Lockdown offered many frustrated writers a key to unbolt the constraints of daily routine and an opportunity to work on the novel or work of nonfiction that has been gathering dust in their minds or in a bottom drawer for years. If 2022 is the year to take your book to the next stage – we asked authors and publishing professionals for their advice on how to make that happen.
Donal Ryan – Literary fiction novelist and mentor
Multiple award-winning author of The Spinning Heart and Strange Flowers and creative writing lecturer at the University of Limerick, Donal Ryan, understands the pain of rejection when it comes to publishing the written word. “A writing life is poxed and pockmarked by rejection. It never ends. Your work will be precious to you but you can’t expect everyone else to treat it as such. People will say ‘no. No. Get out. I’m calling security.’”
However, he believes that this is essentially the road of the real writer. “You are bound to be rejected, multiple [times] and out of hand, or sometimes considerately and constructively. And when finally you’re accepted, the rejection will start again, in different and even more debilitating ways. But always remember to return to the joy of composing a good sentence. Look after your sentences and everything else in your writing life will look after itself.”
The opening page of your manuscript is important, and Ryan believes that it’s one of the first opportunities to showcase the entire novel. “Try to make something happen in your opening that you think has never happened anywhere in fiction before. John Harding opened his novel What We Did on Our Holiday with the exclamation ‘Toilet!’ That was a bold move, and it worked beautifully.”
Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin – Crime fiction novelist and mentor
Bestselling writer and author of novels such as Little Bones and The Dark Room (under the pseudonym Sam Blake), Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin is also the creator and curator of writing.ie – an up-to-the second online toolkit for all aspiring and seasoned Irish writers.
When it comes to perfecting the written word, Fox O’Loughlin says, “the best advice I was ever given was by Sarah Webb, just keep writing – you improve with every word you write, so keep at it.”
Once that is sorted, the next stage is to be prepared for the publishing world. “Agents request submissions that suit them, and they are all different, so follow their guidelines. Put as much work into your submission as you did into your novel.”
When it comes to self-publishing, Fox O’Loughlin says there are “opportunities for authors to connect to readers, in digital or print, that just weren’t there twenty years ago”.
Rachel Pierce – Eagle-eyed editor
Rachel Pierce is the invisible hand that works on many of Ireland’s great books before they exit the publishing house, wielding her razor sharp eye for rhythm, character, pace and detail at every aspect in a book – from the overall structure to line edit. Working with talented writers such as Paul Howard (aka Ross O’Carroll-Kelly) and Sinéad Moriarty, she is also a successful author in her own right.
On getting started with a novel, she believes the perfect first draft absolutely does not exist. “There is no pressure to create a beautiful first draft – this is about intuition, enjoyment, hermetically sealed writing: you and the page. You are feeling your way through to the story; being surprised by characters and plot; finding out what the story is and who the characters are. For now, just write – let loose.”
Simon Trewin – Agent
Simon Trewin, the UK-based literary agent, for authors such as John Boyne, Sam Blake, Mary Costello and Andrew Miller, summarises his advice in four tips:
1 Take your time. The world isn’t waiting for your novel so make sure you are happy to be judged by whatever you send out. Every draft will be better.
2 Do your research. Check out potential agents on their websites and make sure you are a good fit for their list.
3 Be patient. Don’t expect an overnight response from agents so make sure you send your work out to three or four at a time to spread your bets.
4 Keep smiling. You are the best person in the world to write your book.
Conor Nagle – Publisher
Conor Nagle heads up HarperCollins Ireland and, as such, is a guardian of the last stage of the publishing process. He says that Ireland is unique because it’s not necessary to have a literary agent to get your book printed.
“If you take us, at HarperCollins Ireland, we have an open submission policy, which is something that is very important to us. We want our acquisition process to be as open and democratic as possible. Our strike rate is low enough, but it’s still a wonderful source of ideas” such as the unexpected success of Blindboy’s short story collections and the Aisling series – two “counter-intuitive” examples.
He too believes that rejection is part of the publishing journey: “It’s just that a book is not a good fit for them. A rejection letter isn’t coded for anything but that.”