Wednesday, 3 June 2009


Of all the questions to ask yourself, this is The One.
Much of what I say in this blog is designed to get you looking ultra-critically at your work to see whether it is good enough to present to a publisher. I have said many times, and will no doubt say many times again, that many unpublished authors spend far too much time worrying about how many pages to include in their submissions and far too little time worrying about the brilliance of the words in the submission.

And so, in the spirit of being a bit busy today because of a certain launch party and the need to go and decide which shoes I'm going to wear, I bring you this very useful post from Jane Friedman.

And while the writing method/aim/vision of Tim Ferris is not necessarily one that will wow all of you - it doesn't appeal to me either, but he's at least done what he set out to do - a professional approach to making sure your book is publishable is the right one.

In other words, if you want your writing to be read, you have to write something that enough people want to read and you have to write it well enough for them to stay with you for thousands and thousands of words instead of going down to the pub or into the garden with a sudoku puzzle and one of Lynn Price's chocolate margharitas that she still hasn't given me. That's the only way to be published. Do it any other way and you're just writing for yourself. Which is fine, if that's what you want. Interestingly, I read that Kate Atkinson wishes she could write without being read. I'm a big admirer of her work, so I'm very glad she hasn't achieved her aim.

Tomorrow, I bring you nothing but a headache (from relief and tiredness, I hasten to add) and perhaps the following day I will bring you shoes.


Jane Friedman said...

Thanks so much for the recommendation of my post. I love how your mission includes lashings of honesty! It's good to find someone who can tell it like it is, but still be helpful.

Clare said...

CONGRATULATIONS on the launch! By the time you read this it will be all over bar the headache - and then it will be all go again just when you've recovered!
Off to track down a copy for my daughter (well, I might not let her know it's out yet and sneak a read myself first!)
Hope it all goes well and look forward to tracking your progress.

Dan Holloway said...

What a great post, Nicola. I would be tempted to go even further than you – even if you DON’T want to be published, your writing will be so much richer if you do it for readers (OMG I can’t believe I was tempted to use words like “authenticity” and “integrity”!).

As a reader, I like very reflective, atmospheric writing that has an almost musical rhythm to it (my recent MUST READS are authors like Murakami, Banana Yoshimoto, Elina Hirvonen, Marie Darieussecq). When I write “for myself” I take that and turn up the magnifier to Hubble telescope proportions. The result is something I love, but no one else can stomach more than a page of.

The problem with that, for me, isn’t that I won’t get a publisher, it’s that – even if I never GERT any readers, I’m letting myself down as a writer, because writing is about that dialogue (even if it’s only notional) between reader and writer. For a writer, a reader is almost as precious as a lover or family – we owe it to them to make every word sparkle.

I guess my conclusion, then, is that I agree and disagree. I agree that we should polish our prose Teflon-smooth, but we should do it for our readers. So I disagree about submissions – what matters there really is meeting the agent/publisher’s spec. I think the danger of writing something for someone other than my reader is what makes me such an advocate of self-publishing.