A how-to guide on becoming a successful published author from knowing your market to picking the right literary agent and publisher to best represent your work. With this guide, you’ll become a successful author in no time. It’s really that easy.
For a novice author, the prospect of getting their work published is an excitable affair. However, if many realised the initial amount of research that must go into preparing a book for publication, they would possibly be quite surprised and most probably, even a little intimidated. For example, it is not an easy endeavour deciding upon which literary agent to approach for representation seeing as there is a growing list of agencies to choose from every year. The most important rule to keep in mind is that you should contact an agency that is most suited to managing your particular genre of writing. It is a complex procedure. There are many aspects that must be considered before an author sends off their manuscript for consideration.
The publishing industry is a business that thrives on the sale of books with an easy marketable quality. The main concern of a publisher is whether a book will sell and if so, how much revenue it will garner when it goes on sale. It is an extremely competitive field with different companies often vying for the attention of the same audiences and striving to place homes for their titles in the same literary markets. The ‘beginning of the twenty-first century,’ saw the publication of ‘a million titles a year’ being produced and that number is growing with the introduction of new sub-genres such as crossover fiction and the graphic novel.
Within the field of writing, there exist two types of author. The first type we must identify is the author who writes with no particular audience in mind, instead penning books for themselves that they themselves feel they would enjoy reading. Although this can be a personally rewarding experience, this approach to writing will not automatically guarantee your position as the number one on the bestseller list. The second class of writer is the commercial author who adheres to the requirements of a specific readership, adapting their writing style to fit a particular niche in the market.
While a publishing company’s main objective is to make money, their authors will often share this notion. This suggests that ‘Many authors don’t write for their readers, but’ instead strive for the option that will make them the most money. In other words, they target the largest literary markets, such as fiction. Authors can achieve this by moulding their books, often in a formulaic structure that the mass market can recognise and appreciate. On the other hand, there ‘are those who write for the market, and take money by educating, informing, or entertaining’ their readers. This is an attitude that I feel is embodied in Young Adult fiction today.
Due to the structure of my novel as a Bildungsroman and its portrayal of the transition between childhood and the beginnings of adulthood, I felt my novel would be widely marketable to readers of young adult fiction. Notably, this particular readership would be able to relate to the characters, whether it be because they are of a similar age or are much older and therefore, have already experienced their own rites of passage. Therefore, the novel would be allow them to revisit their own childhood memories, such as their first time away from home with no parental supervision.
Although mostly identifiable with the age group of twelve to eighteen years, teenage fiction is also vastly ‘popular with the under-twelves, who are naturally eager to come to grips with the adult world,’ which they know they will soon experience. When catering to the young adult fiction market, I feel it is the author’s responsibility to provide solace in this transitional period by offering teenage characters that the reader can identify with and situations that are realistic to their own environment.
Due to the age of the character, the writing style and themes explored throughout, I believe that my novel would be appropriate for the target age of eleven to sixteen year olds. It would therefore, cater to the younger end of the teen market, particularly as the themes and events played out in the narrative are not too extreme for this age group. As an author of young adult fiction, myself, I strongly believe that it is a writer’s duty to ‘make sure (that their) readers are aware of the risks involved’ when becoming immersed in their narrative world.
The most important factor that sets my novel out as being of the young adult genre is the reader’s ability to see things from the young protagonists’ perspectives, thereby identifying my novel with the teenage audience. The conflicting opinions and perspectives of the younger protagonist and her older, wiser self also provides an interesting insight into the differing minds of teenagers and adults. This aspect of the novel shows how an event can appear entirely different when we look back on it with our older and mature, adult eyes.
Ultimately, I hope that my novel provides the reader with a voice with which they can identify. Perhaps this is an unspoken voice or concern that they do not feel comfortable addressing aloud. I believe that through the detailed and progressive characterisation of the four teenage protagonists, my readers will be able to find at least one girl who resembles themselves or in who they can see a little bit of themselves. This may be because they share similar personality traits, opinions or perhaps because they just find them interesting.
The young adult fiction market has risen in its sales as its readership has expanded over the years with the birth of many crossover novels. These crossover novels effectively appeal to both the children’s and adult markets. Novels such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and Alice Sebold’s, The Lovely Bones are indicative of the concept of crossover fiction. These two novels became international bestsellers and proved that they were marketable to both young and mature readers. This thus demonstrated the fact that young adult fiction is a difficult term to define, particularly when it comes to identifying its specific characteristics and audience.
The refashioning of the book cover of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, saw the adult version adopting a different cover design to that of the teenage edition. This was a successful way of exploiting the novel’s market potential as a commercial crossover between the young adult and adult readerships. This clever selling strategy would have been devised by the publishers.
The blurb on the back cover of a book serves the sole purpose of selling the book. It reveals a very brief synopsis of the novel. The first line of Mark Haddon’s bestseller reads ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a murder mystery novel like no other.’ This is immediately compelling, as is the bright cover. The quotes of appraisal from the respected author, Ian McEwan and the Sunday Telegraph and Guardian are also another ploy to sell the book to the reader.
The back cover blurb for The Lovely Bones is also compelling. The opening line reads, ‘My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Suzie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.’ This extract is in fact also the first two lines of the first chapter. Dramatic and harrowing, it creates suspense and ups the tension. My initial reaction when reading the blurb for the first time was an empowering feeling and sense of urgency that I should start reading the novel right away.
The reason why I enjoyed reading both these novels in particular is because the authors handled sensitive issues such as death in a way that I felt would not patronize a young reader. The Lovely Bones maturely tackles the theme of rape and perhaps suggests that it is not an author’s place to ‘shield young people from the grislier facts of life.’ Instead, what Alice Sebold does is allows her young female protagonist, Suzie, to guide the reader by the hand, through and away from the tragic event that would otherwise be considered taboo in this genre of fiction. The end result is a harrowing depiction of a character who you immediately sympathise with.
It is more than apparent that young adult fiction has grown out of the children’s market to become a highly marketable genre in its own right. For this reason, when searching for the most suitable literary agency to represent my novel, I looked at the reputable children’s agencies who also dealt with young adult, or what they often referred to as teenage fiction. For this information, I consulted my copy of The Writer’s Handbook, published by Macmillan.
I discovered that the David Higham Associates Agency was the leading agency for children’s fiction. While browsing their website, I found that Anthony Goff, one of the agents specialising in children’s fiction, also acts as Alice Sebold’s UK agent. This immediately caught my attention and peeked my curiosity as my novel explores a similar concept of the dead narrator as depicted in The Lovely Bones. Both novels are also bildungsromans. This lead me to believe that the agency’s successful representation of Alice Sebold’s novel, which sold more than a million copies after being included in Richard and Judy’s book club shortlist, would be a very good reason to select their agency for my representation.
Upon searching through Mr Goff’s clientele list, I found that he also represents Anne Fine, another author who I feel has made an impressive mark and found a prominent place in adult fiction. This is another reason why I decided to address my submission to Anthony Goff out of the many agents offering their services. Jacqueline Wilson, the children’s author, has also penned many successful novels gearing more to the teenage market and is represented by the same agency.
Also among the David Higham clientele list are Julie Bertagna and Berlie Doherty, both of which were shortlisted for the 2004 Booktrust Teenage Prize. I had searched the lists of books shortlisted for this prestigious award since its formation in 2003 and found that during the four years that it has been running, three of its books shortlisted were represented by the David Higham Associates Agency.
The final reason which convinced me to pick the David Higham Associates Agency came about while I was searching the online directory of the Association of Authors’ Agents, who listed the agency as one of their members. Their membership with this reputable organisation verifies their professionalism and status as the one of the leading literary agencies in the United Kingdom.
The literary agent serves a pivotal role in the book industry. He or she acts as the middle counterpart between the author and the publisher. The agent is responsible for the ‘negotiating of contracts, royalties and advances, foreign and paperback rights – and much, much more.’
Having chosen my literary agency, the next step was to find the best publisher who could sell my novel to a wide audience. I consulted The Writer’s Handbook for children’s publishers who also dealt in young adult fiction, and then began searching the various publishers’ websites. I quickly discovered that The Random House Group Ltd was the UK’s largest selling book publisher with many divisions catering to specific types of books. The Writer’s Handbook also revealed that in 2006 alone, ‘Random scored 103 number one bestsellers.’
One of the many divisions at Random House is their Children’s Books, whose website I visited. I found the names of many creditable authors who have written young adult fiction. This list of clientele was included in the Teens section. Such authors were Judy Blume, Robert Cormier, Philip Pullman, Jacqueline Wilson. Also published by Random House is the 2006 Booktrust Teenage Prize winner, Henry Tumour, written by Anthony McGowan. An even more successful novel was The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. This novel was also published by Random House under the publishing name of David Fickling, which is one of their children’s books divisions. This novel won not only the Children’s Book of the Year award, but also first prize at the The British Book Awards’ therefore, delineating this book’s marketability for both a young and adult audience.
While reading Book Business: Publishing – Past, Present and Future, by Jason Epstein, I came across an interesting quote about The Random House Group Ltd. The author states that, ‘the essential tasks at Random House and other publishers are still performed as they always have been, by individual editors and publicists working in small groups with a few writers at a time.’ The author’s mentioning of this publisher by name suggests that Random House is a respected and reputable publishing house that shares a good working relationship with their clients. For this reason and their successful history of producing such quality teen fiction and bestsellers, I decided to choose their services and select them as the publisher for my novel.
The Random House Group Ltd is a worldwide publishing house so they would be able to manage the international rights to my novel, handled within one of their own divisions of children’s fiction. Should my novel prove to be a marketable work of young adult fiction and garner respected sales in the United Kingdom, then I believe an international release would be imminent. As for the time of publication, I strongly feel that a June release would be a strategic and profitable business move. This is the time when my target audience would be verging towards their summer holidays and therefore, reflecting a similar situation to the characters in the novel. A June publication date would hopefully secure the holiday mass market when a larger number of teenagers will be enjoying the pleasures of reading.
By carrying out the necessary research into my chosen literary market and the publishing industry as a whole, I now understand that each aspect involved in the process of getting your work printed, such as choosing the right agent and publishing house is a crucial journey that all authors must go through. I feel that by looking at other similar works in the Young Adult market, such as Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, it has given me a greater understanding of how to market my own work.
I think I would be correct in saying that The Lovely Bones was a pioneering novel as it certainly inspired me with the author’s re-fashioned concept of a teenage, dead narrator. I can also testify to the fact that young adult fiction novels such as this have paved the way for my own work of fiction.
From the knowledge that I have gained from analysing my research, I now feel that I have a greater understanding of the young adult genre and the publishing industry as a whole. I now recognise the requirements and many intricate stages involved in producing and publishing a successful work of fiction that ultimately, appeals to as large an audience and readership as possible.
Gale, Ann de. Writing For the Teen Market, London: A & C Black, 2003, p. 48
Hammond, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, London: Jonathan Cape, 2003, Blurb
Sebold, Alice. The Lovely Bones, Great Britain: Picador, 2003, Blurb
Turner, Barry. The Writer’s Handbook 2007, London: Macmillan, 2006, p.75
Zaid, Gabriel. So Many Books, Pennsylvania: Sort of Books, 2004, p.9
Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Website 2006