Self Publish and be Damned – Part One

I would like to tell you why I decided to self publish my novel?

Once the novel was written, and it had been edited and revised, and then edited over and over again until it was as finished as any novel can claim to be, the obvious next step was to try and get it published the conventional way. But ‘step’ isn’t the right word here. For most first-time authors this endeavour isn’t a step but a seemingly endless trek.

To get published one needs an agent. Which, it turns out, is not easy. Agents, we are told, are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts. They take on very few, if any, new authors. How, therefore, do you go about becoming one of those few? How do you make yourself and your novel stand out from the thousands of other hopefuls? Well, there is no shortage of advice out there on how to go about securing an agent. There are courses, and chunks of creative writing courses, dedicated to teaching us the art of the perfect submission. And all the visitor-speaking agents who attend these creative writing courses assure us that all such correctly crafted submissions are given careful consideration. (And oh, how we long to believe them!)

Three things are necessary for the perfect submission: a covering letter; a synopsis; and the first three chapters or so of the novel.

OK – the covering letter

This is the first thing that is looked at, so it needs to grab the attention of whoever it is who deals with these submissions. (This might be a reader, an assistant or an agent.) It should contain details about your novel – genre, word length, a summary of the plot, target audience – and about yourself. Is there anything interesting/unusual about you? Probably not much, to be honest. (Although you should definitely mention here that you’ve done the Faber Academy Novel Writing course. While S.J. Watson and Rachel Joyce are still fresh in the memory it’s as good an attention grabber as any.)

You should also mention your influences (these will probably include authors who you know are represented by this agency; you’ve done your homework) but not in such a big-headed way as to imply that you think you are the next Margaret Atwood, Joanna Trollope – or Virginia Woolf even!

All of this should be captivating – but brief. Anything much more than a page might prove too demanding for your reader.

Next – the synopsis

This, we are told, is the last thing the agent will look at. In other words, s(he)’ll probably never look at it at all. But you have to include one, and it has to be brilliant.

And writing it – I’m sure you’ll all agree – is a nightmare!

How long should it be? Opinions vary here. Some say one or two sides, others several pages.

It should provide a brief, factual outline of your plot. Or conversely, a detailed chapter by chapter breakdown.

Do you or don’t you mention sub-plots? Say how the novel ends? How to know? Help!

And however you write it, it always sounds silly. (But then, try thinking about a synopsis of any great novel and it’ll probably sound even sillier.)

Now – the opening chapters

The issue here is the opening paragraph – the opening sentence, even. This, like everything else, has to grab and hold the attention of the reader, otherwise s(he) will instantly lose interest and put your submission aside. (Who are these people who seem to have the attention span of a gnat, you might ask?)

So, how do you ensure that your first sentences are super, super interesting and original? Do you go for a Four Weddings and a Funeral opening? No, because that sort of thing has probably been done to death by now. As will have any outrageous, self-consciously clever opening that you can think of. Just get stuck into your story. No long boring descriptions. And be careful about mentioning the weather, because there’s a good chance this too will irritate your reader.

After mauling and unmauling your opening paragraph, and proof-reading the rest for the umpteenth time, you’re ready to go.

And finally, because you are doing multiple submissions, you need to go back to your covering letter and adjust it slightly so that it doesn’t sound generic – which, of course it is.

Now the waiting begins.





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