Becoming a published writer can appear to be a rather daunting task for the novice author. However, by following a few simple guidelines, one can increase the likelihood of seeing one’s work in print.
Be aware of the market you are targeting
Do some research into what is currently being published. Pay attention to books published in your subject area. If you are merely reiterating something which is already in print, it is unlikely that you will be seriously considered for publication. Try to identify any gaps in the market and ensure that you have the means for effectively filling these. This advice particularly applies to writers of non-fiction.
Presenting your manuscript
It is highly unlikely that your work will be considered if it is not presented as a professional package. A manuscript should be presented in a manner which will be immediately attractive to the reader. It should be typewritten with double spacing on one side of A4 paper, with each page accordingly numbered. Ensure that you retain at least one good copy of your manuscript.
In Britain, you hold the copyright for your work as soon as it is written down – you do not need to apply for copyright or register your work with any organization. The only exception to this is when you are writing as part of your employment – for instance, if you are a journalist working for a newspaper. Copyright lasts for seventy years after the end of the calendar year in which an author dies.
There is no copyright over ideas – so always get an idea down in writing. Similarly, there is no copyright over titles, although you could be accused of “passing off” if you used a well-known title for your own work.
If you are concerned about proving that you are the copyright holder of an unpublished work, you can post a copy of your manuscript to yourself and keep this, unopened. The postmark will provide proof that you wrote the work by a certain date. Or you can deposit a copy of your manuscript with a bank or solicitor(get a dated receipt). If you are worried about protecting your idea from being copied when you send your work to agents or publishers, The Writer’s Handbook suggests that you ask anyone who sees your work to sign a letter confirming that they will not use those ideas or disclose them to anyone else – although, in practice, it can be difficult to get them to sign such a letter. Remember,too, that publishers and agents receive so much unsolicited material that they may already be considering work that is similar to your own.
The Society of Authors publish a series of leaflets on various aspects of copyright law, priced at £2 each. Contact: The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens, London, SW10 9SB (Tel: 020 7373 6642). Another useful publication is Helen Shay’s Copyright and Law for Writers, which is listed at the end of this page.
Where to send your work
It is a good idea to do some research into which particular publishers are likely to be interested in your work. It may seem glaringly obvious, but there is no point in sending your poetry to a publisher who specializes in comic books.
Consult either the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook or The Writer’s Handbook(details at the end of this fact-sheet) for listings of names, addresses and main areas of interest of the major publishers. Alternatively, look at similar books in your local bookshop or library and make a note of the publishers.
Sending off your work
A synopsis and sample chapter are sufficient for the publisher to judge whether or not they will be interested in your work.
The synopsis should contain information about who in particular the book is aimed at, what it is about, why it is necessary that it be published, the proposed length of the book and the likely date for completion .
If you have been published before, enclose a CV detailing your writing experience and any specialist knowledge that you may have of your subject area.
Address your manuscript to the relevant editor in the publishing house.
Send your package out to several publishers at once to ensure the widest possible exposure.
An alternative to sending your work directly to publishers is to
Alternative Methods of Publishing
There are alternatives to approaching mainstream publishers or agents. Community publishing is a growing movement. Ask at your local community centre, evening class, arts centre or bookshop. Your local library or adult education institute may also be able to give you information.
Small presses are also worth considering. The Association of Little Presses (Contact: 25 St Benedict’s Close, Church Lane, London SW17 9NX) offers advice, publishes a catalogue and produces a newsletter.
It is also worth contacting your Regional Arts Board. There are twelve of these across the country with funding available via the Arts Council from the government. The Literature Officer at each is involved in a variety of projects and schemes to help writers publish their work. This is usually done by providing grants for writers or running workshops. They should be able to offer information on what is available in your particular area.
You know you have encountered a vanity publisher when they ask for payment. Avoid them unless you are really sure that you wish to pay for the publication of your book – and, if this is the case, consider self-publishing first. Often vanity publishers will praise your writing in order to persuade you to part with your money. If your work is as good as they say, a reputable publisher will be willing to publish it without requesting you to pay for the pleasure. Books published by vanity publishers are often of poor quality and are rarely stocked by bookshops or libraries.
Self-publishing is on the increase with the advent of user-friendly desk-top publishing (DTP) technology. Theoretically, self-publishing is within the grasp of anyone who has access to the relevant software required. It is still going to cost money, but there is the satisfaction of knowing that what you have produced is entirely of your own making and you are in control of the costs. Famous authors like Jill Paton Walsh, Timothy Mo and Susan Hill have all self-published. Jill Paton Walsh’s Knowledge of Angels was even shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Where to start
You will need to plan the design of the book yourself and organize the typing.
Look in the Yellow Pages for details of local
printers and contact them for quotes.
You will also need an ISBN number, which is issued by the Standard Book Numbering Agency. You can either write or ring them with details of your proposed book. Contact: 12 Dyott Street,
London WC1A 1DF / Tel: 0891 132100 (calls are charged at 50p per minute) / Fax: 020 7836 4342.
Several libraries are legally entitled to a free copy of your published book, which must be sent within one month of publication. They will use the information on your title as part of their bibliographic services and your book will be made available to the public. One copy should go to the Legal Deposit Office at The British Library, Boston Spa, Wetherby, West Yorkshire, LS23 7BY (Tel: 01937 546268). The other libraries are supplied by a single agent: Mr A T Smail at 100, Euston St, London, NW1 2HQ (Tel: 0120 7388 5061). You will need to contact him to see how many copies he requires.
Finally, you will need to sell the book yourself. It is hard to get self-published books into bookshops, although if there is some local interest (eg. the book is a history of the local area), they may be more interested. Your chances will be improved if you follow some basic rules: always make an appointment with the buyer for the relevant section or with the manager, rather than just turning up; don’t expect an appointment on a Saturday or at Christmas (bookshops’ busiest times). Bookshops will expect at least 33% discount and will expect you to cover carriage costs yourself. They will also expect sale or return, ie. if the books don’t sell, they return them to you and you refund them the money they have paid to you.
You will also need to promote the book yourself. This could involve sending out review copies and contacting newspapers and local radio stations.
Several self-help guides have been produced on self-publishing. The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook has a useful chapter on the subject (see list of publications at the end of this fact-sheet). The Association of Little Presses produce a booklet called Self-Publishing: Not So Difficult After All. Contact: 25 St Benedict’s Close, Church Lane, London, SW17 9NX. And the Author-Publisher Network run courses and lectures on self-publishing and produce a newsletter called Write to Publish. Contact John Dawes – Tel: 01580 753346.
Other guides to self-publishing are listed at the end of this leaflet.
Courses and Competitions
There are several courses available which provide information and training. In addition to this, there are many competitions for new writers. Details are listed below.
Good Luck with Your Writing!
If your work is good and you are determined, you will find a publisher. The publishing world is littered with success stories of writers whose books were rejected by many publishers before becoming bestsellers.
The British Council
publish an annual directory of creative-writing courses: Literature and Creative Writing: Short Courses and Summer Schools in Britain in 1999, priced £4.99. Send orders to: The Information Officer, Literature Department, The British Council, 11 Portland Place, London, W1N 4EJ. Cheques should be made payable to The British Council.
The Arvon Foundation offers writing courses for people of all ages on subjects encompassing children’s writing, poetry, fiction and writing for TV. Details are available from: The Arvon Foundation, Totleigh Barton, Sheepwash, Beauworthy, Devon EX21 5NS.
Ty Newydd run writing courses with support from the Welsh Arts Council. Details are available from: Taliesin Trust, Ty Newydd, Llanystumdwy, Cricieth, Gwynedd LL52 0LW.
This is a list of useful publications – some to help with your writing, others to give advice on how to get published. Many of them, especially the invaluable The Writer’s Handbook and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, will be available in your library. This means you can browse through them before deciding whether they will suit your purposes.
Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Bloomsbury Offers excellent advice to would-be writers in many different areas.
The Writer’s Handbook Macmillan / PEN Very similar to the above; if anything, a little more clearly laid-out in addition to being somewhat more comprehensive.
Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to How to Write by William Ryan, Bloomsbury, 2021
The Society of Authors publish a series of leaflets for authors. These include: Publishing Contracts; Ghost Writing / Collaboration Contracts; Authors’ Agents; and Vanity / Subsidy Publishing and
Self-publishing. Contact: The Society of Authors, 84 Drayton Gardens,
London, SW10 9SB (Tel: 020 7373 6642).
An Author’s Guide to Publishing
Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to How to Hook and Agent by James Rennoldson, Bloomsbury, 2020
Copyright and Law for Writers: How to Protect Yourself and Your Creative Work
by Helen Shay, 1996, How To Books £8.99
Guide to Literary Prizes, Book Trust This annual publication lists the latest administrators and publicists, as well as the rules for entering. Send a cheque for £6.99 made payable to Book Trust to: Book Trust Publications Department, Book House, 45 East Hill, London, SW18 2QZ.
Directory of Writers’ Circles by Jill Dick, Lawrence Pollinger Available from: Oldacre, Horderns Park Road, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire, SK12 6SY.
Allison & Busby publish a series of ‘how to’ books such as How to write Stories for Magazines and The Craft of Writing Romance. For a catalogue write to: Allison & Busby, Publicity Office, 5 The Lodge, Richmond Way, London W12 8LW.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Creative Writing by Laurie Rozakis, Simon & Schuster, 1998. A guide to writing novels, short stories, plays, poetry, scripts and screenplays, including practical information on finding an agent and negotiating contracts.
The Creative Writing Handbook: Techniques for New Writers edited by John Singleton and Mary Luckhurst, Macmillan Press, 1996 Written by professional authors, this is a guide to the whole process of writing, from drafting first thoughts to shaping them into publishable form.
Ways with Words: A BBC Guide to Creative Writing by Jennifer Bailey and Norma Clarke, BBC Books, 1995 With contributions by leading writers, such as PD James and Meera Syal.
501 Writers’ Questions Answered: A Comprehensive Guide to Writing and Getting Published by Nancy Smith, Piatkus Books, 1996
Research for Writers by Ann Hoffmann, 5th edition, A & C Black, 1996
Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande, new edition , Macmillan, 1996
The Organised Writer by Antony Johnson, Bloomsbury, 2020
The Right Word: A Writer’s Toolkit of Grammar, Vocabulary and Literary Terms, Bloomsbury, 2021
How to Write for Publication: An Introduction to Successful Freelance Writingby Graham R Stevenson,
Arrow Business Books, 1997
Freelance Writing by Chris Moore, Robert Hale, 1996
Writing from Experience: A Step-by-Step Approach to Freelance Writing by Amanda Wilkins, Summersdale Publishing, 1997
Drama, Screenplays and Broadcasting
Writing Great Screenplays for Film and TV by Dona Cooper, 2nd editiion, Simon & Schuster, 1997
How Plays Work: A Practical Guide to Playwriting by David Edgar, Nick Hern Books, 1998
Writing for Television by Gerald Kelsey, 2nd edition, A & C Black, 1995
Writing for the BBC by Norman Longmate, revised edition, BBC Books, 1997
Writing for Radio by Rosemary Horstmann, 3rd edition, A & C Black, 1997
How to Write Non-Fiction Books by G. Wells, &Busby, 1996
The Craft of Novel-Writing by Dianne Doubtfire, revised edition, Allison & Busby, 1998
Teach Yourself Writing a Novel and Getting Published by Nigel Watts, Teach Yourself Books, 1996
Writing and Selling a Novel: How to Craft Your Fiction for Publication by Marina Oliver, How To Books, 1996
Writing the Blockbuster Novel by Albert Zuckerman, Warner, 1996 Bestseller:
Secrets of Successful Writing by Celia Brayfield, Fourth Estate, 1996
Teach Yourself Writing a Romantic Novel and Getting Published by
Donna Baker, Teach Yourself Books, 1997
Writing Romantic Fiction by Marina Oliver, How To Books, 1997
How to Write Science Fiction by Bob Shaw, Allison & Busby, 1993
How to Write Historical Novels by Michael Legat, Allison & Busby, 1990
How to Write Crime Novels by Isobel Lambot, Allison & Busby, 1992
(The Poetry Library, at the Royal Festival Hall, can provide lists on poetry competitions, major poetry-book publishers and poetry magazines. Contact 0171 921 0943).
Writing and Publishing Poetry by Stephen
How to Publish Your Poetry by Peter Finch, 4th edition, Allison & Busby, 1998
Poetry: How to Get Published, How to Get Paid by Kenneth C Steven, Writers’ Bookshop, 1998
Small Presses and Little Magazines of the UK and Ireland Oriel Bookshop, The Friary, Cardiff, Wales A full address list of small presses that publish poetry.
Writing Your Life Story: A Step-By-Step Guide to Writing Your Autobiography by Nancy Smith, Piatkus Books, 1994
Writing Out Your Life by Jo Stanley, reissue, Scarlet Press, 1997 Written specifically for women who want to write their life stories.
Creating a Twist in the Tale: How to Write Successful Short Stories for Women’s Magazines by Adele Ramet,
How To Books, 1996
The Way to Write Short Stories by Michael Baldwin, Elm Tree Books, 1996
Writers’ & Artists’ Guide to Self-Publishing, Bloomsbury, 2020
The National Small Press Centre Handbook provides a step-by-step guide to publishing your own book and also features a directory of useful contacts – printers, binders, paper merchants and distributors. It is published by The National Small Press Centre at BM Bozo, London, WC1N 3XX. Price: £12 plus £1.50 for post & packing.
Writer’s Guide to Self-publication by Charlie Bell, published by Dragonfly Press, 1991 (Contact: Courtyard Mews, Southover, Spring Lane, Burwash, Etchingham, E Sussex, TN19 7JE)
Brief Guide to Self-publishing by Anne Kritzinger, Scriptmate Editions, 1991 (Contact: 20 Shepherd’s Hill, London, N6 5AH) Vernon Colman
How to Publish Your Own Book (And Make Money) Blue Books, 1999 (Contact: Publishing House, Trinity Place, Barnstaple, Devon, EX32 9HJ)
Writing for children How to Write for Children and Get Published by Louise Jordan, Piatkus, 1998
The Way to Write for Children by Joan Aiken, updated edition, Penguin, 1998
Writing For Children by Margaret Clark, 2nd edition, A&C Black, 1997
Writing for the Teenage Market by Ann De Gale, A&C Black, 1993
How to Write for Children by Tessa Krailing, new edition, Allison & Busby 1996
Writers Advice Centre for Children’s Books Thames Wharf Studios Rainville Road London W6 9HA tel.
0181 874 7347- Provides constructive, friendly advice on improving and marketing
aspiring writer’s material – there is a fee involved
for this service.
Writers News Writers News
Limited PO Box 4
Nairn IV12 4HU tel. 01667 454441
A magazine helpful to new writers as
well as established ones.
Arts Council of England
14 Great Peter Street London SW1P 3NQ tel. 020 7333 0100 – Provide information on courses for writers, particularly children’s authors.
Regional Arts Boards
Regional Arts Boards differ in the types of information that they give out, but are a good place to start for information on literature initiatives, funding, writers available for readings, writers groups and
|London Arts Board
133 Long Acre
London WC2E 9AF
020 7240 1313
|East Midlands Arts Board
Leicestershire LE11 3HU
|Eastern Arts Board
Cherry Hinton Road
|South East Arts Board
10 Mount Ephraim
Kent TN4 8AS
|West Midlands Arts Board
82 Granville Street
0121 631 3121
|North West Arts Board
12 Harter Street
0161 228 3062
|Southern Arts Board
13 St Clement St
|Yorkshire and Humberside Arts Board
21 Bond Street
|Northern Arts Board
9-10 Osborne Terrace
0191 281 6334
|South West Arts Board
|Information updated July 1999
A Book Trust Information Sheet
Book Trust, Book House, 45 East Hill, London, SW18 2QZ Tel: 020 8516 2977, Fax 020 8516 2978