Love reading? Many of us would love to write a book and get it published. Writers’ community The Riff Raff share how to write your first book, and seal the deal with a publisher….
Writing a book, getting it published. It’s up there with swimming with dolphins and climbing a mountain (both are terrifying, by the way, dolphins are just friendly sharks). The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is not luck.
Ok, some of it’s luck. But it’s mostly time, hard work and perseverance. The secret is that there is no one-size-fits-all way of writing and publishing your first book, so go for it and don’t look back.
As co-founders of writers’ community The Riff Raff, author Amy Baker and I spend our days talking to authors about everything from what, when and why they write to how they got their publishing deal. We have learnt so much – here is just some of it.
Write something. Anything. Now.
Done it? Congratulations! You have just started your first book. These words might not make it into your final draft but it doesn’t matter; nor does it matter if you are re-reading them and trying not to vomit in your mouth. It doesn’t have to be good; it has to be on the page.
Don’t wait for one killer idea, or to have your whole plot formed, or to know how your main character takes his coffee. Start before you are ready. The rest will come.
Being a writer is like being a shark: stop and you die. OK, it’s a bit like that.
If your first effort really is atrocious then fine, put it aside (in a drawer – do not throw it away. You never know when those 3,000 words about a talking laundry basket might come in handy) but don’t stop writing. Write every day, whether it’s a thought you had in the shower or an entire chapter.
Inspiration comes from everywhere, and anywhere. Everyone finds inspiration in different places but you can’t beat: reading, chatting, procrastinating online, running and eavesdropping on other people’s…I mean, overhearing other people’s conversations.
Look, listen and be open: inspiration will find you.
Seek out support
Writing is a lonely business. We founded The Riff Raff for this very reason – we know that writing, by yourself, for days on end, can make you go a bit shouty-crackers and think it’s normal to go shopping in your pyjamas.
We hold monthly events in Brixton to support aspiring writers and champion debut authors but there are hundreds of local writing groups and almost all are free so find one near you and sign up.
For something a bit more structured, consider a short course somewhere like Goldsmiths, or a mentoring scheme – we love The WoMentoring Project. You might even consider an MA; author Kit de Waal runs a brilliant scholarship at Birkbeck.
Ask for feedback
You’ve written 90,000 words, some of which you like (well done!) Now gird yourself because it’s time to get feedback and if there’s one thing writers hate even more than asking for feedback it is listening to it.
Give your manuscript to friends and family, especially those who write themselves. Ask if they would be kind enough to read it and offer their honest opinion.
Make necessary changes, cut out whole sections if necessary (even the ‘hilarious’ passage about a goat and a beach towel you swore you’d never change) although don’t be afraid to argue for bits you truly adore. It will be your name on the cover, after all.
Find the right agent
Only submit to agents when your manuscript is perfect – and I mean wouldn’t-change-a-word perfect, particularly the first three chapters.
To find the right agent for you, look at books a bit like yours and work out who represents the author. Sometimes the author will mention them by name in their Acknowledgements; sometimes you will have to turn detective… usually, you can find what you need on Google and Twitter.
What you submit can depend on the agent but make sure you prepare: a one-page cover letter; a pitch that includes things like why your book is timely and who is going to buy it; the first three chapters and a whole-book synopsis. You needn’t send the whole manuscript (but you do need to have written it).
Don’t give up
These are the three most important words in any authors’ vocabulary. Rejection is discouraging but not fatal: all the best authors faced balls-out rejection, from George R.R. Martin to Stephen King and JK Rowling. It’s an illustrious club.
Put your manuscript in a drawer. Read more, take a trip, meditate, eat ice cream, and go back to it when you are ready. Re-read with fresh eyes; you’ll spot un-seen errors, plot points that don’t make sense, entire characters that don’t work.
Now repeat the steps above
Writing a book is hard work. It can be scary. But, boy… is it worth it.
The Riff Raff is a London-based writers’ community that supports aspiring writers and champions debut authors. Their next event is on October 12th, and authors Amanda Reynolds, Laura Purcell, Xan Brooks, Rebecca F John and Elodie Harper will be reading from their debut novels to a packed-out crowd. Tickets are available to buy here, or for more information, head to the-riffraff.com.