Caveat scriptor: an aspiring writer and their money are easily parted

Stick to competitions that don’t have an entry fee and are truly respected

Everyone has a book in them. You’ve heard that before, but does everyone have an editor in them?

I wrote my first book in the corners and edges of my life, like everyone else I had other priorities, family, job and any amount of piled up ironing. I thought I was a rockstar when I finally wrote “the end” on my manuscript. Next step was to send it off to some lucky agent and the magic would begin. What kind of a dolt was I? If I’d printed out all the refusals sent to me, I could’ve made a life-size papier mache Gutenberg. Something like email made emerging writers too easy to refuse and already over-worked agents a little terse, with refusals such as “we’ll pass”, or “not for us” deemed acceptable.

Add to this, the seismic down-sizing in the publishing industry, in-house editors, copy writers, literary scouts and publicists found themselves out of a job or freelance if they were lucky. Another catalyst was the advent of self-publishing, which put the secret ingredients on the side of the tin. This meant only the most forward-thinking publishing houses survived. The publishing industry was can-opened-up. No more gatekeepers or barriers to entry; everyone could write a book. And everyone was encouraged to.

A whole new industry has sprung up in place of the old publishing routes. Websites that promise to profile those time-poor agents, everything from the last book they read to their assistant’s phone number is available, at a price. Content pours from the web, on what to write about, to whom, the perfect query letter that will get you in pole position with your preferred agent – all for a fiver a month, or $6.95 if your book is Stateside-bound. Self-styled talent scouts are plentiful with newsletters and product placement on their websites, their advice always the same. Check in with us, pay the subscription fee and join the expanding community of smart writers. If you don’t believe me, type “I’ve written a book” into any search engine and you’ll be flooded with service offerings on what to do next or how to get that elusive three-book deal. Self-published authors are also targeted, but they’re a more logical choice for marketing and PR people and those services have a tang of legitimacy to them.


However, be wary of reading services for a fee – as much as €500 for someone to read your unpublished manuscript and summarise it back to you. It seems absurd that people fall for this, but they do. I did. I was told my manuscript was “nearly there. Would I like to try an editor? To give my manuscript every chance with an agent.” In that moment I wanted to believe. That within reach was the heady, inky aroma of a publishing deal, a shiny ebook or a glorious paperback. The finished article sitting in Hodges Figgis’s front window.

Sadly, at some point, you have to open your eyes and at €1,200 for 80,000 words there wasn’t a hope I could go down the editing route. I know an author who did and paid nearly €3,000 to an editor for a manuscript that never found a home, other than his desk drawer. Another piece of advice given to emerging writers – one of the newest marketing verticals – is to enter competitions and get your work noticed. Write a short story. This is a dangerous piece of advice, firstly because it’s true and secondly because so many competitions have hefty entry fees. Some urge you to subscribe to their magazine or buy their anthologies, alleging it could help your chances of winning their competition. Most of these competitions don’t give feedback, one pricey book fair comes to mind, and on the rare occasions feedback is available; there’s a price tag.

Then there’s the literary agency who developed a whole new stream of revenue from a writing school that costs thousands to attend. Writing festivals can cost hundreds of euros too, with people paying for meetings with agents, panelists and one-to-one analysis of their manuscripts. Big business for the organisers with scant details on the book deals that result.

My advice: stick to competitions that don’t have an entry fee and are truly respected. The Irish Times Hennessy New Writing and the Sunday Business Post/Penguin Ireland short story competitions are free to enter; one is monthly, the other is annual. The standard is high, but never let that stop you.

Take a writing course and learn to become your own editor. The Irish Writers Centre run excellent courses, as do The University of British Colombia has reasonably priced online creative writing courses. I've taken courses with all three and it was money well spent. is another great resource for anyone writing a book. The Murder One and the Mountains to the Sea Writing festivals have many free readings and author interviews. There's no short route to getting a novel published, but please don't pay anyone to read your manuscript. Instead, invest in yourself.
Jane Ryan's debut novel 47 Seconds (€15.99) has just been published by Poolbeg Crimson