And by the way, while I'm here, thank you for the fantastic emails and other feedback I've had about this site. Seems as though publishers and agents are going to use it as required reading. One of them said, "Where have you been for the last ten years?" Well, here mostly. Just waiting to be appreciated.
Without further ado. (Oh, and I am assuming that you've already discovered the basics, as I've several times said you must. Like typing it on single-sided A4, black ink on white paper, normal sort of font, nothing to scare the birds, no confetti / glitter/ free condoms in amongst the pages etc etc)
- Write the right damned book. I've said that before. If you haven't written the right book, it really doesn't matter how you approach a publisher. You can paint him or her in chocolate and it won't make a blind bit of difference. Though I've never seen the attraction in that. With all respect to my publishers.
- Follow the instructions in the Writers' and Artists' yearbook etc etc etc and on virtually every publisher /agent website.
- People agonise over how much material to send. One really annoying person once made the point to me that "it" said he had to send three chapters but his chapters were each 30,000 words long - did this matter? Of course it matters - it's a rubbish book if the chapters are 30,000 words long. (Unless it's Anna Karenina in which case it's a classic with way too much farming detail). Look, just be reasonable: the agent/publisher needs to see a sensible but not boring amount. An amount which will show him how brilliant you are. So, something like 5-10000 words. Or a bit more or a bit less. Trust me - it doesn't hugely matter because they'll stop when they're ready. (Addendum: another common measurement is 30 pages - double-spaced, decently-sized font etc).
- Make your covering letter perfect. I don't mean glittery and, like, totally amAZing: I mean perfect. It should not be too long or too short or too boastful. It should not tell the story of your life or exaggerate or be coy or irritating or weird or gimicky. It should briefly (and if you can't do this briefly you are lost) advertise the incredibly interesting thing that is your book. It should say neither too much nor too little. It should show your potential agent or editor that you know your stuff, know the market, know the business, love writing, plan to continue to write after this book, are willing to learn. And it should convince him/her, in thought, word and deed, that you have written a gem. (I did say SHOW: you should not say this - it should speak for itself. "Show not tell" is something we may come to, though it may be in the section on "clichés that your creative writing guru may well come up with and which need to be analysed properly and taken in context" - and that's a long section, I can tell you.)
- Your synopsis should be no more than two sides of A4. And this does not mean squashing it into 4pt marginless text so that your reader can't read it without a magnifying glass. The synopsis should prove that you have finished the book and that it works. A synopsis is a really hard thing to do well. I could write a whole blog about synopses but I won't because I'd prefer a life. But be seriously warned about synopses: not that you perhaps care about this right now, but in your potential publishing company there dwells a person (probably female and probably about 12 years old) who will read your synopsis later and who will use it for the blurb for Amazon when your book is published. The synopsis, as every writer knows, bears no relation to the book you will eventually produce and the Amazon blurb, as I very well know, is there for ever and ever and ever and is copied by every website in the universe. So, one happy day you will get letters from people complaining that your book didn't actually feature a girl who was obsessed by turquoise boots (I'm getting suspiciously autobiographical here - never do this in novel-writing but do do it in blogging) and you will not know what they are talking about because you will have forgotten the synopsis you wrote before you were published. I tell you this not to teach you anything about writing synopses but to warn you about life as a published author, which I am determined you will know about, even though it is very weird.
- So you have done your brief and succinct covering letter and your amazingly inaccurate but fascinating and deliciously tempting synopsis; and you have printed off your first however many words of your oeuvre. You might, if the publisher/agent's website suggests it, and definitely if you are a non-fiction writer, include a brief and tidy CV, which includes (in the case of non-fiction) your credentials for writing about microfluidics. What next? You get a nice clean envelope, so as to look really professional, and you put the stuff in. You address it neatly - no, your hand-writing doesn't matter but you are trying to do everything right. Now, the thorny issue of return postage. Depends whether you want it back once it's been spat on. Frankly, I wouldn't. Frankly, I'd politely and sensitively suggest that they recycle it. But if you DO want it back, you must include a properly stamped addressed envelope. With enough stamps.
- Then you wait. And you wait. Oh I forgot, no you don't - you send it to some other publishers at the same time (saying to all of them that that's what you are doing). If submitting to agents, it's slightly different - for a large agency you can do multiple submissions, but for a small independent you can't. Well, you can, but they won't like you and if they don't like you they won't read your work. Which kind of defeats the object.
- And you wait.
- But meanwhile, you .... WRITE. Because you are, remember a writer, not a person who waits for the post every day.
- Oh, and by the way, you have not emailed your oeuvre, unless the agent or publisher has specifically said that's ok. Currently, it's not usually the preferred option but this may change. Things do.
- I will be back, trust me. Once I've checked that the Amazon blurb for my next novel is going to bear no relation to the synopsis I suspect I may have produced when trying to persuade my publisher that I knew what the hell was going to happen. Do as I say, not as I do.