was mine. He’d take the kids out to the beach, or the museum, or the park, and I’d write. Often I’d write in my pyjamas because having a shower would bite into my writing time too much! That meant I’d get 3-4 hours straight writing time, and it made all the difference. I also got very used to writing in the cracks of the days.
I never used my child-free time for anything else but writing. It’s much easier to do housework or grocery shopping and so on without kids, but I never did it else I’d not get to write.
The other thing I do is be really strict about what else I do with my time – i.e. watching TV, mucking about on social media, flicking through magazines or whatever. Focus and discipline, focus and discipline, focus and discipline …. This was my mantra for years.
It sounds very stern and resolute and difficult to do, but it’s really not that hard once you get used to it. If you can find an hour a day to write most days, or 4-5 hours to write one day a week, you’ll be surprised how much you can get done.
If you need a dose of creative inspiration and joy, check out my Dare to Dream online course HERE:
And when you are ready to submit your manuscript, check out Query Shark. They’re funny, clever, and give great advice on how to go about it.