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How not to serial 2


This is the second excerpt from David Armstrong's wry and entertaining How not to Write a Novel: Confessions of a Midlist Author

Introduction 2

When you’ve re-drafted and polished and smoothed your manuscript, left it alone for a cooling-off period, re-read it and worked it over again; when your trusted, reliable, non-spiteful, critically-acute friend had read it, and you have absorbed and – possibly – acted upon her comments; when you have done all this, read through The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or The Writer’s Handbook, identify a suitable publisher (or agent), parcel up your manuscript, and send it out.

It’s exactly what I did. And back it came.

Again and again and again.

The good news – such as it was – was that the rejections were invariably accompanied by encouraging words, and helpful ‘reasons’ why the publishers were turning the book down: ‘The crime market is very depressed at the moment…’ (Not nearly as depressed as I am, I groaned.) (Night’s Black Agents, set on the waterways around Birmingham, is a measured, claustrophobic story of infidelity and jealousy that leads to murder.)

Having trawled through Night's Black Agents (again) I parcelled it up (again) and sent it out (again). And this time, I started (again) with HarperCollins, the very first publisher to have seen it, over a year ago now.

Two weeks later, I got a letter.

The same publisher. The same book. A different publisher's reader, maybe. Yes, I had repeatedly smoothed the prose, and yes, I had tried to heed the criticism that had been offered by readers, agents and editors as they had repeatedly returned my manuscript. But, essentially, Night's Black Agents was the same book that it had been a year ago.

And now, here in my hand, on an autumn morning in 1992, was the letter I had prayed for.

Seven months later, Night's Black Agents was published.

Tips and Summary


1) Be determined, bordering on obsessive.

2) Don't kill or kidnap editors and agents who turn down your book.

3) Best of all, save yourself the heartache: don't be a writer.



The next excerpt from How not to Write a Novel will be in the June Magazine.

About How Not to Write a Novel

The first excerpt
The second excerpt
The third excerpt
The fourth excerpt
The fifth excerpt
The sixth excerpt
The seventh excerpt
The eighth excerpt
The ninth excerpt
The tenth excerpt
The eleventh excerpt
The twelfth excerpt


© David Armstrong 2003

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