Preparing for submission
Help for writers
It is important to think hard about whether your manuscript is ready for submission before you start on the usually lengthy and often dispiriting business of submitting your work to agents and publishers. Do as many drafts as necessary to make sure that it is in the best possible shape. Work on the structure, plot, characters and dialogue.
Think about who you are writing for and what the market for your book will be. Study what is in the bookshops to make sure that you are writing for an existing market. There’s no point in producing a western, for instance, as the market for them vanished years ago and publishers will therefore not take yours on, however good it is. Read widely to see what published authors are up to and try to analyse what they are doing and why it works.
If you can join a writing group or go on a creative writing course, then you will learn from other writers and receive invaluable criticism of your work. If this is not for you, then there are a large number of books on the market which will help you hone your skills (see our WritersBookstall for a categorised selection).
Keep up with what’s going on in the publishing world. This website has a weekly update of news of interest to writers. Don’t feel that you are somehow not affected, that you in another world set apart from the commercial strictures. If you want your book published then you have to take account of what readers want and understand what is happening in the book trade. Remember, it is a trade not a subsidised service. Just because you have written a manuscript doesn’t in itself entitle you to get it published.
Understand that writing is a craft requiring a range of skills which very few writers are born with. Most published authors have had to work to develop their writing, doing draft after draft and sometimes putting manuscripts on one side because they cannot get them right or no-one wants to publish them.
The highly successful novelist William Boyd recently said: 'My debut novel was actually my fourth novel. I often say to young writers who have written a novel and can't get it published, "well, write another".'
When you’ve done the best you can with your manuscript, try to get it critiqued. Friends and family are not really much help here. Not only do they rarely possess any editorial skills, but they are unlikely to find it easy to be critical about your manuscript when they know you have lavished your time and energies on it. If you can afford it, get a paid critique from a reputable service such as WritersServices.
Writers need that detached professional advice, as they are often much too close to their work to know what’s right and what's wrong with it, and don’t possess the critical skills to sort it out on their own. Many of the authors who come to WritersServices come back repeatedly, usually to the same editor, until they have improved their work in successive drafts using professional guidance to make sure it is ready for submission.
© Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage. 2007
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