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10 Things I’ve Learned From Getting My First Novel Published

The Zoo

It’s always been my dream to have a novel published. Recently the dream has come true and frankly, I’m loving every minute. It’s been an exciting, challenging, frustrating and emotional journey and I’ve learned a lot on the way. I’m painfully aware that there’s still a long way to go, but here are some valuable lessons for those embarking on the same path.

1. Submit only when you’re ready. Really ready.

This is the single most important thing I’ve learned. It’s not always obvious when ‘ready’ is:

The Zoo is actually my fourth novel. 

The first was terrible. I knocked out three chapters and sent them out with an awful synopsis to every agent in the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. Six months and a stack of form rejections later, I was left jaded and surprised that no-one had picked up on my genius. 

The second novel was a little better but was over written. This time I finished the book before I did anything. I wrote one draft and got no feedback. I researched a few agents who represented authors I liked and sent it out. I got a few encouraging replies, but no takers.

The third was better still. I joined an online writers’ colony. I was mentored through Writing East Midlands. I honed the first three chapters and sent out my third full draft. This time I got five requests for the full manuscript. I received great feedback but no offer of representation. 

Then I wrote the The Zoo. This time I polished the first three chapters until they were shiny and rewrote the whole thing umpteen times, before sending it only to the agents who had seen the full previous MS. Thankfully one of them loved it.

The whole process is a learning curve. Easy to say, but don’t take the rejections personally. Agents are business people as well as book lovers and they will only take on something they feel they can sell. You need to give them a reason to say yes, because their default position tends to be no.

2. Getting an agent is just the start.

When you get an agent you feel on top of the world. Enjoy it while it lasts. They then have to go through exactly the same process as you did, to get a publisher.

3. A good publisher is worth their weight in gold. 

My agent and I thought there was something wrong with the ending, but couldn’t put our fingers on it. In the first phone call I had with my editor she vocalised exactly what the problem was and subsequently worked with me to fix it. She saw things I hadn’t. She tightened the whole thing up. The copy-editing picked up the typos I was completely blind to. The cover design made the book whole.

4. Only JK Rowling makes a fortune.

If you're think you’re going to get rich forget it. Sorry, but unless you’re Stephen King you’re not going to be able to buy a yacht. The money in publishing is shrinking year on year. If you’re in it for the money you’re in the wrong business. 

5. Things take much longer than you would expect.

Seriously. Publishing moves slowly. Publishing houses plan far ahead. It could be 18 months from when your book is accepted to when you see it in bookshops. It’s hard I know, but don’t be impatient. Use the time to start work on your next novel.

6. Holding your book in your hand is the best experience in the world.

All the hard work and pain and knocks and disappointment is worth it when your proof copy arrives. Believe me. It is a humbling and magical experience. It is all worth it.

7. Reading your book out loud is totally different to reading in your head.

Writing is a solitary existence. We have voices in our head, we get them out on the page. When you stand there at your book launch with all your family and friends in front of you, the words that come out of your mouth don’t sound like the ones you wrote. I invested in a voice coach and it was worth every penny.

8. Get out there and tell people about your book

Don’t just rely on your publisher. It may take you right out of your comfort zone, but get out there and sell yourself. Book shops, libraries, book festivals, schools, whoever will take you.

9. There’s a business side to being a writer.

Sign up for The Society of Authors. Register yourself with Public Lending Rights. Keep your receipts. You’re not just a writer, you’re a self-employed entrepreneur now.

10. Enjoy it.

Let’s face it. This is what you’ve always wanted to do. Relish every minute of being a published author. Revel in it, because you’ve worked hard and you deserve it.

Jamie Mollart runs his own advertising company, and has won awards for marketing. Over the years he has been widely published in magazines, been a guest on some well-respected podcasts and blogs, and Patrick Neate called him 'quite a writer' on the Book Slam podcast. He is married and lives in Leicestershire with his wife and cat. To buy a copy of The Zoo, click here.