Very many of you write to me asking for tips on how to become a writer so I thought I’d post a few tips here that I hope are useful.
My first big tip for writing a novel is ‘get writing’. So many people say to me that they want to write a novel but in fact never write anything longer than a shopping list! Harsh but true. Try to write something every day, even if it’s just for ten minutes and even if you’re not in the mood. If you’re stuck for something to write about set yourself tasks, such as describing what you can see if you look out of the window, or your earliest memory or how a new dish tastes. It doesn’t matter what you write, or even if you ever use the exercises in your big novel, it simply develops discipline.
Have fun. It shows. If you don't enjoy what you're writing, no reader will enjoy reading it.
Read a lot because that’s essential for all good writers. Averagely, I read a book a week.
Don’t become a hermit. Everything you see and do informs your writing. The more you have experienced, seen, read, learnt, the more ideas you'll have. No-one learns much by sitting at a desk waiting for 'the Muse' to knock on the door. Get out there and enjoy life!
You’ll need a big fat book called THE WRITERS AND ARTISTS YEARBOOK. It's published annually and lists every UK and Irish publisher and agent, plus it offers some guidance as to which genre the agent is interested in. This book also gives tips on how to present your work to attract agents (or at least how to avoid offending them!).
Generally, agents expect to see three chapters of your work, a CV and a synopsis and I think it’s sensible to send to one agent at a time (this is important in case you get accepted by two at the same time, then you'd be in hot water). The YEARBOOK tells you all of this and more. Use it as your first reference and then go on line to check out agent’s websites. It’s sometimes even worth making a call to a potential agency and asking who you should approach (never send an open ‘To whom it may concern’ type of note).
Another good place for finding agents is to look at the acknowledgements in the published novels of your genre. Often, authors thank their agents and this will give you some idea as to who you should approach.
Try showing someone your work but don’t take offence at any comments they make. Remember you asked them, they’re doing you a favour reading it and it’s a difficult job. Be humble. Accept both praise and criticism with an equally open mind and act upon them where necessary. If you don't want to burden a friend or relative join a writers group to share your work.
Don't waste time trying to imitate someone else's style just because you think it's in vogue, no matter how successful they’ve been. Chances are that by the time you finish the book, the wave will have passed anyway. Remember, books hit the shelves about a year after they are written. Find your own style and voice.
Finally, develop a thick skin. Chances are you will get some knock backs along the way but don’t ever give up hope. If you have a talent and you are persistent it will pay off eventually, I promise. Some of the reasons for rejections are because an agent’s books are full, or your work is too similar to another author or not like the other authors that particular agent represents! A rejection doesn't necessarily mean that your work isn’t any good. Be realistic. Remember that there are thousands of new titles published every year. For every one of these that is published agents and publishers, read and reject over 100 manuscripts (sometimes as many as 500). These are the odds. Don't give up - but don't expect instant success either.
Nothing is impossible, and not much is near-impossible, so go for it!