The road from Wanna-write-a-booksonville to Gotta-two-book-dealtown is a long one. I mean – really long. It’s Reese Witherspoon finding herself in the desert long. It’s Camino de Santiago long. And I am only 20 minutes down the road.
This was the biggest takeaway for me when I attended the Getting Published Conference in Dublin on 28th May 2016. Hosted by the ever-inspiring Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie and The Inkwell Group, the event was a full day affair filled with essential advice for hungry writers from professional agents, publishers, editors, script consultants, and novelists. The 150 attendees were dotted along the entire ‘get published’ road from those pretty much at the starting line (like me – 1 first draft not quite finished yet!) to those approaching the finish line (several books written, self-published with some interested agents already.)
SPOILER ALERT – I’ve been reliably informed that at just beyond the ‘getting published’ finish line is the starting line for the ‘keep getting published’ race proving that, no matter where you are in the process there is always another goal up ahead.
I filled a small notebook with information gathered on the day. When I left the conference that evening, blinking as my eyes adjusted to the Dublin sunlight, I finally understood how Jon Snow felt on being told, for the hundreth time, that he knows nothing. It sank in. I really did know nothing. The industry is vastly more complex than I had ever given it credit for and the level of insight I came away with was invaluable.
It’s difficult to distill the findings of a day long conference into a short blog post but below are some of the key lessons that I took from it.
- Character is everything. Intricate plots are brilliant but without strong distinctive characters they will be flat and uninspiring.
- Good stories fall like a series of dominos. First drafts are about constructing the pieces. Edits are about lining up each domino so that they eventually fall, piece by piece, in a satisfying way.
- Get peer-reviewed feedback. Friends and family will always be kind about your writing. This is not a good thing. You need honest unbiased feedback about your work in order to become a better writer. Peer-to-peer feedback websites like youwriteon.com can help with this.
- Join workshops. Go to festivals. Attend book launches. Find other writers to work with, have coffee with, swap work in progress with. Meet people. It will make you feel less isolated in your writing and you will learn from what your peers are doing.
- The book is important. Without question, your main focus in the day to day should be making the book the best that it can be. BUT – You are not the book. You are a writer. You also need to think beyond the book towards how you define yourself as a writer. You are not an imposter writing a book and playing at being a writer. You ARE a writer. Blog posts, short stories. The first novel. The second novel. Collectively these are the things that make you a writer – not ‘the book’.
- All this being said – write one book at a time.
- Dialogue v dialect. Consider reading out your dialogue aloud to see if it rings true. Sub-standard dialogue is likely to make itself known doing this. Writing dialect – that is writing with a particular accent in mind – is a matter of preference but be aware that some people can find it off putting. The key question to ask is – is this dialogue/dialect adding to the book or getting in the way of the story?
- A successful novel is about the effective realisation of an idea – not the idea itself.
- The first rule of submission club is follow the submission criteria.
- The second rule of submission club is FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION CRITERIA.
- The ‘final’ draft that you send to agents/publishers is only the first draft. There will be many many edits between getting an agent and seeing your book on the shelves.
- If at first you don’t succeed, submit submit again.
- Take any advice or editorial direction seriously. This is very different to ‘novel writing by committee’. You don’t have to take on board every bit of feedback you are given but when questions are raised it can mean the point you are trying to get across is not being effectively made.
- You will be rejected. Get used to this.
- You may get lots of “Rave Rejections” – positive feedback that doesn’t result in a deal. Get used to this also.
- Be aware of your genre.
On Agents and Editors and Publishers (Oh My):
- The road from getting an agent to seeing your book on the shelves is much much longer than you think.
- The agent is your harshest critic and your greatest champion.
- The Slush Pile, ahem sorry, the er… Talent Pool is worked through and taken seriously. Landing an agent is not all about who you know. It’s about the quality of the work.
- Agents, editors and publishers champion books much in the same way the public do. Think about what makes you take a book home from the shop or library. Think about what makes you rave about a great book to your friends – it’s the same process.
- The best book deal might not be the one that brings in the most money right away.
- Nearly all writers have other jobs beyond the book. Editors, agents and publishers know this and will work with authors to find a schedule that works for everybody.
- Editors exist to help you maximise your potential as a writer, not to drive you mad with revisions.