Here at Death Of 1000 Cuts HQ I often receive emails asking how to bag an agent. I know I’ve said before that this blog isn’t about teaching you how to get published, just to how to write better, but some of you suspected – correctly – that I was holding out on you. The truth is, like all writers, I am petrified of competition and desperate to throw off novices with poor, misleading advice or else a wall of aloof, magesterial silence.
No more. You have stuck with me for a year. It is time to induct you into the mysteries of the inner circle.
As part of my current efficiency drive, I’m creating a generic document which distills all the mighty Clare wisdom on becoming a successful author into a single hit of pure info-crack. In future, I will redirect all writing-related enquiries to this blog post. These truths are timeless, immutable, and sexy as hell. Enjoy.
HOW TO BE AN AWESOME AND SUCCESSFUL WRITER BY TIM CLARE
Q. Tim, I’ve written a great book, but nobody in the publishing industry wants to know! What to do?
A. Have you followed the instructions below? No? Then get busy and stop being a little baby about it.
LAW 1: KILLIAN IS LYING TO YOU
Notice anything ‘unusual’ about books on how to get published? That’s right – they’re books. Published by publishers. Three words for you: Conflict. Of. Interests.
Let me put it this way: if you bought a big cream horn from a bakery, and embossed on the side of the cream horn were instructions on how to make a really great cream horn at home, would you trust those instructions? Of course you wouldn’t. The baker’s put them there in an attempt to trick you into creating such horrible homemade cream horns that you say, ‘Oh God, these are horrible cream horns – from now on I’m going to buy all my cream horns from a professional.’ Bakery is a shadowy, clandestine world, and bakers guard their pastry secrets jealously.
Everything you have ever read about getting published is bullshit. Writers and Artists Yearbook? Writers Handbook? Published by publishers, dude. Bin ’em.
I’m going to tell you everything the publishers don’t want you to know. I’m going to tell you the methods that will GUARANTEE your wonderful, well-written and original manuscript gets published and makes you a grotesquely large chunk o’ change.
Are you ready to get excellent? You are? Then let’s go!
LAW 2: KEEP THE FAITH
Everyone who works in the publishing industry is a failed writer. They feel threatened and upset when they encounter a superb novel like yours, and may reject it in a misguided effort to protect their fragile egos. DO NOT let this deter you. You must be prepared for the inevitable backlash that will occur when an agent or editor reads your work.
A prospective author often fails because, in the face of multiple rejections or insults dressed up as friendly editorial advice, they begin to doubt the unique brilliance of their masterpiece. After receiving ‘suggestions’ for improving your work, you may be tempted to start tinkering with the manuscript. DON’T.
Your writing is SACROSANCT. Ignorant, envious editors will try to lure you from your true path. This is a trick! They want to see if you have the courage of your convictions. NEVER lose faith in what you have written. To edit is to scorn your original inspiration. The universe is infinitely wise – it gave you that cluster of three adverbs, that long, discursive scene in the solarium, that apparent logic gap where the protagonist returns to China with no obvious motive, because those things were right for your book.
Genuine art is beyond the apprehension of the base intellect. If you start tailoring your cloth to an editor’s sardonic whims then you’ll end up with something exactly the same as every other book produced that year – sterile, cold, empty. The idiosyncracies in your manuscript are what makes it yours. They are a gift from the universe – a gift it would be churlish and stupid to refuse.
LAW 3: THE SQUEAKY WHEEL GETS THE GREASE
Okay. So imagine. You’re a weary editorial assistant, shifting through the infamous ‘slush pile’, dreaming of that ‘diamond in the rough’ – the incredible novel that makes all those years of pissed dinner parties and upper-middle class ennui worthwhile.
You open yet another A4 manilla envelope, draw out yet another concise, well-punctuated covering letter, paperclipped to the first three chapters of a novel, all numbered, the pages properly laid out, the text legible, the line-breaks consistent, the author’s name, email address and telephone number clearly printed at the top of each page. The author has also included an A4 SAE with ample postage, so you can return the manuscript should you choose to.
The author has fulfilled all the guidelines you set out on your website and in your entry in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. Of course, you find yourself stifling a yawn, and toss the prim, dull bundle into the wastepaper basket, unread.
But as you reach for the next envelope something catches your eye. What’s that glimmering in the pile? Your hand dives in and retrieves it, other submissions clattering to the floor. You gaze down, rapt, at the wonder that now lies upon your desk.
This is no conventional envelope! This MS has been wrapped in silver glitter paper! All at once your drab office seems magical and alive. Your mind is full of questions: What manner of mad, fantastic genius would package a submission thus? What wonders lie within?
With frantic hands you tear at the wrapping paper, almost afraid to hope… and what meets your eyes? Not the rigid, monochrome tedium of a standard covering letter, but a portrait of the author, drawn in green crayon! You squeal with delight!
Little do you realise that a far more delicious bounty awaits you. Beneath this picture is a fifty page biography of the writer, detailing his long and varied career in civil aviation, his views on international petroleum conspiracies, and the many poetry readings he has attended in and around Plymouth. As if this weren’t enough to whet your appetite, the author has taken the time to outline the strengths of his novel, the target audience, the various promotional strategies he believes the publisher should adopt, and he includes ringing endorsements from friends and family.
Well, naturally by this stage you’re dizzy with anticipation. What professionalism! What wit, chutzpah and originality! You must snap this fellow up before a rival discovers him!
As this thought experiment clearly demonstrates, it’s not some nebulous literary quality like plot, characters or style that will most excite an editor, but the manner in which you submit your book. People working in the publishing industry want to be delighted, surprised and enthralled, and the best way to achieve this reaction is to ensure that, in form and content, your submission is as unconventional as possible.
Agencies and publishing houses use submission guidelines as a means of distinguishing real creatives from unimaginative drones. What are the chances of finding something interesting or original in your work if you can’t express your personality through a simple covering letter? Editors aren’t looking for chumps who blindly follow orders – they want bold creators, and you must demonstrate your brave, unorthodox qualities in every facet of your submission.
If you really want to stand out, don’t rely on the postal service or email to deliver your magnum opus. Would you send the only copy of Ulysses in existence by Royal Mail? Of course you wouldn’t.
Delivering an MS by hand COMMANDS RESPECT. Enter a publishing house with brisk, confident strides, find the Managing Director’s office and slam your manuscript against his or her desk, declaring in a clear, confident voice: ‘I am an author. You have one week in which to make a competitive offer for my novel. I assure you this is not a bluff.’
Of course, bearding the lion in its den is not necessarily the optimal strategy. An editor’s office is her territory – ensconced within a home environment, she may feel confident enough to make a bid significantly below your novel’s market value. The answer is to approach an editor in a setting where he or she cannot reasonably be expecting to field publication enquiries.
You might like to apply to publishing trade fairs, giving false details about your occupation so that you can get into industry-only areas. At these events, editors and agents are caught up in the romance of buying and selling books and will be pleasantly impressed when you present them with both a complete manuscript and an ultimatum.
Social occasions are by far the best time to confront an editor. This is a field where a little research can pay enormous dividends. Discover which restaurants he likes to eat at, which bars he frequents, the parties penned into his calendar, and ensure you are present at ALL of these events. PERSISTENCE IS KEY. Repeatedly approach him, each time restating your offer politely but firmly. His surprise and delight will put him on the back foot, and you will be in a prime position to negotiate a favourable deal.
LAW 4: KIDNAP THEIR CHILDREN
In many ways, this final Law extends logically from Law 3. Many writers will lack the conviction to take this last step – you will hear them lamenting their ill-fortune and the fallen state of the world, never once admitting that it is THEIR FAULT that they are not published, because they have neither the courage nor the gumption to follow the path all the way to the end. Of course, their failures prove that, deep in their hearts, they are not really writers at all.
But you are not a shallow fraud. The Way of the Writer combines both the Way of the Farmer and the Way of the Warrior. You have spent long years now tilling your fertile soil, and now it is time to take up arms and march upon the STRONGHOLD OF SUCCESS. So many idiots said you would amount to nothing. You will prove them all SPECTACULARLY WRONG!
Do not make the common error of merely threatening an editor or agent’s children. This is a self-defeating tactic. It alerts them to your intentions and may result in your arrest before that all important PUBLICATION PARTY.
Publishing industry luminaries imagine themselves as relatively low-profile in the world at large. This makes them vulnerable. After a few weeks of surveillance you ought to have enough information to make a snatch. If your chosen bigwig does not have children, you will need to kidnap whatever serves as a child-substitute in their life, be it a pampered tortoiseshell cat, a vintage BMW, or an age-inappropriate partner.
Once you have successful captured the target, you may begin making demands. Submit your novel to your chosen editor or agent, along with suggestions for the jacket design and a pledge to release their children/child-substitute upon publication of your book. At this point, the negotiation process will begin. They may enlist the help of a trained intermediary – DO NOT be fooled! This person will attempt to exploit your weaknesses and insecurities through LISTENING and EMPATHY. They will confuse the issue by bringing the children’s welfare into play. Be strong! Maintain a COOL, PROFESSIONAL DISTANCE throughout. Remind yourself that no harm will come to the children as long as their father publishes your book – they may even be proud to have played a role, however small, in bringing a modern masterpiece to the public.
REMEMBER – THESE LAWS ARE ETERNAL AND INVIOLABLE.
If you are genuinely committed to becoming a published author, you should have them tattooed on the foreheads of everyone you know, so that during conversations you will be constantly reminded of the destiny you are shirking. Godspeed, great writer. The fruit of recognition hangs fatly ‘pon the bough. You have only to pluck it.
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