Getting work published is, quite frankly, a bloody nightmare. It’s rather akin to those moments where you’re quite convinced that your child is just the most adorable thing on the planet; so you cram Facebook full of pictures of it only to discover that very few people actually care. Your manuscript is your endearing child and the publishers are the too-honest-for-their-own-good friends who’ll tell you that you’re boring them with your endless ‘child covered in finger paint’ images.
It doesn’t take a genius to acknowledge that I’ve not really sold the publishing element yet, right? Here’s the thing – to get work published you need the stamina of a young Hugh Hefner, the Oscar-fuelled determination of Leonardo DiCaprio and a mind-set that rejection is going to be your best friend for many months. It ain’t easy, simple or gentle but, when it all works out, it’s one hell of a feeling.
Publishers see thousands and thousands of manuscripts and so it doesn’t surprise anyone to learn that your submission really needs to sell the work immediately. Of course, the ‘sell’ is the most difficult part too – your bright red Ferarri F12 may do it for you, but if the publisher wants a simple pushbike for their five-minute commute across the city, you have a conflict of interest. My point is that your manuscript may well be brilliant, but it’s not practical for everyone. Rejection is expected – I got so many rejections for PENGUINPIG that I started to really go off the weird little animal myself! Persistence is key – rejection is no measure of how good or bad your work is. Theoretically.
There are so many routes with successfully becoming published and everyone’s story is different (I’m deliberately keeping that awful pun in). Some writers prefer to self-publish first to get their work out there with real-life feedback and not just comments from friends too afraid to offend. With the huge market of e-books, self-publishing is a cheap and easy solution but also an opportunity to release utter crap and blur your name. If the manuscript isn’t tight, proof-read and well formatted, the journey will end at the self-publishing stage. It’s also worth considering, though, that quite a handful of self-publishers have found arguably more success than if they’d have been taken on by a publisher.
Other writers are persistent with publishers and keep firing writing at them left, right and centre. Unfortunately, the idea that a large coverage is surely bound to attract someone’s interest isn’t entirely true and literary agents and publishers do talk to each other. There’s persistence and there’s being a pain in the arse. Finding the balance is key. Once you hit 20 rejections you need to be considering what’s souring the cream.
With this in mind, what’s the best approach? The most important thing is having an incredibly well presented manuscript that reads accurately and fluently. Sure enough, an editor will probably attack your work like a bull in a china shop at a later stage, but for now it needs to be seemingly print-ready. I tend to put the final manuscript away for a lengthy period of time and then dig it out, read it and see if I still love it. This usually leads to a few re-drafts until I finally pull it out the drawer and acknowledge it as ‘good to go’.
If it requires illustrations or photographs, get some in there too. A final package is much better than a blueprint and will definitely be taken more seriously. Finally, a cover-letter is your opportunity not to unleash an X-Factor worthy sob story, but rather to show your passion for the manuscript and explain why it will appeal to millions of readers – avoid that temptation to simply write ‘because it’s dead good’.
Publishing is a tough old world, but nevertheless a rewarding and enjoyable one once you become familiar with the terrain. Good luck!
Stuart Spendlow is the author of number one best-seller PENGUINPIG and The Art of Being A Brilliant Primary Teacher. He is currently signed under Mathom House Publishing and Crown House Publishing and works as a teacher and Specialist Leader of Education across Lincolnshire. He prides himself on brutal honesty and a realistic attitude, and presents this post on becoming a published author.