When it comes to getting a book published, few have more insight than Selina Walker – she has worked for one of the biggest publishing houses in the UK, Penguin Random House, in a career spanning over 20 years.
We’ve had the pleasure of asking Selina about her experience as an editor, and what top tips she has for writers who want to know the secrets to getting a book published…
What is the first thing you look for in a newly submitted manuscript?
A good title and a strong first chapter (I know – that’s two things). I judged a first chapter competition a few years ago, and you’d be amazed how many hadn’t considered the reading experience – and it was a competition!
First impressions are important, and most editors are time-poor and have deep inboxes. A strong opener is always a really good thing!
Is there anything that will put you off straight away?
Poor spelling and grammar. Asking me to look at your ‘fictional novel’ (novels are always fictional) is also a guaranteed no-no.
Pro Tip – Use an Editing Tool
Spelling and grammatical errors are a guarantee of seeing your manuscript dismissed by publishers.
Luckily, they’re also easily avoidable – there a number of free writing programs dedicated to helping you polish your work and correct mistakes.
ProWritingAid, pictured above, is one of the finer examples of a writing tool which can provide a thorough analysis of your text, and spot potential areas of improvement as a well as errors.
What advice would you give someone before submitting a manuscript to a publisher?
Make sure the book publisher you’re submitting to accepts unsolicited manuscripts (many, including Random House, don’t).
And if you have a contact within a publishing house – a friend, family member, or someone you’ve met on a writing course, for instance – make sure to send it to them, having spoken to them first. Personal contacts can count for a lot in getting a book published.
Is there anything aspiring writers can do to help get their writing noticed?
Enter competitions, go to writing courses and events, talk to other writers, join writing groups.
There is way more exposure online for aspiring writers these days than there was even a few years ago. Above all, keep writing and keep looking for ways to showcase it.
Pro Tip – Get Networking
Building up a good network of contacts can give you a distinct advantage over other aspiring authors when it comes to getting a book published.
Get involved with some of the many writers’ networking websites to build up some connections in the industry, as well as benefit from peer feedback.
Should writers approach book publishers with a complete manuscript?
No, writers should find out – generally by visiting publishers’ websites – what publishers want in the way of submissions. Mostly it’s a good submission letter, an outline and a couple of chapters, but it’s worth checking every time.
The worst thing you can do is send an entire manuscript (which may have taken you several years to write) to a publisher who doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, with no personal or named contact. You may never see it again!
For more tips and insights from a Penguin Random House editor, check out the recording from our free Editor Q & A Webinar over at our Writer’s Toolbox, where publishing director Jocasta Hamilton answers a wide range of reader questions:
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