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Getting published: top five tips for aspiring writers from author Neil Arksey

Story added 12th Jul 2017


So you’ve written your masterpiece. And now it’s time to share it with the world. What should you do next?

Well, if you want to reach the widest audience possible in these multi-media, blogging and self-publishing days there’s still no better way of doing that than getting your work published. People read books. Tons of them. Since ebooks expanded the market, sales of paperbacks and hardbacks have done far better than anyone predicted.

Despite the emergence of self-publishing, mainstream publishing still controls the market, but there have been a number of interesting new publishers getting off the ground in recent years and some are doing very well. It’s an area in which things are constantly shifting. 

Being self-published doesn’t preclude you from being picked up by a mainstream publisher. Indeed, if your self-published work is a big hit, that could even help you get an agent or mainstream publisher interested. But don’t be under any illusions – getting yourself noticed out there in that swirling ocean of self-published books is no easy matter and not something to be undertaken lightly.

So how can you increase your chances of getting published?

1. Write a truly great book 

This is what everyone in the industry is looking for. Of course.

In addition to the very good stuff, there’s all kinds of rubbish out there getting published and that can make writers who are new to the market think the bar is really set quite low. But it’s not. The terrible stuff that gets into print only stays in print if people keep buying it. More often than not these days that means it’s got the name of a celebrity attached. But it might also mean people are actually reading it, or at least saying they are. Most people base their reading choices on what other people are reading. 

If you’re not a celebrity, the bar is higher. Higher than it’s ever been. Because there has never been a time in the history of publishing when so many people were trying to get published. Everyone’s at it. Competition is fierce. You need to write a book that is more than just very good. Aim for exceptional. 

2. Get to know everything you can about your area of interest 

Whether its YA fiction you’re interested in, crime novels or gardening guide books, read widely and critically in your chosen field. Familiarise yourself with the leading exponents. What do they do well? What are their weaknesses? Where are the gaps in the market?

You should also get to know who publishes what and who is represented by which agent. Who are the key editors in the field? Make efforts to meet some of them. There are all sorts of reading and writing groups out there. Many of them have guest speakers who are agents or work for publishers. 

3. Join a writing workshop and get feedback on your writing

Whether your book is a work in progress or already written, a writing workshop provides invaluable feedback. No writer should be without one.  

4. Get a professional report on your book

There are a few companies and a number of independents out there offering a variety of manuscript reading services. Typically they will aim to offer you someone who has the appropriate experience to assess your book project and give you a written report detailing what works and what doesn’t and what you need to do to improve your chances of being picked up by an agent or mainstream publisher. 

Getting a report is definitely a good idea, but ask around. If you know people who have used a particular service and been happy with the results be guided by their advice rather than the claims on the companies’ sites. There are some very unprofessional reports being provided out there.

5. Get yourself an agent

If you can get an agent interested in your project, chances are they will be able to get a publisher interested. They wouldn’t take you on unless they thought they could. So it makes sense to try.

These days agents all have websites that let you know who they represent and make it very clear what they’re looking for and how to submit to them. If you ignore their submissions advice, don’t expect to hear from them. 

The fact that an agent has some big name clients on their lists is not always a good indicator of what your own trajectory will be if you are lucky enough to be signed up by them. Big name clients earn an agent the biggest chunk of their money so if they have a lot of these to look after they’re not going to have the time and attention a less well-known writer might need in order to develop their career. My advice would be to go for a smaller, hungrier agent who has something to prove.

In the end, for those of us who are not celebrities, getting published typically requires patience, determination and a great deal of hard work. A little good fortune can be handy too. But if you apply yourself it is totally achievable. 

Go for it.


Author and screenwriter Neil Arksey has had a number of novels for children and young adults published by Penguin Random House. His writing has been shortlisted for and won a number of prizes. He has also worked for two decades in film and TV drama as a screenwriter, script and story editor, head writer and producer. He teaches at the London Film School. His Build course 'Getting published' runs in our summer and autumn terms, and provides invaluable advice to writers on the road to publication. Browse all of Neil's upcoming courses >

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