Getting a Publishing Deal

An explanation of the process of getting a publishing deal and how to avoid common pitfalls along the way.

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Well, it’s weird. That’s the short version.

Over the last few days I have been watching a lot of interviewers with writers and I realise that my story isn’t so different from many other authors. One of my favourite authors, Karin Slaughter, said in an interview that things turned around for her when she treated her submitting her novel as a business proposition, and nothing more.

It’s hard to be emotionally detached from your own work. Occasionally I think about what I have written and I cringe a little, that is something that will never change. It’s not because I think its crap, I don’t; but it’s more because it’s a part of me. I’m such a private person, the possibility that I may have to be less private is quite daunting and something I had to talk myself into. I would be happy never to meet anyone new, or to have to talk about myself or anything else that’s personal. All of my most personal thoughts and feelings are hidden inside my characters anyway.

I think there is an arrogance among new writers (myself included) when you start writing and you realise actually I’m quite good at this. There’s a frustration that other people can’t see the talent inside you that needs nurturing. There’s almost a feeling of entitlement—I’ve written this, so you must publish it—without any real understanding of what’s actually happening out there. A lot of people think they can write a book, a lot of people start books that shouldn’t, a lot of people don’t that should. The fact is, it’s a business, and no one has to recognise anything about you; no one owes you anything. That attitude is going to get you nowhere fast. I have a friend who sent off to an agent; when the agent refused, they decided to self-publish. I understand that gut feeling, how dare you tell me my work’s no good, I worked hard for that. The truth is there are hundreds of agents out there, and thousands of people like you who think they deserve to be published. Your book might be amazing, it really might—we have all heard stories of mega successful books that were rejected a heap of times before they reached any kind of attention so luck is most definitely involved—but only if you have put the work in first.

I had written a lot of stuff over the years, some short stories, screenplays, novellas and then finally a novel. The first stage of the process was writing a coherent story that was also long enough to be classed as a novel. Then, and this is the part that cannot be taken lightly at all, you need to rewrite. This is not to say change everything you have written; of course not. I like to think of it this way: if you are anything like me, I get annoyed at the TV when things are implausible or just out of character. I try to look at my book as a reader and question myself, Why did he do this? Why did that happen? You’re not going to get everything in one go, but you will find some things to change; that doesn’t mean you failed, it means you know how to rewrite. Then you go through and answer your questions within the work or you delete the need for the questions. By the end of that you should have something that makes a little more sense. You can get some help by asking some people you trust to read it and give you honest feedback, that can be essential. It’s important not to see any suggestions for change as a personal attack but more as their desire to make your book the best it can be.

Then check for grammar and spelling—basically make it as professional-looking a document as you can. I struggled with this, as my punctuation is kind of terrible, but I bought a book on grammar and punctuation and tried to learn some of the rules to help make my book better. I knew that if I wanted someone else to take my work seriously I had to take it seriously myself. I know some people get offers on partially completed work—that could never happen for me—but my finished product is always so different; I think that’s because I’m a bit slow and I can’t always make all the best connections until the end of the story. With my first novel, I can honestly say I have read through over 100 times, and made changes—even minor ones—every single time.

After you have done that then you format it: paragraphs, spacing, chapter headings. You want it to look right.

I looked through several listings for agents that deal with crime fiction and I picked several to send to. I followed the submission guidelines to the letter and sent off my work. What I was basically doing was removing obstacles in my way. If it’s not formatted properly then why would they read it? If they don’t accept submissions then why would they read it? If I have lots of obvious spelling errors then why would they read it? If they don’t deal with my genre of fiction then why would they read it? It’s important not to put obstacles in your own way and set yourself up for rejection for the wrong reasons; not because your work wasn’t any good, but because you sent it to the wrong people, or you lost interest at the editing phase. Don’t cheat yourself out of a chance for a silly reason. The hardest part is writing a novel; making it better and sending it off should be fun. I had completely geared myself up for rejection, after 15 years of writing I knew that the chances of me getting an agent were slim-to-none, every blog I ever read told me so. Of course, now I understand why, because it’s important you understand how rare it is. Rare but not impossible.

I was lucky enough that one of the first agents I sent my novel to “got” my work, because the others that I sent it to just said no. That was where my luck came in. Sending it to the right people helped, and I was lucky that my wonderful agent actually saw and read my book. I had lots of complimentary emails and then was pitched to several publishers. Again, none of them really “got” it, although I received a lot of praise, but all it takes is one. And so, eventually, I got published. I have had to rewrite again, with the help of an amazing editor and the novel is quite different now to how it was when I finished it the first time. Having an editor was great, someone else to second-guess your decisions so you don’t have to do it all yourself. While writing I think everything I write is pants, so it’s nice just to have specific things picked out—it means the rest must be ok.

The thing to remember about it is this: it’s a business. You don’t get published because you’re a nice person or because you tried really hard; you don’t get published because you really want to. You get published because your book is commercially viable as a product. The reason it’s commercially viable is completely noble and artistic; it’s not selling out. It’s important to remember that it’s not personal when you get rejected, and it’s because they think other people will like what you have to say and will pay to read it when you get accepted.

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Katerina is the author of the Sunday Times bestselling crime thriller ‘The Teacher’ and number 1 Kindle bestselling novel ‘The Secret’.

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