How did you become published?
8 authors share their stories
I was working at the Guardian, but to be honest I was a terrible journalist! I always wanted to write a novel, but it didn’t feel like something that was attainable to me back then.
It all changed when a colleague announced one day that he was resigning and going to live in Scotland to write a novel. That pushed me to do something myself, because it made me realise, for the first time, that if I wanted my life to change I was going to have to make it happen myself. I will always be grateful to that colleague for inspiring me.
So I emailed the travel editor and suggested that I could go travelling and write a column as I went. I spent a year backpacking, and while I was away I started writing a novel: I had the time, inspiration and confidence to start writing, and it transformed my life.
When I got home, I approached Jonny Geller at Curtis Brown, and (to cut a long story short) he sold it to Headline for me, and it became my first novel, 'Backpack'. That was where it all began for me.
After I finished my MA, I moved to London (at first overstaying at the houses of various friends’ parents) and eventually got a job at a literary agency (not Curtis Brown). When I completed my novel, I showed it to my rather scary boss, who said he’d read it – and then I waited in terror for his verdict.
Ultimately he announced he thought it was “rather good”, and when I told him I didn’t want to be represented at the place I worked, he offered to call another agent on my behalf.
The person he called was the late great Carole Blake. She said if I dropped the manuscript round to her office by the next morning, she’d take it with her on a train journey she was going on that day. I was completely terrified – afraid of rejection and also afraid of being some sort of ridiculous laughing stock at work if the word got out …
But by the end of the following day, Carole called me and offered representation. There WERE some rejections to come – my novel wasn’t instantly snapped up by publishers. And I reckon every author has to learn to deal with rejection – it’s part of being a writer. But ultimately I got a deal with Sceptre, and translation deals in lots of countries across the world.
I just kept trying, and not only did I never give up, but it never even occurred to me that I might! I wrote a novel when I was fifteen that I sent to about twenty publishers. They all rejected it. Then the same exact thing happened when I was eighteen and nineteen - so, three unpublished novels!
Eventually, I got more practice and wrote something better and more mature and did get published. My first crime novel, 'Little Face', which became a word-of-mouth bestseller, sold to thirty-five countries and led to me going on to sell several millions of copies of my books. But it did not get a favourable reception at first.
My then-agent read the first hundred pages and said, 'Sophie, I'd advise you to give up on this. I can't think of a single person who would want to read it.' I left that agent and sent the book to five others on the same day. By ten-thirty the next morning, three of those five had rung me and said, 'Wow, this is great, I want this.' Moral of the story? You just never, ever, ever give up. There's no need to. Giving up is a frivolous affectation and a luxury writers can't afford.
I did persevere and I took the years pre-publication as my internship to learn as much as I could about the industry. I also built up a social media presence which led to me finding my first agent.
After years of trying, getting agents, coming close to publishing deals, never quite making it, my then-co-writer Louise Voss and I decided to self-publish our first two books. They did very well and that helped us get an agent and a deal. We had to prove there was an audience for our work and I will be forever grateful to Amazon and the Kindle platform for allowing us to do that.
Now commercially published, Mark's latest novel is ‘In Her Shadow’, with ‘Here to Stay’ out in September 2019.
Quite early on in the process, I met with an agent who liked the idea of 'The Hive' and agreed to take me on. That was my lucky break. I don't know why she had faith that I would write anything, but she did and that was enormously motivating, of course. She read it in chunks as I went through, advised and encouraged and then took it off and - much to my astonishment - sold it far and wide. For me, the agent is the key partner in the process. Editors come and go: your agent is the thing.
I submitted my finished manuscript to a literary agent who, thankfully, was sufficiently taken with it to call me in for a meeting. This is really the only way to go about being published. To find an agent, it’s a good idea to consult 'The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook' where you will find all the agents listed. They will specify the genres they’re interested in so you don’t waste your time contacting someone who doesn’t work in your field.
Of course, the other way is to self-publish and I believe there is a great deal of information online advising on how to go about that. Plenty of people have had great success going this route.
My first published books were translations of literary fiction – from French to English. Later I wrote a history book – a digest of the facts behind 'Labyrinth', [my wife] Kate’s multi-million selling novel. At the same time, I set-up free-access writing workshops at the Southbank Centre and devised a new practical MA in Creative Writing for the University of Sussex – a higher degree about the craft of writing, not about the literary interpretation of writing.