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10 tips on how to get your first book published

·3-min read
Photo credit: Scott Olson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Scott Olson - Getty Images

Speaking at our inaugural literary salon, Ali Smith said, "A really good book, like a buoy in the ocean, will surface no matter how stormy the weather." Yet, for debut authors, it can seem like an impossible task to get your manuscript in front of the right person’s eyes. This is why we asked three publishing experts – Alexandra Pringle, group editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury whose portfolio of authors includes William Boyd, Esther Freud and Patti Smith; Karolina Sutton, literary agent at Curtis Brown who represents Margaret Atwood and Malala Yousafzai; and Bazaar’s former editor-in-chief, Justine Picardie – to share their wisdom on how to seal the deal and ensure your work rises above the competition.

1. Find the right agent for you

"As a publisher, you rely so much on agents to know your taste and your company. It’s like a dating agency in a way. You are more likely to read submissions from agents that you trust and who have a good reputation." Alexandra Pringle

2. Sculpt a brilliant synopsis

"The better the synopsis, the better your chances of getting published." Alexandra Pringle


3. Make sure your work is the best it can be

"Remember that it’s not just the editor that’s going to read it. The editor is the engine that drives that machine but we have to share it with production, sales and marketing - people who might not have an editorial intelligence but a reader’s intelligence. Your work needs to be as good as it can possibly be because it has one shot at all those people." Alexandra Pringle

4. Write, write, and write some more...

"It’s not enough just to have a great story to tell. You have to hone your craft: write for the sake of writing." Justine Picardie

5. Do your research, particularly if writing non-fiction

"For my most recent book, Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life, I spent a good 10 years looking in archives and exploring before I got to the point of writing a synopsis. I didn’t pitch it until I was sure that I had enough new material." Justine Picardie


6. Read your work aloud

"It is crucial for picking up repetitions or infelicities." Justine Picardie

Photo credit: Oliver Holms
Photo credit: Oliver Holms

7. Make sure your writing is relevant

"I often find that people are very good writers but don’t have a story. The work is really polished, the writing is superb, the sentences work on an exquisite level but you wouldn’t want to spend three hours in the company of the characters. Your story needs to have something urgent to say culturally that will grab the editor’s attention." Karolina Sutton

8. Don't just send your manuscript to anyone

"Think very carefully about who you are going to send it to. Choose about four or five editors or agents. Anything beyond that feels indiscriminate." Karolina Sutton


9. Make sure the first chapter does your book justice

"It’s all about that first chapter. I will read for as long as I can and if I get bored I don’t read any further. There is a myth that an editor reads a full manuscript but we don’t, it’s not possible." Karolina Sutton

10. Don't be put off by rejection

"So many first novels that are hugely successful have previously been turned down. And people can’t believe it was previously turned down – but that’s just because it wasn’t the right publisher for that story." Alexandra Pringle

"When you get that rejection letter it just means that that agent or that publisher doesn’t know what to do with it – that’s all it means. They aren’t the right person for your book. You have to keep going." Karolina Sutton

Photo credit: Oliver Holms
Photo credit: Oliver Holms

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