Mslexia, the magazine for women who write | www.mslexia.co.uk
Workshops for novelists
From the Mslexia Laptop to Bookshop Roadshow
Welcome to the Mslexia Roadshow online. We are publishing this set of four workshops by popular request. They have been adapted from a series of classes, led by Mslexia’s founder Debbie Taylor. The classes toured literary festivals and arts venues up and down the country as part of a programme of events supported by Arts Council England.
The aim of these workshops is to help you get your novel into print.
The aim of these workshops is to help you get your novel into print. They are not about creativity and good writing - other workshops on this site will help you with that. Our getting published workshops are simply about presenting your novel in the best possible light, so that it will be noticed and read by the people who matter.
The workshops assume you are already well into your novel, though people just starting out may still find them helpful.
They were originally designed to be conducted in a group situation, where group members read out their responses to each exercise, and receive feedback from the group leader. This process is invaluable for helping people see how others’ attempts succeed or fail, and to apply these insights to their own work. To benefit from this process yourself, why not work through the exercises with your writing group?
Explore Get Published
The submission process
Who do you submit to?
There are two types of person to send your novel to:
- a literary agent
- an editor at an independent publishing house
Sarah Waters’ debut novel Tipping The Velvet was rejected by Virago out of hand until she found an agent to represent her.
The majority of mainstream fiction publishers will only seriously consider manuscripts sent via a literary agent. Unagented submissions go onto what’s known as the ‘slush pile’ where - best possible scenario - they will be read by a trainee editor or a teenager on work experience, or - more likely - they will be returned unread with a rejection slip. Sarah Waters’ debut novel Tipping The Velvet was rejected by Virago out of hand until she found an agent to represent her.
There are some exceptions to this rule. Independent small presses funded by the Arts Council usually have a policy of reading unagented submissions - you can find a list of these on the Arts Council website. And certain editors at some of the bigger commercial presses may trawl their slush piles periodically looking for hidden treasure. But by and large publishers prefer to let literary agents do the sifting work for them.
Finding an agent
The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook lists every literary agent in the UK. The entries describe what type of book each agent specialises in and lists prominent authors they represent. There is a separate publication for the writers of children’s books. All you need do is peruse the list of agents, develop a shortlist of around 20 who handle your kind of novel, then visit their websites, one by one, to whittle your selection down to your three favourites.
How many submissions?
if you submit to three agents at once, and they all show an interest, what have you got to lose?
Agents and editors will tell you not to submit to more than one person at a time. That’s to make their lives easier, not yours. After all, if an agent likes your work, s/he doesn’t want to fight someone else for the privilege of representing you. But if you submit to three agents at once, and they all show an interest, what have you got to lose? Your stock will rise when they realise that others rate your book too, and you’ll get the opportunity to pick someone you can trust and get along with. So I’d recommend sending out several submissions at a time -- but don’t announce what you’re doing!
Limit your submissions to the number of rejections you think you can cope with at any one time -- because you will almost inevitably be rejected at some point. Even if you follow all the guidelines in these workshops, it is unlikely that your book will appeal to everyone you send it to. But don’t give up, or consider a rewrite, until you’ve received rejections from every one of your 20 shortlisted agents.
What do you send?
Every agents’ website will set out their preferred submission guidelines, which you should slavishly adhere to. What follows here is a summary of what’s normally expected.
Purchase an A4 jiffy bag and enclose the following:
- a stamped self-addressed envelope
- a pitch letter (cover letter, query letter) (WORKSHOP 2)
- a synopsis of your novel (WORKSHOP 3)
- your first three chapters, or your first 10,000 words, whichever is the shortest
If your book doesn’t get interesting until Chapter four, you should delete the first three chapters and start the book later.
People often ask me whether they have to send the first three chapters, because their story doesn’t really get interesting until Chapter 4. My answer to that is: If your book doesn’t get interesting until Chapter four, you should delete the first three chapters and start the book later. See WORKSHOP 4 for guidance on writing your first paragraph.
Mslexia’s getting published workshops were devised and written by the magazine’s founder Debbie Taylor. For details of Debbie’s Fast-Track Fiction masterclasses, aimed at serious novelists editing their novels for submission, visit www.newwritingnorth.com
The Get Published workshops are currently available for free.
HOW TO GET PUBLISHED
The workshops in this section were devised by Mslexia Founder Debbie Taylor for the Roadshow.
Go to AUTHORS for personal experiences on getting published.
Go to AGENTS cutting-edge advice from the frontline.