How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps

(Did you miss me? After the craziness of the Distress Signals month-long blogging bonanza, I decided to give you all a month off from me. Well, a month and a bit. Also, since I last blogged WordPress have hidden the ‘justify paragraph’ button from me and it is driving. Me. CUCKOO. I can’t even look at this left-aligned. Oh my God. Deep breaths. Wait! Keyboard shortcuts! YES. Okay. It’s all okay. Everything’s going to be okay. Breathe… Okay. Anyway.)

As of February 1, this little blog is a staggering SEVEN years old. One of the first posts I published on here was a tongue-in-cheek How To Write A Novel in 37 Easy Steps. So, seven years and a bit on, and to break my post-blogging-bonanza fast, I’ve decided to update that – or rather, continue it.

How To Get Published in Just 50 Easy Steps! 

  1. Decide, aged 8, that you are going to be a novelist.
  2. Ask Santa for a typewriter.
  3. Ask your parents for an electronic typewriter.
  4. Ask your parents for a PC.
  5. Spend much of your late teens carrying the first three chapters of your first attempt at a novel, a Formula 1-themed thriller named Chequered Flag, around on a floppy disk. By ‘novel’ read ‘excuse to daydream about Jacques Villeneuve’s abs on the cover of Jacques Villeneuve: A Champion in Pictures’…
  6. Sorry, drifted off there.
  7. Avoid studying for your own Leaving Cert, i.e. the final exams in Irish school, by writing a funny but quite pointless YA novel about avoiding studying for the Leaving Cert. Submit it to a publisher whose office is 5 minutes’ drive from your house, because you think geographical proximity will help seal the deal.
  8. Get rejected.
  9. Tell your parents you need a laptop ‘for college’.
  10. Go to college.
  11. Drop out of college.
  12. Go to NYC for a week’s holiday and think this qualifies you to write from the POV of a NYPD detective. Submit your (god awful) attempt at a detective novel via post to a top London agent and get so swiftly rejected that SAE arrives back at your house before you do.
  13. Stop writing. Pretend that reading books about writing will move you closer to your published novelist dreams in the meantime.
  14. Quit your crappy job working in a greeting card store.
  15. Quit your pleasantly boring job working in an auctioneer’s office.
  16. Take a job in the Netherlands.
  17. Take a job in France.
  18. Take a job in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
  19. Buy John Mayer’s Continuum album and put ‘Stop This Train’ on repeat for 36 days. (This is KEY.)
  20. Go backpacking in Central America.
  21. Start writing a book about number 18 after you return home to Cork.
  22. Find an agent who is interested in said book but cannot represent you on the strength of it due to there being only about 23 people in the whole world who’d be interested in reading it and even less in buying it (probably).
  23. Tell agent you are already writing a novel. (This is a big fat LIE.)
  24. Decide you can’t write the novel because your soul-destroying job is slowly but surely sucking all the life force out of your blackening soul and if you don’t do something about it soon your heart will be an empty abyss of abandoned dreams, bitterness and contempt.
  25. Quit your job – in the middle of a devastating economic recession, for maximum dramatic effect.
  26. Put a MacBook on your credit card, because you simply cannot work under these conditions.
  27. Use your savings to relocate to an isolated and slightly scary holiday home by the sea (in winter, in Ireland) with two coffee machines and your new computer.
  28. Write a comic, corporate satire, chick-litty novel. Describe it The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.
  29. Start submitting the novel to agents and editors.
  30. Buy John Mayer’s new Battle Studies album and put the song Assassins on repeat for thirteen days. (No, really. This is KEY.)
  31. Self-publish the Disney book, i.e. Mousetrapped.
  32. Read an article about cruise ship disappearances in a magazine that someone left behind them in a café that your mum was in shortly before she picked it up and brought it home.
  33. Write a book about number 20.
  34. Self-publish that book, i.e. Backpacked.
  35. Get a meeting at a Major Publishing House by way of your friend Vanessa. The MPH don’t like the Weightwatchers Prada book, but they do like your writing. Tell them you’ll write something else.
  36. Writing something else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  37. Writing something else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and send it to the MPH.
  38. Write something else else else (well, a synopsis and three chapters of it) and sent it to the MPH.
  39. Go for a meeting at the MPH and get offered freelance work using social media to promote their commercial fiction titles instead. Be very excited about this.
  40. Get an idea for a thriller from number 32. Write 30,000 words of it.
  41. Stop.
  42. Buy John Mayer’s Born and Raised and put the title track on repeat for the entire month of May.
  43. Let a year pass.
  44. Struggle to find anything to play on repeat on Mayer’s Paradise Valley. *tear*
  45. Decide to apply to return to university as a mature student to student English Literature.
  46. Panic when you actually get in, as this necessitates a move to Dublin. Use the panic to push past the 30,000 barrier and finish the thriller. Call it Dark Waters. Start submitting it to agents.
  47. Go to college. Stay this time. Use this as a distraction from the UTTER DEVASTATION OF REJECTION.
  48. Unexpectedly get offer of representation from dream agent while sitting in a coffee-shop near college waiting for your American Genres lecture and looking out at grey and gloomy rain. (Hooray!)
  49. Work with agent’s amazing in-house editor to write a second draft of the thriller. Change the name to Adrift.
  50. Get a 2-book deal. (Bigger hooray!) Change book’s name to Distress Signals. Start buying everything you see with an anchor on it and planning your book launch like it’s your wedding.

If you want to read Distress Signals, check it out here for Ireland/UK and here for the USA. Also if you’re in Dublin this Saturday, I’m chairing a panel on self-publishing at the Irish Writers’ Centre Women Aloud NI IWD event. Get more info on that here.

Also, on a more serious note, there’s an update on the Irish resident accused of murdering his wife on the MSC Magnifica. In a line that could’ve come from Distress Signals, his lawyer has said to reporters, ‘If this was murder, where is the body? Where are the witnesses?’ (There are neither because, of course, this is a cruise ship.) A working theory is that he allegedly stuffed her body into a suitcase and threw it from the balcony of their Deck 11 cabin. You can read more about this terrible case here.

Next time on Catherine’s blog: the Great Desk Redesign of 2017! It involves an actual pink typewriter. AN ACTUAL ONE. 

Distress Signals is out in the U.S.! (Plus, a new video blog)

Guys, we made it! A 28 day straight blogging bonanza. Thanks so much for sticking around this past month.

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Distress Signals is out now in the US! It’s available in hardcover, e-book and audio download. You can read the beginning of it here or find out more about it here.

I did my final video blog this morning, which answers your questions about the US edition. I also show you the little pile of other people’s books I’m dying to get stuck into now that I’ve finished the latest draft of my own book, and shed about half a pound of hair.

Congratulations to katielookingforward who has won the signed copy of DS! (Please message me with your address, Katie.) Thank you for all your comments, retweets, Facebook shares, etc. over the past month. I am now going to take a few days off from this blog, you’ll probably be delighted to hear.

If you’re reading Distress Signals any time soon, I hope you enjoy it! x

3 Productivity Tips I’m Going To Try

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. tomorrow (!!!!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

[UPDATE: I just realised, a couple of hours after I posted this, that I forgot to mention something kinda important. Today, 1 February 2017, is this blog’s 7th birthday! Yes, seven years ago today, 1 February 2010, catherineryanhoward.com was born. Time flies when you’re a very sporadic blogger. Thanks for hanging around!]

Guys, it’s the penultimate day of the DS Blogging Bonanza! Distress Signals will be out in the U.S.A. in hardcover, e-book and audio in mere hours.

In a few weeks’ time, Book 2 will (hopefully) be ready to move to the editing stage which means it’ll be time for me to get started on – GASP – Book 3. The problem is that (a) I just had a completely self-induced nightmare binge-writing the last draft of Book 2, which is something I never want to repeat again and (b) right around Book 3 Getting Started Time, I’ll have 3 x 5,000 university assignments due and an exam to study for as well. I want to be organised, relaxed and on a normal person’s sleep schedule, while also getting s–t done. There’s no point, I think, trying to change habits or implement new ones while there’s a deadline looming – now is the time to do it, pre-emptively.  So here’s a few productivity tips and ideas I’ve come across that I’m going to try…

DON’T BREAK THE CHAIN

I’ve blogged about this before, but since when I do it I find it really works, I thought it was worth mentioning again. Don’t break the chain works something like this:

  1. Get yourself a calendar, wall planner or at least something that has a box for every day, and hang it somewhere prominent
  2. Commit to writing a doable amount of words every day, e.g. 500
  3. Every day you do this, put a big red cross in the corresponding box
  4. Do this every day for at least few days and—
  5. Ta-daa! You have a chain. Now, don’t break it.

Tip: it is immensely satisfying to start this on the first of the month, on a gleaming, clean new page of a month-to-a-view calendar. I have my lovely new Parisian Life calendar all ready to go.

HAVE A CHANGE OF SCENERY

I really find it difficult to write anywhere except at home but at the same time, I realise this is just a habit. And this isn’t always a good thing, because although it’s lovely and quiet where I live, my coffee machine, Netflix and about 831 other distractions live there too.

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Do you know where this is? It’s the Swan and Dolphin! Well, the Dolphin technically – the resort where I used to work in Walt Disney World

The good news is that there’s about that many coffee shops within a twenty minute walk of my place too. This article on StylistForget working from home: coffee shops are the key to freelance success – is really food for thought. I think there’s a lot to be said for getting dressed, getting out of the house and ‘going to work’, even if it is just you and your computer in a different spot.

UNPLUGGING (A BIT)

Late one night I was watching TV with one eye on Facebook. In my absentminded scrolling, I spotted a link that said something like If you’re reading this, you’re probably depressed. Catchy title, I’m sure you’ll agree, but it piqued my interested so I clicked…

And read with horror about how the author of the piece was horrified about the fact that the average teenager spends 61 minutes on social networks a day.

Um… 61 minutes?

A day?

Dude, I start my day with 61 minutes on social media! I’ve usually clocked that during the several post-snooze, pre-alarm interludes I enjoy before I get out of bed.

Now I am not one of these people who goes on a complete digital detox for the sole purpose of returning to Twitter to smugly announce its conclusion a week or month later. Blackouts are not the answer – and they’re not practical for me. I need email, Twitter, Facebook and my blog for work, and I need the internet for college stuff and, you know, online stationery shopping (!). I don’t think the presence of the internet is the problem anyway. I think it’s that my attention span is shot.

Rather than avoid the internet, I think I just need to contain it more. Here’s three ways I think you could do this:

  • Delete all e-mail and social media apps from your phone. I have to admit, this makes me feel a bit nervous. I’m not sure about the e-mail, because I use e-mail like telephone calls and text messages, and I don’t let the idea of being out of contact all day if I’m out and about. But Twitter and Facebook? They can definitely go. Instagram really only works on your phone, but I don’t use that anywhere near as much as the others anyway.
  • Put devices out of reach. To give you an example: I am currently watching the TV while writing this post, and my phone is on the couch with me. Once I put the laptop away, I’ll have the phone in my hand. That’s just terrible, isn’t it?
  • Re-think bedtimes. The last thing I do before I go to bed is check that my alarm is set for the next morning – but it’s on my phone, so that usually means I do a quick social media account check as well. And the first thing I do when I wake up is turn off that alarm, and then… Well, you get the idea. I don’t think it’s too bad in the morning, but it can’t be good going to bed with blue light and tweets in your head, especially with all that’s going on in the world at the moment. So: must stop this.

What do you think? Are there any productivity tips, tricks or books that you think are good? Let me know in the comments below.

Join me tomorrow for the last day of this mayhem which will include a video blog and me picking a winner for a special, signed hardcover ARC of Distress Signals. Anyone who left a comment on any post published here since January 5 is eligible to win. If you haven’t entered yet, just leave a comment on this post. One entry per post. Open globally.

See you tomorrow!

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How Do You Write A Book?

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on Thursday (February 2) and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

So Distress Signals is out and Book 2 is almost there. Although writing them were two very different experiences, without setting out to do it, I wrote both of them pretty much the same way (albeit in very different periods of time):

  1. Initial idea. Fun fact: both thrillers were sparked by magazine articles, although in very different ways. Percolation ensued, i.e. I didn’t immediately sit down and start writing.
  2. Post-It Plotting Party. I get a pen and a stack of Post-Its and I write down every idea I have about the book. This could be something big, like what it’s actually about, or something as small as a sentence a character may utter at some point. Then I take a chart of some kind – calendars are my new thing – and I arrange all these Post-Its on it in the order in which I think these events might appear in the book. This gives me some signposts to help lead the way.
  3. Vomit draft. A draft that doesn’t even deserve to be called the first one. A free-wheeling experiment. No editing as you go, no reading back if you can. This is where I figure out 70% of what happens in the book – the ideas come while I work through it. This is why Book 2 turned into a bit of a stressfest: because, drowning in self-doubt and distracted (oooh, shiny book launch stuff!), I pathologically procrastinated and didn’t leave myself enough time to do a truly vomit-y vomit draft. I had to go straight into a first draft, which proved to be a pressure cooker because I had to figure out if I could tell this story and how to tell it at the same time. Never again. Lesson learned.
  4. First draft. I give the book the break and then I go and re-do step 2. Except now that I have a vomit draft behind me, I know enough to plot out the whole book in more detail before I type ‘Chapter One’. This makes writing a first draft – the first one that could be read by someone else as a coherent book, realistically – much easier than writing the vomit one. Once this is done, my agent and editor come in and we start the editing process.

Here’s the thing though: there is no right way to write a book. And I’m eternally fascinated by how other people do it, because I’m always looking for a better way (and a magic pen). So tell me: how do YOU write a book? Let me know in the comments below – and don’t be shy!

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

 

Look What I Did… (FINALLY!)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

It’s still Sunday somewhere, right? I’m going to say it is.

Look what I just did:

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That’s why there was no blog today. That’s why for the last eight weeks or so I’ve glared at anyone who’s asked me, ‘How’s the book coming along?’ and said, ‘Don’t even ask.’ And now, regular life can resume. And by regular life I mean (a) answer the 3,012 emails I’ve been ignoring, (b) prepare for the US publication of Distress Signals – on Thursday! Yikes! and (c) start on my dissertation proposal (ugh) which is the next item on the To Do list.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

#TBT: How Did I Get My Agent? (The Answer May Surprise You)

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2 (one week from today!), and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

Thursdays are for throwbacks, so a replay of an old post. This one was originally posted in March 2016. 

(What an awfully clickbaity title, I know. Guilty as charged. But I think it will.)

It’s easy for me to answer the question “How did you get a book deal?” I only need two words and those are Jane and Gregory, i.e. my amazing agent. She took me on, we worked hard on revising the book and just five days after she sent it out on submission, we had a pre-emptive offer from Corvus/Atlantic for a two-book deal. My debut thriller Distress Signals will be out in mere weeks and you can find out more about it here.

But how did I get my agent?

Let’s back up a bit. Let’s go back a bit, to about seven years ago. That’s when my journey to publication really began.

Are you sitting comfortably?

I’d always, always, always wanted to write a novel but, despite daydreaming about this full-time and buying every How To Get a Book Deal: No Really, THIS Book is the One That’ll Make That Happen-esque title I could get my hands on, I was missing a crucial ingredient: a good idea for one. In the mid-2000s I stopped worrying about this and went off to have adventures working abroad instead.

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After moving to Orlando, Florida and taking a job in Walt Disney World in September 2006, I started keeping a diary about my experiences that eventually turned into a non-fiction book, Mousetrapped. I submitted it to various agents and publishers, who all said thanks but no thanks. One agent, however, really loved my writing and said she’d love to see some fiction from me if I was interested. At the time I was working an utterly awful job that was turning my soul more and more necrotic every weekday, so I made a drastic decision: I quit my job and used my savings to rent a holiday home by the sea for 6 weeks. (Note: I was living with my parents and had no real financial responsibilities.) I finished a novel – finally! – which was a kind of chick-lit meets corporate satire thing that I described as The Devil Wears Prada meets Weightwatchers.

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I also self-published Mousetrapped. This was back in early 2010 and, being in Ireland, I benefitted from big fish/small pond in a big way. The book did well and I quickly established a blog, Twitter following, etc. I was interviewed on national radio, featured in various newspapers and even appeared on TV. I was invited to give talks and lead workshops and participate in panel discussions at various literary festivals and writing seminars. I even got to do a session at a Guardian Masterclass, to lead the first ever self-publishing workshop at Faber Academy in London and got put up in a dream-like 5* hotel in the English countryside by the (very generous) organisers of ChipLitFest. Because Irish publishing has, like, 50 people in it (okay, slight exaggeration…), I also got to know a lot of people who were in the industry and made lots of great contacts and new friends. The first year I went to the Irish Book Awards it felt like the office Christmas party, I knew so many people there.

One of these new friends was Vanessa O’Loughlin, who founded Writing.ie and works as a literary scout (and who, under her crime-writing alter-ego Sam Blake, is about to release her debut crime novel Little Bones). She loved my Prada/Weightwatchers novel and she gave it to an editor at Penguin Ireland, who called me in for a meeting. They didn’t love that book but they liked my writing, and wanted to see something else. For a couple of years I tried writing Something Else, but I was making a few mistakes, the biggest being writing what I thought would get me published (women’s commercial fiction) and not what I really wanted to write (crime/thrillers).

Looking back, I think I was scared to. It was all I’d ever wanted to do since I was a teenager – what if I couldn’t? Luckily in the summer of 2012 I got a clue and started writing Distress Signals.

In the meantime though, Penguin Ireland had a title coming out that they thought would really benefit from some focused social media marketing and since I’d had success using it to promote my own books, they asked if I’d be interested in trying to make it work for them. I was and it did – and so they gave me more projects. That was in the autumn of 2012 and although I am winding down my work for them now – because, in the midst of all this, I went back to college and got a book deal so I don’t have the free time that I used to! – I have been working for them, freelance, ever since.

Got all that?

So to recap: it’s September 2014 and I’m a writer with a novel that I dream of getting published, who has already successfully self-published, has media experience, does well speaking in public and has been paid to do it, works for the biggest publishing house in the world (after the merger, anyway) and has a proven track record for selling books, not just her own but other people’s too.

Surely, I thought, there’ll be a queue of agents ready and waiting to snap me and my book up. I look so good on paper. Everything is in place. I’m a publisher’s dream.

Right?

Jane wasn’t the first agent I submitted to. I actually had no plans to submit to Jane at all, because it’s like deciding you’re going to gatecrash an Oscar party and then aiming for the Vanity Fair one. The chances of success are better for winning the lottery. She gets 5,000 submissions a year, takes on 2-3 new clients annually and only allows a submission in the first instance of the first ten pages of your work. Plus her roster of clients reads like the Female Crime Fiction All Stars team. I thought there was no hope.

So before I submitted to her, I submitted to a few other agents – more realistic choices, I thought at the time. Below is the actual text of the (loooong) cover letter I sent to them.

(FYI: Distress Signals was called Dark Waters back then and this letter is a couple of years old.)

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Great, right? I was downright smug about this cover letter. I was the mayor of Smugsville.

But the agents I submitted it to? They weren’t impressed. They all said no, because they didn’t like the book that came with it.

On a day in September 2014, I remember very clearly sitting at my desk – where I’m sitting now – browsing the Gregory and Company website. I couldn’t get over the idea of the ten pages. How could they possibly tell whether you were good or not from a mere ten pages? I read over mine and thought they’d never cut the mustard. But… What did I have to lose? So, feeling like I was probably completely wasting my time, I sent in my submission.

Time out here to say something very important: follow the submission instructions to the letter. To. The. Letter. I didn’t send nine pages. I didn’t send eleven. I sent ten, which is what they asked for, even though this left them hanging mid-chapter. I had done my research; I knew Jane specialised in crime fiction. I personalised my letter. I sent it to the e-mail address they specified. I didn’t telephone to ask any questions, I didn’t email five days later to check if they’d got it and I didn’t Google Map their address, fly to London and post a chocolate bar through their letterbox with a note saying, ‘Something to enjoy while you read my submission!’ I just did what I was told. Nothing more, nothing less.

The vast majority of submissions that come into agents’ offices – and for as long as I live, this is something I’ll never understand – don’t follow the agency’s submission guidelines. Even though they’re right there, on the website. I just don’t get it. You’re hoping this person will enter into a long-term business relationship with you, that you’ll become partners at the wheel of your career. That they’ll risk investing time in you that they might never get paid for. And they’ve never met you. All they know is what you present. And you start off by completely ignoring what they’ve politely requested you do?

It reminds me of the time I was working in a B&B and we needed a new part-time member of staff. I put an ad online that asked for people to email a CV and, because the B&B was incredibly busy and we barely had the time to answer the phone to prospective guests, I specified that application was by e-mail only (important because the position would involve a lot of emailing with guests, etc. and the e-mail itself would provide us with an insight into their skills in that area) and that the person doing the hiring would not be at the property itself, so please don’t call. But what did people do? They called. And they called to ask questions that were either answered by the ad or that weren’t appropriate to ask at that stage of the application process. Of all the calls like this I answered, not one caller had a legitimate reason to call. So it may sound harsh but anyone who called got put in the “No” pile – because, by calling, they had proved that they couldn’t follow simple instructions and other people who wanted the job had proved that they could, so…

In summary: follow the instructions. Just by doing that, you’ll already be putting your submission head and shoulders above most of the rest.

Anyway, a couple of weeks after I sent in my submission, Gregory and Company asked me for the full manuscript and a couple of weeks after that, they offered to represent me and I celebrated with Starbucks and champagne. (Thanks, Denise!)

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It all had all been worth it. That’s what I thought. All those years – five of them, at this stage – that I’d spent worming my way into the publishing industry, establishing myself, selling books… It had all been worth it because now I had managed to write a cover letter that had convinced an agent – the agent – to take me on.

Except I hadn’t.

Because Jane wasn’t interested in the cover letter or its contents. When we first met, she asked me a few things that made me suspect she hadn’t even read it, or perhaps someone else on her team had and they’d just recapped the highlights for her. She was only interested in one thing: the book. She made her decision based on one thing: the book. I got a book deal based on one thing: the book.

The other agents rejected me because my cover letter theatrics weren’t enough to make up for the fact that they didn’t like the book. They didn’t “love it enough”. Not one of them said, “Well, I think this is good but I don’t think it’s great… But I’m so impressed by everything you’d done over the last few years and I think you could still manage to flog a few copies of it even if it isn’t great, so… I’m going to offer to represent you anyway!”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I have had a lot of fun since 2009. But I always had my eye on the prize. Whenever I got an invite to somewhere cool or I met someone important or I was interviewed by a newspaper whose name everyone would recognise, there was a part of me that mentally banked it for the cover letter that I’d ultimately send in with my submission. That’s always what I was working towards. And there was, admittedly, a part of me that also thought, Even if they don’t think the book is great, wouldn’t they still take me on because of all this stuff? I’m such a catch! 

Sometimes I slipped in little puddles of despair and looked around at all my friends with agents and book deals – some of them friends who didn’t have blogs or websites, or who rarely used Twitter – and got annoyed. Why didn’t I have agents and book deals, eh? Hadn’t I done my time? Paid my dues? And then I’d remember the big difference between us: they’d all finished books. I’d been too busy adding to my CV to finish mine.

Maybe you had the thought, when I was on here squealing and exclaiming about getting a book deal or getting an agent, of course she did. She works in the industry and she has great contacts. That’s fine for her but I don’t have those advantages. I don’t have a platform and I don’t know anyone on the inside. 

But I’m here to tell you – and this was as surprising to me as it might be to you now – that when it came to it, none of that mattered. It really didn’t. It was only about the book. I didn’t know Jane and Jane didn’t know me. I just went to the website, got my instructions and submitted the first ten pages of my book, just like approximately 5,000 other people did that same year.

And I’m not the only one whose story is like this. Most of the writers I know, their stories are the same.

(Of course, there are exceptions. Some people meet their agents at novel fairs or conferences or even online. Meeting at conferences seems to be a big thing in the U.S. And I’m guessing celebrity memoirs and celebrity novels aren’t quite all about the book, because at the end of the day the clue is in the name – it’s called the publishing industry – and brands sell books. But we’re not talking about celebrities, we’re talking about you and me.)

For us, it’s all about the book.

So don’t worry about anything else. Just make your book the best book it can be. When you start agent-hunting, you’ll have just as much chance of success as anybody else.

Well, provided you follow the instructions anyway.

(Guys, we just have ONE WEEK left of this blogging craziness! Almost there…)

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!

The Truth About My Desk

Welcome to the Distress Signals Blogging Bonanza! What’s that, you’re wondering? Well, you can either go and read this post or read the next sentence. In a nutshell: Distress Signals was out in paperback in the UK and Ireland on January 5 and hits the U.S.A. on February 2, and every day in between I’m going to blog as per the schedule at the bottom of this post. 

I think it was probably sometime in 2007 that I saw Elizabeth Gilbert on Oprah. Eat, Pray, Love mania was about to hit and I already had dutifully purchased my copy of it from my beloved Barnes and Noble in Dr Philips, because The Great O had said so. I remember very little of the actual Eat, Pray, Love episode except for this: Gilbert going up to a lovely little wooden desk on the mezzanine level of her lovely house, carrying a cup of tea, to open up the neat little box of index cards on which she’d written her notes, turn to her computer and get to work turning them into her next book.

The tea was herbal but leaving that aside, I was as much in awe as I was jealous.

Many years later, The Book Show on Sky Arts interviewed Cecilia Ahern and filmed her at work in her office near her home in Co. Dublin. She looked gorgeous and had that healthy, glossy inner glow she always seems to have. Her office was gloriously neat. Her desk had only her computer, a candle and a coffee on it. Actually, the coffee might have been from earlier, so maybe it was only the computer and the candle. The only other thing in there was a shelf with all her published books.

The coffee was decaf but leaving that aside, I was as much in awe as I was jealous.

Scrolling through Twitter a while back, I came across a picture of uber-selling author Jeffrey Archer sitting at his writing desk. It took me a while to actually see the desk because the shot was taken at his house in Spain (I think?) and the desk was in front of a floor-to-ceiling wrap around window that offered panoramic views of the sea. It was magnificent.

I would never get any work done there but still, I was much in— Well, you know the rest.

I too am guilty of this ‘Oooh, neat, pretty desk’ thing. I’ve posted pictures of mine on here. Everything in it was colour co-ordinated, organised and clean. Aside from my computer, the only things on my desk were a cup of coffee, my blue chair and a picture of me as an eight-year-old, tapping away on the typewriter Santa had just brought me.

And it does really look like that a lot of time.

It does not, however, look like that when I’m writing.

I’m at the end of this draft now and when I’m at this point, I do nothing but write and eat and sleep, and I only eat things that don’t need much preparation or clean-up, and I only sleep enough to function at a level a shade more human than zombie. And you know what I’m most looking forward to when I’m done? It’s not sending the manuscript off to my editor and agent. It’s not the sense of accomplishment that will bring. It’s not the guilt-free Netflix binge-watching I intend to spend my weekend on.

It’s cleaning up my desk, because right now it’s like a little episode of Hoarders in the middle of my home. This is an actual shot I took last night, compared to the nice one I posted on here last year (in a previous desk accessories arrangement incarnation):

desk

On the left, ‘nice’ desk. On the right, actual desk during writing time. Note the crumpled up Post-Its and the paper thrown on the ground. The blankets I wrap myself up in, one of which does not match the other. (I know.) The two cups of coffee. The discarded Milkybar wrapper. The carpet that seriously needs hoovering. The fact that all pretty things have been removed to another location to make room for my calendar-page-plotting map.

Not pictured: the Gollum-like creature who sits there for hours on end. She’s SO close to being done though. And after she cleans it, she’s going to reorganise her desk. She got some pretty things for Christmas to go on it so she needs to move stuff around to make them fit. She’s looking forward to making it all pretty again, just in time for Book 3.

Stand by for Instagram pictures.

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Remember: there’s a super sexy hardcover edition of Distress Signals (the American one, out February 2) up for grabs, signed to you from me. To enter, simply leave a comment on this post or any post published here between January 5 and February 2. One entry per post, so comment on more than one and increase your chances. Open globally. Good luck!