On March 26 2011 I appeared at the Festival of Writing in York and talked about the importance of being published well. This is the first part of an extended version of my talk: the three remaining parts will appear here over the next few days.
1) As new writers, we often focus only on getting published. But if we want to be published regularly and see our work reach its widest possible readership, it’s not enough to just be published: we have to be published well.
a) What’s the difference between being published, and being published well?
b) How can being published badly affect our writing career? And how can we take control of this process, when it’s so notoriously difficult to find an agent or to land ourselves a publishing deal?
i) To answer these questions we have to understand not only how publishing works, but how to make it work for us.
2) Our first step is to write the very best book that we can.
a) No one can get published without writing anything (unless they’re a celebrity—which most of us aren’t).
b) Editors exist to edit: they can only work with what you give them and they do not write your book for you.
c) We have to do the hard work of writing, revising and rewriting until our work is as good as we can get it. There is no avoiding this step!
3) Writing is a very solitary business and it can be very difficult to judge our own progress working in isolation. We need to find help somewhere: but how, and where?
a) Wherever you look for help, the golden rule is to make sure that the people you take advice from are suitably qualified to provide that advice. They should have a few years’ experience in publishing, or a strong publication history; a good track record in their field; and have a good reputation. And wherever possible they should have all of those things in the same genre you’re interested in: publishing slash fiction shorts is very different to publishing romantic novels, for example.
b) Reputable writing conferences can be a great place to start.
i) They provide a great opportunity to meet other writers and so make writing a less isolating experience.
ii) Good conferences have good speakers: agents and editors from companies you’ve heard of, and writers published by reputable presses.
c) Be careful of the internet. There’s a huge amount of information about writing, publishing and self publishing available online; but a lot of that information is misleading or plain wrong. Following much of the publishing advice online is equivalent to finding a bloke in the pub who claims to own a medical textbook, and asking him to take out your appendix. You wouldn’t risk your health in that way; so why would you risk your writing by following the advice of someone you only just met on the internet?
i) If you join a writers’ message board, make sure that it’s full of people who are better writers and more experienced than you; don’t expect to do well if you’re taking advice from people who have never published anything, or who know less than you do about publishing or writing.
ii) Avoid message boards which have no publishing professionals or well-published writers as members, or which are affiliated with vanity publishing schemes, or which are populated by writers who are published by publishers you’ve never heard of, or by vanity publishers.
d) If you read books about writing and publishing, make sure they’re written by people who know what they’re talking about. Here are a few to start you off.
i) Carole Blake’s superlative From Pitch to Publication will give you the best insight into the publishing world;
ii) Nicola Morgan’s Write to be Published (due out in June 2011) is excellent, and will teach you a lot about writing and being a professional writer.
iii) Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is very popular too.
iv) Readers of my blog have put together an excellent list of books for writers which you can find here (do please add to it if your favourite books aren’t mentioned there).
The next part of this series will appear in a few days; and if you’ve found this useful you might also be interested in the talk I gave at the Edinburgh International Book Fair last summer on the subject of The Writing Business, which you’ll find here.