I’m just back from doing a panel at the London Book Fair (with Lionel Shriver and agent Carole Blake, among others) entitled “How To Get Published.” When asked to participate, I admitted up-front that my theory is moronically simple: write a very very good book (i’m afraid I worded it somewhat more emphatically this afternoon). Because, contrary to popular belief, publishers and agents are simply gagging for terrific books and will welcome you with open arms if you’ve managed to produce one. Of course it’s not always easy to write deathless prose, as I’m discovering at the moment. And if you haven’t written the next Wolf Hall or Twilight (speaking of deathless prose, geddit?), getting published might be considerably more difficult.
I remember being sick to death of writing nice enthusiastic begging letters to potential employers at some point in my desultory advertising career. In a fit of pique (towards the end of my career, I admit), I resorted to sending a query letter that read “My portfolio is obviously crap, but probably no worse than anyone else’s.” I got more interviews from that letter than from all the others put together. I learned a lot from advertising about writing and selling.
The sad (or happy?) truth about the publishing world is that there is no secret cabal. You do not need to have a brother-in-law in the business. Or be 21 and gorgeous. On the other hand, a bit of luck never hurts, a bit of persistence is absolutely necessary, and a whole lot of talent will make you a raft of new best friends in the biz. If you can’t sell your book, and have tried every agent and editor you can think of, write another book. You’re a writer after all, and that’s what you should be doing anyway.
Lionel, by the way, is nicer than she looks.