How to get published: tips from the pros
Find your own voice, write from the heart, and know when to cut your losses. Writers and industry figures give their advice
Declan Hughes: ‘Writing is a confidence trick. You’ve got to keep on the right side of positivity.’ Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Carlo Gébler. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Sinéad Moriarty. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
It’s the one question to which every aspiring author needs an answer: how am I going to get this book published?
Writing is an intensely private act: all that time spent sequestered alone with your manuscript.
Trying to get your work published makes the whole enterprise public. Suddenly your cosseted baby is exposed to scrutiny, criticism or, worse, indifference. Grim tales of rejection letters abound (even JK Rowling had to suffer 12 “thanks but no thanks” responses before the first Harry Potter novel found a publisher). So what exactly is required, apart from a stout heart and a thick skin, if you want to see your book in print?
That’s what two workshops in the Dublin Book Festival, which starts today and runs until Sunday, aim to answer. First, on Saturday morning, there’s the chance to speak to four people who know the Irish publishing industry inside-out: Michael O’Brien of The O’Brien Press; literary agent Faith O’Grady; publishing consultant Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin; and Eoin Purcell from New Island books. Then, in the afternoon, three well-established authors – Carlo Gébler, Sinéad Moriarty and Declan Hughes – will be talking about writing techniques, and helping prospective storytellers get their thoughts on paper.
According to Moriarty, a best-selling novelist, you need to approach the whole enterprise in the right frame of mind: a lesson learned after setting out on her own writing career, “full of vim and vigour”, as she says, but also “foolishly naive”.
“Eventually I made a decision that every wannabe writer makes,” she says. “Am I doing this because I love it? Or am I doing it because I want to get published?” Moriarty says that it must be the former, never the latter, because only then will the writing flow, and connect with potential readers. “It has to be because you love what you’re doing. If not, nobody is going to enjoy reading it. There’s no point trying to imitate other people. You have to go with your own voice, and trust in that.”
Playwright and crime writer Declan Hughes agrees. “What most editors want to read is a writer writing what they want to write, and it’s difficult to fake that. Besides, once you start trying to imitate what’s already been selling – whether it’s vampires, zombies or whatever – unless you’re super-fast, the moment will probably have passed.”
Write from the heart
Carlo Gébler, whose many published works include novels, short stories, plays and memoirs, says that “what works is what’s written from the heart, that authentic, deeply felt expression. Essentially, nobody knows anything: publishers are just as ignorant, confused and baffled as we, the writers. To write to try to please them – this way lies misery.”
Gébler recommends the benefit of a second pair of eyes, preferably a copy-editor (check the Writers & Artists Yearbook), or someone with good copy-editing skills, looking over the completed manuscript before it is submitted for publication.
“Cuts, emendations, additions – that kind of input cannot be underestimated,” he says. “You might think the book is complete, but you must be prepared to rewrite. All texts are provisional: there’s no piece of writing that cannot be improved by the application of the blue pencil.”
Useful feedback – as well as support and solidarity – can be found within creative writing groups, at least once you’ve got over the fear of showing your writing to other people. But Hughes warns that you need to be careful when choosing readers, and to take time before making work public. “There is something to be said for not getting it out there too soon.”