How do you get published ?

That is the question that I am frequently asked via the website and at school events.
The answer is ‘with difficulty’!
It really is not easy for most people. There are a lot of would be authors out there and I was once one myself!
All publishers have what they call a ‘slush pile’ – manuscripts they have been sent by writers hoping to see their books in print. So for every book that is published there are hundreds that aren’t.
So how do you avoid those slush piles? How do you get noticed and read by an editor?
The answer is ‘Get an agent’!
Unfortunately, that isn’t easy either. Public libraries have a reference book called ‘The Writers and Artists Year Book’. Back in the year 1990, I went into Knott-End Library in Lancashire found the book and looked at the list of literary agents it contained. I wrote to three. Only one wrote back and eventually she became my agent.
When my agent sent my manuscript to publishers there was a difference – it didn’t go into the slush pile – it got read! Of course,I still got rejected. So with that in mind, you need perseverance and have to realise it might take many years to get into print properly.
Not only that you may not be as good a writer as you think. I certainly wasn’t. Long before I got my agent a publisher did read the first full-length novel that I’d written. They sent me back a very polite rejection slip. So I wrote to them asking for more criticism. This time they told me the truth. My characters were ‘two-dimensional; my plots were ‘structurally unsound’! Reading between the lines what they were saying to me was ‘You are rubbish!”. Now I realise that editor was right. I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to improve.
How do you improve your writing?
You have to work hard at it. You need to write something every day if possible. You also must read widely from lots of different genres (reading fiction helps you to write fiction). I always liked to read and the best stories inspired me to write. It was discovering the magic of books like ‘The Lord of the Rings’ that made me want to be a writer.
Also keep a notebook. Jot down into it all your ideas before you forget them.
For me it was a long, slow gradual process and took me well over ten years of continual effort. I was rejected over 97 times, I stopped counting after that. From 1990 I wrote a book a year and every time my agent said, “I am sorry Joe, they sent that one back. I’ve now sent it to all those who publish your genre so there is no publisher left to send it to!” I didn’t get too down-hearted. Why? Because I’d been busily writing and I had another manuscript ready for her to send.
If I hadn’t believed in myself and developed a thick skin I would have given up after the first few rejections. Remember too that just because your manuscript is returned it doesn’t mean it is not any good – it may just not be what the publishers are looking for at the time. A publisher’s list is limited and the number of authors they have may become significantly fewer when economic conditions are bad.
I do most of my writing when I am not holding a pen – when I am watching television, waiting for a train, or just sitting and thinking.
For example, I got the idea for ‘The Spook’s Apprentice’ when I moved to the village where I still live and discovered there was a local boggart. I jotted into my notebook the idea for a story about ‘a man who deals with boggarts’ and years later, when I needed to come up with a story idea very quickly, I went back through my notebooks and found it. That eventually became The Spook’s Apprentice and the subsequent series.
So I wish you all luck in your efforts to get published. If you enjoy writing as I did, the journey is worth it even if you never arrive. I really mean that. Even if I had never got published I would not have regretted all the effort I made. I enjoyed trying.

5 comments on “How do you get published ?

      • Hi Mr.delaney! Im Ahoura from Iran. I reed many books but your last apprentice and starblade chronicles was the best.I really want to reed your other books but they didn’t translate to Farsi yet and our publishers published your last apprentice books into 10 volumes and i’m very sad for that.would you publish your books in Farsi again or i have to make my English language better?😅

  1. This was very helpful, thank you so much for posting it! I’m a wannabe author and I work currently as a freelance illustrator, it would be my greatest dream to have one of my stories published. I saw you reading a segment of slither back in 2013 when I was 18 and you inspired me. Thank you

  2. Hello Mr Delaney,

    This post was very informative and helpful. I commented a few weeks ago asking about the location of “The Northlands” from your Starblade Chronicles, and in that comment, I said one day I’d like to be an author.

    Good news… recently a publisher has agreed to take a look at my manuscript after being pleased with the first chapter I sent them. This comes off the back of a few publishers turning me down or saying they were too busy.

    I would just like to reiterate once again that you are one of the biggest inspirations for my own writing. While my book, “Zoureg”, isn’t at all similar to your works, it is built upon foundations that your books gave me ever since I’ve been reading them as a young lad. I’m from the Yorkshire/Lincolnshire area myself and so a lot of the folklore you include in your stories bleeds over into local tales down my ends. There’s a number of “bogles” around where I live, including a club-footed man in a forest, something called a “Skripindi”, along with some ancient Roman legends from their brief foray in England.

    Anyway – I’m rambling – I just wanted to say thanks for being a great writer and, even indirectly, the biggest inspiration for my own work. In my mind, you are up there with Tolkien, Sapkowski, and G.R.R.M.

    – Alex

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