I quite recently had the good fortune of attending an event with Mantle Books (an imprint of Pan Macmillan Publishers) called simply & promisingly “Getting Published.”
While the event didn’t quite deliver a silver bullet for getting my novel on the shelves in 30 days, editor Maria Rejt did drop many a little gem of insight to be snatched up by all 200+ author-hopefuls in the audience. So I deem it only fair to pass on the to you lot, our dreaming of one day breaking through the barrier between the realms of wanna-be-writers and published authors.
In no particular order…
We’ve all heard it. Agents and publishes are ever and anon referring to “the voice” in a novel. “Oh, I just really loved ‘the voice’.” “I’m looking for a unique, strong, fresh, fill-in-the-blank ‘voice’.” But just what is this Voice and how do I capture it? Please somebody tell me!!! Well thank heavens, Maria unmasked the mystery of “The Voice”, explaining that there is no definition or description for it because “it” is merely the “intangible thing that grips you and keeps you up at night…that inspires you.” In other words, when agents & authors talk about “the voice,” what they really mean is that the book spoke to them personally, whether because of the language, plot, character they related to, or any combination of things. I don’t know about you, but I feel a great sense of relief knowing that this “Voice” isn’t some secret key successful authors out there have discovered & are all sharing a joke about while I wonder aimlessly in search of it. It’s just a matter of writing in my own way & hoping, one day, that speaks to some agent or publisher who just loves “My Voice.”
What’s in a Title?
Apparently a lot. As an editor, Maria stressed that a catching title is essential if she is even going to open the manuscript and start reading. There’s simply too large a pool out there for her to waste time on lifeless titles. I asked her just what makes a title good, and here were a few pointers she offered. A good title will be Memorable (hence not too long or wordy), Immediate (hit you in the face sort of effect), potentially Narrative (ie. Little Neddy Goes to War), and may Incorporate the theme/s from the book. Ha! Good luck!
Helpful resources for getting published
Maria recommended two books that she believes every struggling author ought to read. STEPHEN KING ON WRITING by Stephen King and MAX PERKINS BIOGRAPHY by A. Scott Burgh. The first one is partly King’s personal journey into the World of Publishing and partly his practical guide. The second book is about one of the most successful editors in English literature history, and is, according to Maria Rejt, still entirely relevant to the publishing world. If you want a better look behind the veil at what editors want and do and the whole thing roles, give it a go!
Looking into the world of Publishing from an editor’s-eye-view was, for me, both enlightening and a little terrifying. Sure, the odds of a debut author getting snapped up just like that are slim indeed. BUT it does happen, all the time. There are more big success stories than I was ever aware of (yes, believe it or not J.K.Rowling is not the only writer to land a writing career with her debut). So I figure it’s well worth keeping up a valiant attempt, because one thing all those successful published authors have in common is this: they didn’t give up!
**Many thanks to Foyles Charing Cross Rd. for hosting the event, and to the folks at Mantle for the great insights & goody bag filled with free books & sweets!