Want to boost your chances of getting that book deal? Then steer clear of these common mistakes. Here are five pitfalls that new authors should avoid, as told by author and Curtis Brown Creative Novel-Writing Course alumna, Maria Realf.
- Don’t try to second-guess the market
It may seem tempting to write for the genre du jour, but jumping on the book bandwagon is generally best avoided. While vampires/bondage/robots may indeed have their literary moments, by the time you get around to writing, editing, pitching, marketing and finally publishing your novel, chances are the next big trend will already have surfaced. Instead, simply write the book you want to write – if you truly love the subject, that will shine through on the page. The greatest USP you’ve got is your original voice, so use it.
- Don’t rush your submission
When the creative juices have been flowing, and you finally – drumroll, please – finish that manuscript, then it’s natural to want to unleash it on the world as quickly as possible. However, making a good impression on your chosen agent is crucial, so ensure your sub is as polished as it can be before you send it off. Run a spell check. Get a few trusted friends or CBC coursemates to read it and listen to their feedback. Stick it in a drawer for a week, do something completely different, then read it again with a fresh eye. Only when you think it’s pretty much perfect should you start seeking representation. Which brings me on to the next point…
- Don’t pitch to agents at random
Though it may seem that bombarding agents en masse increases your odds of being snapped up, you’d be better off tailoring your submission to a carefully chosen few. If you’re writing an erotic sci-fi thriller, for example, there’s no point sending it to someone who specialises in children’s poetry. Have a look at agency websites and see who else they represent. While you’re there, take a good look at the submissions criteria: do they want 5,000 words or the first three chapters? Would they like it as a Word document or PDF? By sticking to the guidelines, you’ll make the agent’s life much easier – and that in turn increases the chances of your book being read.
- Don’t read your own reviews
Once you’ve bagged your brilliant agent and landed that book deal, resist the urge to scour the web for early reviews. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a literary superstar or first-time author: somebody, somewhere, is not going to share your vision – and no matter how many glowing endorsements you get, you can bet your laptop you’ll be dwelling on that one critical comment for weeks.
I nearly fell into that trap when my novel The One was first released in Germany, frantically pasting reviews into Google Translate. Even though the response was great – and my book spent five weeks on the bestseller list – I couldn’t shake the niggling dread that there might be a negative remark or two lurking in the corners of cyberspace. A friend, sensing my thin skin, suggested I log on to Amazon and check out the reader reviews for some of my all-time favourite novels, which swiftly – and reassuringly – revealed that no one can please everyone. If even Dickens can’t do it, what hope is there for the rest of us?
Recently, I asked an award-winning author whether she read her own reviews. ‘No,’ she said. ‘The good ones will find you.’ This seems like a far superior approach, so as I prepare for the UK release of The One this week, I’m going to forgo surfing the web in favour of finalising my launch party (though if you happen to spot some rave write-ups, please do send them over…)
- Don’t give up
There are times when finishing your novel feels almost impossible. Not just the actual writing side (which in itself is like penning about nine dissertations), but emotionally, too: the writer’s block, the self-doubt, the excruciating wait for news when you’ve sent off your submission…
The good news is you’re not alone – and, for me, one of the best things about studying at CBC was meeting other aspiring authors who were so supportive. That’s not to say everything went smoothly: during my time on the course, I attempted to write a psychological crime thriller in the wake of Gone Girl (thus succumbing to pitfall 1), despite the fact I really love reading romance novels. After about 20,000 words, I completely ran out of steam and had to make the difficult decision to scrap it and start all over again. It felt like the end of the road back then, but ultimately it was the beginning of something better – and my CBC friends were there to encourage me every step of the way.
So whether you’re just about to start chapter one, or put the finishing touches to your epilogue, keep striving, believing and writing. You’ll be dodging your own reviews before you know it…
Maria Realf’s debut novel The One is published this week by HarperImpulse, available to order here.
Maria was a student on one of our Three-Month Novel-Writing Courses in London. Find out more about our next Three-month London based Novel-Writing Course with tutor Charlotte Mendelson here, there is also a scholarship place available for a student of limited financial means.
Or, if you’d like to join a short course which focuses on polishing up your novel and putting together a compelling pitch package (avoiding many MORE new author pitfalls), take a look at our online Edit & Pitch Your Novel course.