Books: Taking the right road from slush-pile to stardom
From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake Macmillan, pounds 14.95, 385pp; Do you have a potential bestseller locked in a drawer? Kate Figes reads a guide for would-be novelists and finds it long on facts, but short on fun
London-born Kate Figes is the author of two novels and five non-fiction books, mostly about family life and relationships. katefiges.co.uk. Her latest book ‘Our Cheating Hearts: Love & Loyalty; Lust & Lies’ has just been published by Virago
Saturday 04 September 1999
This is not a book about how to write. It is for the enthusiastic amateur clutching their script after years of work, who needs to navigate their way through a quagmire of rejection slips and find out how the book trade actually works.
Blake describes in detail exactly what an agent will do for you and how to submit your novel (synopsis, one or two chapters, character outlines are what she prefers) as well as general dos and don'ts. "No good plot should rely on coincidence"; don't send manuscripts that smell of tobacco or anything else, and definitely never set booby traps to see if the agent has read the manuscript. She is realistic about rejections but is also relentlessly encouraging, pointing out that the agency has represented many authors who came in on the slush pile and yet made it to the bestseller lists.
She gives clear, concise and thorough explanations about auctions, negotiating (never believe a publisher who tells you that they have standard contracts), and who does what in publishing houses. Commissioning editors buy your book, structural editors "try to leave out the parts people skip", and marketing managers hold the key to whether you are ever going to make it.
Blake is right to point out that books are never the product of the author alone, for they often go through countless drafts with invaluable and invisible editorial advice. She is also pragmatic when it comes to publicity. Authors habitually moan about never getting enough, but she correctly says that authors must expect to work for it these days. Publishers have other titles to occupy them and authors have a vested interest in doing everything they can to promote their book. Have postcards of the cover printed, write press releases if the publisher won't, and contact your local bookshop and newspaper. Create your own website and never, ever reply to a bad review - however tempting.
There's enough realism in this handbook to put the romantic dabbler off, and enable the seriously committed writer. However, I wanted more of the stories from the writers Blake represents which pepper this text with refreshing light relief. Michael Ridpath is quoted as saying that "most people don't realise that there's an awful lot of typing involved in writing a book". Maeve Haran rewrote the ending of one of her novels to suit her German publishers. When Blake went to see the managing director of a major publisher to go through an author's royalty statements, he couldn't understand them. When he called in his royalty manager to join the meeting, the latter couldn't understand them either.
That is the stuff of publishing I know and love. But that's just about all we get. This is a useful book and I will consult it when the next royalty statement comes in, because I never understand them.
But what makes publishing special is the buzz, the passion, that agents and publishers feel for special books, and the phenomenal thrill when a gamble pays off and the book becomes a bestseller or wins the Booker Prize. And that thrill is missing from this book. If writing and publishing were just about earning a living, few of us would do it.
Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 King Salman: Just five days in, Saudi Arabia's new king has already overseen a beheading
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 4 Presidential optical illusion offers clues to how brain processes faces
- 5 Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
The Jump 2015 line-up: Joey Essex, Phil Tufnell, Heather Mills and co take to the slopes
Costa Book Awards 2015: H is for Hawk named book of the year
New Ghostbusters movie lands all-female cast with Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones
Grumpy Roald Dahl letter warning student to 'eschew beastly adjectives' rediscovered after 35 years
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures