7 Writing Myths by Sarah Naughton
For those of you trying desperately to get published, a dispatch from the other side of that seemingly insurmountable* barrier.
- It’s plain sailing once you’re published.
- Ha. I say again, louder:
The very best moment in my writing career was receiving the call from my agent to tell me I’d just been signed up by a major publisher for an advance that meant I’d never have to work again (small ha). That’s where the film would end. Sadly, once everyone’s left the theatre, your career keeps spooling. Here are just a few of the things that will keep you awake at night post-miracle:
- your sales (or lack of)
- your publicity (or lack of)
- your reviews (lack of/hideous hatchet jobs which are definitely part of a conspiracy to ruin you involving that girl who hated you at school).
And in my case, the nightmare of my editor moving to another publishing house.
- Being published initiates you into a rarified Bloomsbury Group sort of world where you and your intellectual soul mates brainstorm shattering new ideas that will influence the development literature for the next century.
Writers bitch about money/publicity and when drunk, their editors/spouses.
- Write a good book and it will become a bestseller.
You know this is b******t, right? I’m not sure anyone would bemoan the travesty of 50 Shades’ lack of inclusion in awards shortlists, though I don’t imagine E.L. James minds very much. Some authors are easy to sell. Footballers, models, comedians, pop singers, royalty: if they write a book, however crappy, people will buy it. Conversely, ugly middle-aged teachers without a former drug habit don’t provide much of a hook for publishers to put their money behind.
Oh and don’t believe cover quotes by other authors: we just get our mates to do it.
- Write a good book and you’ll at least get an agent.
Sorry, nope. A friend of mine has written a heartbreaking work of staggering genius (copyright Dave Eggers) but has failed to get it picked up by any agent. Often this is because agents already have someone doing the same sort of stuff, or don’t think they can place it in the market (publishers are pretty conservative).
The trick is, if your little darling fails to get you a contract, just kick it into the gutter and move on. You’ve done it once, you can do it again.
- If you can’t get an agent, self-publish.
Bit of a catch 22 situation here. You may have a work of staggering genius, but the truth is most people who haven’t managed to get an agent just need to go back and write a better book (this is tattooed on the inside of my eyelids, by the way). Don’t self publish, please. Your book will just slide down the rubbish shoot and bob around in oblivion with all the other garbage UNLESS YOU ARE EXTREMELY LUCKY. If, however, you’re the sort of person who wins the lone bottle of Veuve Clicquot at the school fete tombola then by all means, go ahead and self publish.
- When you do get your book deal you and the editor will work together until your book is the very best it can be.
Lord of the Flies was extensively redrafted after an editor spotted the genius nub of Golding’s idea. Sadly, this doesn’t happen any more. Overworked and underpaid commissioning editors haven’t got time to dick around with your book so it has to be pretty much perfect when it drops onto their doorstep, ditto agents. That’s why there are so many editing companies who’ll gladly relive you of hundreds of pounds on the understanding it’ll give your manuscript a better shot. Personally I had a very good experience with an excellent editor, but beware. Ask for recommendations from agents – some of them work very closely with editors, who will put forward authors that impress them. This, according to my agent, is where most agents get their authors now: it’s rare for them to pick up an author from the submissions process alone.
- Tips like this are useful.
Nah. In fact, I don’t know why you got this far. Turn off the internet right now and just get on with your writing, and then when you finish, pick up a good book and let the quality of the writing seep into your brain so that next time you write a little bit of that quality is imbued in your work.
Don’t waste your time on writer’s blogs. Seriously, go away. Like now.
Are you still here? Sheesh.
*It isn’t. Keep trying.
Sarah Naughton is the author of two books for young adults: Costa shortlisted The Hanged Man Rises, about possession and child murder in Victorian London: and The Blood List, featuring witches and changelings and a very nasty little brother. She lives in London with her husband and two sons. You can find out what she’s up to on her blog, or follow her on Twitter and Goodreads.