They say everyone’s got a book inside them – but what’s the secret to getting that book out onto the page, and (better yet) published?
The truth is, there isn’t really any magic formula. If there was I expect some enterprising agent would have copyrighted it. But there are a few realy useful tips and cheats that can help.
1) Write. This sounds extremely obvious but it’s amazing how many people would write a novel ‘if only they had the time’. It’s a bit like me saying I would be a size eight and toned as a young whippet if I only had the time to go to the gym (this is actually true, stop laughing) but the point is, if you really value something, you will put it top of the pile and fit the rest of your life around it. I wrote while working full time. I wrote on maternity leave, fitting paragraphs in around breastfeeding and a day job. You can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket, and you can’t get published without writing a book – so push it further up the list!
2) Plot. Lots of manuscripts start off with a rush, but get into trouble when they run out of steam (for a lot of writers this happens around the 30,000 word mark. It’s a known speed-bump and I now look out for it in my own work. When I get despondent it’s frequently around that point.) This is because your initial inspiration often only takes you so far – and after that you have to start thinking up new material. This is where having an idea of where you’re trying to get to really helps – it doesn’t have to be an exact plot, but a vague idea of the ending and key points along the way really helps.
3) Get know your characters – it’s amazing how often they will be able to sign-post the way when you’re stuck. How do you get to know them? Any way you like. Get them to write you a letter in their own voice. Read their diary. Find their photograph on Pinterest. Go shopping for a new outfit they would wear. Anything to get them under your skin.
4) Put yourself out there. This may be the hardest part (at least it is for me). I have at least a dozen manuscripts under my bed that I was too chicken to show anyone. But it’s a hurdle you have to get over if you want to get published. I found online critique groups invaluable for this – and actually the process of critiquing other people’s work was as valuable for me as getting feedback on my own, there’s nothing like seeing faults in other people’s work for making you realise you’re doing the same thing in your own. It’s important to write from a safe place – and for me that means writing in private and polishing until I’m reasonably confident it’s not a total mess. But after that, you need other people to tell you if your story is compelling, your plot twists work, and you’ve spelled accommodation correctly.
5) Stop reading the internet and open up Word. Yes, I mean you. You reading this piece. Go! And good luck!
Ruth Ware’s debut psychological thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood is published this week by Harvill Secker.