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. 

The ‘Getting Published’ Advice I Wish I’d Listened To

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. 

As you may know, I’ve led many a ‘how to self-publish your book’ seminar in my time. The first few times I did it, I’d sit down at my desk to start putting together my PowerPoint presentation and despair that I only had 90 minutes or however long to squeeze in everything I needed to tell the group about how to self-publish successfully. After I did a few of them, I realised that the best approach was not to aim to tell them everything about self-publishing, but to tell them everything they needed to know in order to start, and start off on the right foot. Those are two very different things.

So I stopped talking about making and selling print-on-demand paperbacks with the likes of CreateSpace and Lulu. Instead I advised that they treat the e-book like a hardback, releasing that first, testing the waters, adapting their plan if need be, and then – if it went well – reinvesting the profits in their print edition. After years of this self-publishing lark, both doing it myself and watching others at it, I think now that this is the best approach. It’s logical, it’s risk-averse and it keeps it simple. But during the Q&A, someone would always ask something like, ‘What about Lightning Source?’ And I’d groan inwardly, because I’d be thinking to myself, Go home, finish your book, self-publish it as best as you possibly can in e-book – and then start worrying about Lightning Source. But not before.

I wish someone had said something similar to me when I was traipsing into Waterstone’s Cork every Saturday afternoon in the early 2000s, systemically working my way through their How To Write Books books section. I hadn’t finished my book – I hadn’t even started it – but I felt like it was really important I know exactly how much an agent’s commission was on translation rights before I even thought about putting put pen to paper. The proliferation of blogs and the constant, never-ending, information tsunami that is Twitter only made things worse. Much, much worse. Years later, when I finally got a clue and concentrated solely on the things I should be concentrating on, I finally learned that getting published is all about the book. So I finished my book. I signed with an agent. And then I got published.

But, but, BUT.

It’s easy to forget that information you think is common knowledge is not actually so. It’s just that you’ve known it for so long, you’ve forgotten you didn’t once. And starting out, I think you do need to know some things. So here is my absolutely bare bones, rock-bottom minimum place to start if you’re aspiring to see a book you wrote on the shelf. This is what I wish someone had said to me five, ten, fifteen years ago.

(Well, someone no doubt did say this to me. But boy, I wish that I had listened.)

Step 1: Write the Book

If I could go back in time and talk to Me From 2009, this is what I would tell her: do nothing else except sit down and write, and keep doing that until your book is finished.

Now, there’s loads you can to delay this. You can read stacks of how to write books books, you can attend workshops, you can hang around the writers’ water cooler on Twitter, you can blog about all the writing you plan on doing, you can play with Post-Its. But honestly, I think there’s only two things you need to do: read as much and as widely as you can, and put your arse in the chair in front of your computer. Honestly, you will never learn as much about how to write a book as you will from the act of actually sitting down and writing one. So go do that. First.

Step 2: Pick a path

Now comes the decision: to self-publish or try to get published? Well, no one can answer this question but you, so there’s really no point in asking me or anyone else.

What you can do is:

  • Research, so you know exactly what you’re getting into (and you can make a plan)
  • Set yourself a deadline

It’s possible that your book will decide for you. It might be very short, too short for a traditional publishing house. Or it might be about something that means time is of the essence, and you need to publish it now. For instance, last year you might have written something about the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising here in Ireland that really needed to be published in 2016 to take advantage of this increased awareness, public appetite, publicity opportunities, etc.

If this isn’t the case, I will say to you what I always say to writers who ask me this: set yourself a deadline. If you’re not sure, give yourself 12 months. Submit to agents, enter competitions, attend conferences, etc – basically, network – and do everything you can to try to find a traditionally published home for your book. Then, once the 12 months is up, if it seems like nothing is happening, perhaps self-publish instead.

Step 3: Don’t Rush Things

Here’s the thing I would love for you to take in: don’t rush. Don’t panic. Don’t feel like you’re missing out or that you need to get your book on Amazon yesterday. I completely understand the feeling you get in your gut when someone says, ‘When is your book out? I can’t wait to read it.’ It’s itchy. It’s panicky. It increases your heart rate. And suddenly all you can think about is getting the book up on Amazon so you can capture that one sale. And that’s a huge mistake.

Just on a practical level, self-publishing does not mean uploading your file to Amazon this weekend. Self-publishing means launching a product. You need to plan. You need to prepare. You need to build anticipation. Ideally, you need to have another book nearly ready to go. (I think, these days, the only way to succeed at self-publishing and to maintain your momentum once you do is by releasing more than one book.) All of this takes time. You can only launch your book once. Don’t diffuse your own momentum by doing it too soon, before you’ve done the work.

Similarly, don’t give yourself 6 weeks to get an agent. Leaving aside the fact that the top agencies get thousands of submissions a year and it would be nearly impossible for even one of them to get back to you in that space of time, that’s so little time that you’re guaranteeing failure before you’ve even begun trying. All this stuff, it takes AGES. Use it to start on your next book.

What I didn’t realise before I got my deal is that, you know what? It’s not the worst thing in the world to be waiting for your dream to arrive. It’s a nice bit. There’s no deadlines, no pressure, no contracts. You’re writing purely because you love to write. Forget about the destination for a second. Enjoy the journey.

Everything else – that can come later. Worry about it then. For now, just finish your book, pick a path and don’t rush.

In its own way, this is the good bit.

dsbb

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 Surprising Thing About Rejection (Or What I Learned in 2014)

This will likely be my last blog post in 2014 and you might want to make a cup of coffee, because it’s gonna be a long one…

In past Decembers I’ve compiled gift guides, and last year I shared my first Christmas in a place I lived all by myself (and so could decorate as I pleased, safe in the knowledge that no one could touch anything or suddenly appear with a strand of the most offensive substance known to man, tinsel). But this year I’m coming to the end of my first term in Trinity College Dublin, barely three months in to a four-year degree in English Studies that I started at the ripe age of 32, and assignments are due. This necessitated a move to Dublin, one of the most expensive cities in the world; the shoebox I now live in, while comfortable and suitably Catherine-fied, couldn’t fit as much as a bauble. (I have no books here. That’s how small it is.) And once college breaks up at the end of the next week, I have to use my month off to—

Well, let me back up a little.

This has been a very exciting year. There was always something about 2014; I knew it would be a big one. During it I did three things I’ve been dreaming about for ages, for years in some cases: I moved to Dublin, I started studying English at Trinity and I signed with an agent. The agent, rather. The one who is at the very top of your wish list if you’re a woman who writes crime, the one who represents such awe-inspiring writers that you nearly didn’t even bother submitting to her because you assumed there was absolutely no chance, and when—

Well, let me back up a little again.

TCDcollage

2014 Highlights: Trinity College Dublin as it looked on my first day as a student. 

I want to tell you about the two very important lessons I’ve learned this year.

The first is that when it comes to making big changes, pursuing your dreams or just doing anything that will yank you out of your comfort zone, making the decision to do it is the hardest part.

Honestly, it is. Strolling around Trinity’s historical campus one sunny day in September – having previously only ever strolled around it as a tourist – I couldn’t quite believe that I was there. I go here now, I kept whispering to myself. How had it happened? [For those of you who don’t live in Ireland, Trinity is like Ireland’s Harvard. It’s for the top scorers. Mature students aren’t considered on their years-old exam results – thankfully! – but places are incredibly restricted and competition is fierce. But I filled my application form with all my book and publishing antics over the last five years, and I’m convinced that’s what got me in.] I’d had to apply; interview; come up with the fees; find a place to live in Dublin in what was described as the worst year for rental accommodation in three decades; move out; move up; and show up for the first day of Orientation.

But they were all easy compared to sitting in front of my computer at 11.30pm on January 31st last, half an hour before the CAO [Central Applications Office; how we apply to third-level education in Ireland) deadline closed for the year. I drummed my fingers on the desktop. Was I really going to do this? Could I do this? How could I leave the apartment I loved so much? Could I really move to Dublin in just a few months? Live there by myself? Afford to? Was there any real possibility that I would even get in? I’d been thinking about it for months but when it came to down to it, I wasn’t sure. It would be easier not to do anything. With minutes to spare, I finalized my application.

And that was by far the hardest part. Making the initial decision was the most difficult thing I’d had to do. After that, all I was doing was following through.

photo-16

Highlights of 2014: Champagne and Starbucks. What more does a girl want? (Thanks for the bubbly, Denise!)

Lesson number two was that rejection doesn’t mean no.

Quick recap, if you’re not familiar: I love self-publishing, and I can’t even imagine where I’d be now without it. (Not here, anyway!) But my goal has always been to get published. I don’t feel the need to justify it but if you’re wondering why, it can be summed up like this: because that’s what I want, okay? This little girl didn’t ask Santa for a typewriter because she was dreaming of seeing her book on the Kindle store after she put it there herself:

littlecat

Around about the time I self-published Mousetrapped in 2010, I finished a novel, Results Not Typical. Chick-lit meets corporate satire, I called it, or The Devil Wears Prada meets WeightWatchers. It got me a meeting with the editorial director of a major publishing house, who didn’t like that book but liked me and hoped I might write something else. We met every few months for two years, but after various outlines, sample chapters and synopses, I just wasn’t coming up with the goods. With hindsight I can see that my heart just wasn’t in it. I was trying to write a book that I wouldn’t choose to read, which of course is completely and utterly insane, and insulting to books and stories and publication dreams in general.

Meanwhile I’d had an idea for a crime/thriller novel. I am OBSESSED with crime/thriller novels. They are by far and away what I predominantly read. My favorite author of all time is Michael Connelly. If I color-coordinated my bookshelves, half of them would be black. I just love, love, love a good mystery, a chilling serial killer, a twist that comes like a sudden slap in the face. As for writing them, it’s something I thought I would do when I was older, when I had more experience both in life and as a writer. But one day in the summer of 2012, fed up with my failed attempts to write women’s commercial fiction, I caught myself thinking, When this outline is done, I’m going to try and write that thriller just for fun.

*ALARM BELL ALARM BELL ALARM BELL*

Shouldn’t everything I write be for fun? Why was I doing it otherwise? I ditched all notions of writing anything except the book I wanted to read, the book I really wanted to write.

I’d love to tell you now that I banged it out in a caffeine-fueled week or something, but what followed was eighteen months of mostly procrastination. Still, the idea was percolating away in my brain, so all was not lost. By January of this year I had a long synopsis – or, ahem, an outline; tip: if your synopsis is too long, just call it an outline instead! – and the first third of the book, written and re-written to what I thought was a high standard.

photo-15

Highlights of 2014: At the Bord Gais Energy Irish Book Awards with Hazel and Elizabeth. (Photo credit: Derek Flynn.)

I have a lot of writer friends, many of them published, and two of them in particular (shout out, Sheena and Hazel!) urged me to start submitting to agents. I said no, not yet, I want to wait until I feel like it’s perfect or, at the very least, finished. Don’t be daft, they said. Are you happy with the first third? Yes? Send it out then. You’re not a novice, you have all this self-publishing stuff behind you, great contacts and you do freelance work for one of the world’s biggest publishing houses. No, no, I said. I’m not ready. I can’t do it. But they kept at me, Dr Phil-style, and finally I said, Okay, okay. I’ll start submitting.

And then anxiety started pushing its way out of my skin in the form of sweat. My heart began to race. I was genuinely scared of the idea of submitting to an agent.

Why?

Because getting published had been my dream since I realized that people actually wrote the books I loved to read. With 30,000 double-spaced words under my arm and a cover letter I’d been perfecting for months, this dream was still intact. But what if I sent it out and got nothing back but a form rejection letter? That would be devastating, a sharpened scalpel tip right into the balloon of my publication dreams. So of course, it was easier to stay in the limbo in between, where my dreams could still happen.

Making the initial decision to take action was the hardest part.

plan

Highlight of 2014: finalizing the plot of The Novel.

But I did send it out. And it did get rejected. And I was devastated.

It was rejected by three agents. The first gave me detailed feedback, and some of it caught in my gut. I knew she was right so I rewrote it. The second one just said no (or a disinterested “Nah…” in my head). The third one said no too, in the worst possible way: I really enjoyed it, but I just don’t feel passionate enough about it to represent you. As I feel all authors deserve an agent who is passionate about their work… etc

I have a writer friend whose book launches I’ve been going to every summer for the past four years (shout out, Maria!) and who, not that long ago, went to London to meet with two agents, both of whom were desperate to represent her. They both pitched to her and then she got to pick. We first met at a writers’ workshop back in April 2009, when both of us were just dreamers. It had happened for her; I wanted it to happen – and happen that way – for me. But when the rejections started coming in, I stopped believing that it ever would.

I started thinking, Well, the best I can hope for now is an agent who’ll reluctantly take me on because, well, he’ll give it a go, and a deal with a small publisher with no distribution potential and no advance. I was downsizing. Because here’s the thing: if it was a good book, I thought, wouldn’t its goodness be universally recognized?

I finished my book over the summer and decided that my careful, one-agent-at-a-time strategy wasn’t getting me anywhere. I might never get anywhere, so what did I have to lose? I submitted it to two more agents, the agents, the agents I really wanted but had been holding back on submitting to because (a) if the agents on my next-best-thing list all said the book was a stinking pile of crap, it would need a re-write, and I didn’t want to ruin my one chance with my Dream Agents by sending them the first version (although I should say the agents I had sent it to were still brilliant, amazing, well-known agents that I would’ve been delirious to have been represented by) and (b) I thought there was no point, because they got thousands of submissions a year and took on hardly any new clients.

One of the agents was so selective that she only accepted the first ten pages of your book. Fifty is the norm. I’d no chance. I actually remember being on her website and thinking, There’s no point. It was a repeat of January 31st, drumming my fingers on the desk, thinking there was no point in applying to Trinity.

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Not a highlight, but what I’m stuck with reading as my essay deadline looms. Ugh!

But I’d got into Trinity, and now I was living and studying in Dublin. Making the decision was the hardest part, remember? So I took a deep breath, submitted my ten pages and hoped for the best.

Actually, I just hoped for a response.

Both agents requested the full manuscript. And then they both offered representation, one of them even before she’d finished reading the book. I shook and squealed as I read their e-mails. And just like my friend Maria, I had a day (during my first Reading Week!) where I flew to London and met with two amazing agents and listened, slightly dumbfounded, while they pitched for me and my work.

The day before I’d got an invite to the Irish Book Awards and the day after the new Michael Connelly book came out, so that was quite the giddy week, let me tell you.

A few weeks before my London trip I was watching an episode of ITV’s Crime Thriller Club where crime writing queen Lynda La Plante was being interviewed. She said if she could give advice to aspiring writers it would be that “rejection doesn’t mean no.”

I rolled my eyes. Um, that’s EXACTLY what it means? Come on, Lynda. Aren’t you supposed to be a writer? But after my London day, I realized what she meant.

Publishing is an incredibly subjective operation. Whether or not someone likes your book depends on their personal tastes, their professional experience and even what mood they’re in when they sit down to read it. Whether or not an agent will take you on depends on all this and the level of belief they have in you, what they see in the possibility of what the book can become. Timing factors in too, of course. Maybe they just took on a similar author, or they know that a publishing house just paid five-figures for a similar book. That’s why we have these stories of Ms Author getting rejected all over town for years, and then getting an agent and going on to hit the bestseller lists.

Just because your book got rejected doesn’t mean that your publishing dreams are dead. It doesn’t even mean that you have to modify them. Rejection, as Lynda said, doesn’t mean no.

Last week I signed with Jane Gregory of Gregory & Company. Next week I’ve to hand in my first lot of university assignments. Then I start on a re-write of my novel and after that, who knows what the new year will bring? It might bring everything I want, or it might bring disappointment. I’m ready either way. I’ll keep you updated.

In the meantime, remember that making the decision to take action is by far the hardest part and that rejection doesn’t mean no. Consider this when you sit down to think about your writing goals in 2015.

In the meantime, thanks for reading in 2014, especially as life has got in the way and I’ve become so sporadic with my blogging. I hope to improve a bit in the New Year!

Wishing you and yours a fabulous Christmas and a New Year that brings everything you want.

Catherine x

(Fun fact: this blog post is the exact length each of my four essays has to be. Procrastinating much?)