Rachel Burge’s top tips on how to write a book and get it published
Rachel Burge shares her do's and don'ts of writing and publishing
Do you dream of seeing your book on the shelves one day? Rachel Burge, author of bestselling YA novel The Twisted Tree and The Crooked Mask, shares her dos and don’ts to help you get published.
Don’t: make your story too autobiographical
People will tell you to ‘write what you know,’ but be wary of making your work too autobiographical. Just because it happened to you doesn’t mean it will make a great story. As a writer, there’s a danger you will be too close to the material and won’t be able to judge whether the plot and characters are working effectively. A lot of new writers find themselves exploring personal stuff in their first book. While journaling can be a fantastic form of therapy, my advice is to work on that separately to your novel idea.
Do: draw on personal experience
If you know a world particularly well, consider using it as the setting for your novel – and then fictionalise the story events and characters. If you work in Tesco, you might want to set a horror in a supermarket. Perhaps you know what it’s like to move to a new town and feel like an outsider at school. You might draw on those feelings to pen a psychological thriller where three students witness a tragedy but each one sees it from a totally different perspective and the reader has to figure out who’s lying and why. Including insider details and observations will help make your book feel much more believable.
Don’t: start writing without a plan
Do you start a project full of enthusiasm, only to hit a wall around the 10,000-word mark? To avoid this happening, make sure you outline your idea before you start writing. At a minimum, you should know the beginning, middle and ending. There are plenty of online articles, videos and podcasts offering advice on how to structure a novel, and it’s worth applying some of those principles at the planning stage. Find a novel you love in the genre you want to write, and make an outline for it. Then compare it with the outline for your book. Look to see where the three acts fall and apply what you’ve learnt to your own work.
Do: Get an agent
Most of the big publishers only accept agented writers, so first you’ll need to submit your work to a literary agent. Once you find someone to represent you, they will help you to improve your manuscript and then send it out. Agents typically take 15% of your earnings as an author, but a good one will be worth every penny as they will negotiate you a much better deal and ensure your contract is fair. Don’t have any contacts in the publishing industry? Don’t worry – most authors don’t know anyone in the business before they’re published either. The Writers and Artists Yearbook is a good place to find agents and will help demystify the process and explain what’s expected for your genre/market.
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Do: finish the thing
Unless you’re the presenter of a prime time TV show, no-one is interested in your ‘idea’ for a book. Agents and publishers need to see the completed manuscript, and that means you have to sit down and finish the thing. And no, you can’t send the opening few chapters and tell them what happens in the end! The majority of authors don’t manage to sell their first book (it could be their second, third or fourth) that gets picked up. Even if the project you’re working on isn’t ‘the one,’ you’ll learn so much by completing the story – so keep at it.
Don’t: start in the wrong place
The opening of your book is vitally important – an agent won’t read on unless the first few pages grab them, so make sure your story starts in the right place. Challenge yourself to come up with five different possible beginnings. You don’t have to write them all, just jot down the ideas. Coming up with variations could throw up ideas you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. As a general rule, avoid characters waking up (especially from a dream) or throwing your reader straight into a battle. It’s hard to be invested if we don’t know who is who and why winning is so important to them. Try to reveal your character in action, i.e. have them do something that shows us their personality. Ideally, the first few pages will give the reader a good idea of who your character is and what kind of story it will be.
Do: write a high concept story
If an editor loves your work, they will take it to an acquisitions meeting where the sales and marketing team will get involved. Will it appeal to retailers? Can they see a place for it in the market? The editor will have read your manuscript, but others in the meeting won’t have. For them to get excited about the book, they need to grasp what it’s about. It helps if you’ve written a high concept story that can be pitched in a hooky one-liner. For example, Lore by Alexandra Bracken is ‘Greek myths meets The Hunger Games.’ The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary is a romantic comedy about two people who share a bed but have never met.
Do: be kind to yourself
In order to get published you need to produce a fantastic book, but there is also an incredible amount of luck involved. Your manuscript needs to land on the desk of an agent at the right time, and a publisher needs to feel it will complement their current list of titles. No matter what stage you’re at, remember it’s a marathon and not a sprint, so make sure you pace yourself and celebrate every achievement. Most people who start writing a book never finish it, so if you can complete your first draft you are already winning. Good luck!
Get your copy of The Crooked Mask by Rachel Burge here.