Tips for Authors

So you want to write a book? That’s great. If you feel it, you should write it, but if you also want to get it published, then here are a few hints on how to go about it…

Study the market.

What’s on sale and where is it on sale? Who’s publishing the sort of book you want to write? What sort of length seems to be popular? Which agent is looking for what material? Check out bookshops, supermarkets, libraries, what your friends and relatives are reading. Buy a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook: http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/ ; or The Writer’s Handbook: http://www.thewritershandbook.com/. Both list publishers and agents and are packed with indispensable information.

Know what you’re writing about.

Doesn’t matter whether it’s fiction or fact, have you a really good working knowledge of the subject you’ve chosen? For example, you want to write a police procedural – have you any idea of how the police really investigate a crime, or does all your knowledge come from television shows and other people’s books? If the second is the case, read up on some real-life crime and phone your local station and ask if someone could give you an hour or two of their time in exchange for a contribution to the Police Benevolent Fund. Nothing convinces more than your characters’ believable actions or conversations, no matter how bizarre, for the purpose of the plot, the crime. If you’re writing a chicklit novel, do you know the latest fashions, phrases and celebs? If you don’t, devour those celebrity-watching magazines. Know what you’re writing about – science fiction envisages futures or alternative universes based on physical laws that you, as the author, can either confirm or confound, but you have to have basic knowledge to do so convincingly.

Characters.

If you’re writing fiction: give them a full background on paper – where they were born and when; where they went to school; what they were talented at; why they chose the career they’re in, what their ambitions were and what they are now; how many aunts, uncles and cousins they have; what makes them cry or laugh; who gave them their first boy/girl kiss; what they like to read, drink, eat; who else in their life has been, or is, important to them; and a full physical description – shape of face and hands, colour of hair and eyes, body shape, and so on. Give them a past and a present; think of how they would talk if you met them in the street. You may only use a fraction of this in your book – but you will know your characters and write them with conviction

Timelines:

I have a definite ‘thing’ about timelines. As a copy-editor I spend more time sorting them than anything else in manuscripts. So whatever you’re writing about, draw one up, put your characters’ ages in, the significant dates in their lives, events that were happening in the wider world at the same time – writing the latter in as part of the scenario really helps with convincing the reader that the characters are ‘real’.

Presentation:

Use a plain typeface, in 12pt, and double-space your A4 size manuscript. Make sure each page is numbered, that it is printed on one side only, and that your name, address, telephone number and email address are printed on both the first and last pages. Do not bind the manuscript, simply pace it loose in a folder. And no one likes handling a grubby, yellowing manuscript with other readers’ coffee stains on it, so if your manuscript has had a few readings and is looking somewhat tired, print it out again.

Check the publisher:

Always check that your chosen publisher or agent is willing to read what you’ve written, and whether they want a full manuscript or simply a synopsis and a given number of chapters.

Keep writing:

While you wait to hear your manuscript’s fate, start planning and writing your next book. No publisher wants a one-off author.