Is it possible? Yes, it’s totally possible to write and sell a book in a year. To prove this, let me tell you a self-indulgent and possibly boring story. But go on, listen anyway.
Today was the Writers’ and Artists Getting Published conference. A year ago, I was there myself. I’d booked it full of tentative trepidation. I’d finally decided I was going to commit to my writing and go to an event. I’m not quite sure why, but this was my first, because despite my life-long dream of being a writer, I’d never invested any time or money in it at all. With hindsight, I think I was afraid to try.
So, it was June 2010. I’d finished my first book several months before and begun to submit. The third agent asked for more, liked it but not enough, suggested another to send it to. The fourth agent asked for more within two weeks. I was massively excited and settled in to wait. As it happens I didn’t hear back from them for six months, but by June 2010 it had only been six weeks. I was still full of foolish optimism.
Then I sat in the conference and listened to talk after talk about how difficult it is to get published, how some agents only take on a client every four years, how dire things are in the industry, how there are something like 100,000 new books published every year in the UK. My optimism started to shrivel. I was just one of hundreds of writers there, desperately hoping, watching the published authors on stage with a jealousy that was almost palpable (out of interest, why don’t more aspiring writers get arrested?)
I didn’t stop. I had the start of another book, and over the rest of the summer, I finished it – 100,000 words in three months. At the end of the summer I found out the agent who had my first book was turning it down. I carried on with the second one. Then, mostly unedited and on a whim, I submitted it to a competition for new writers. By November, I’d found out I was shortlisted, and I started getting emails from agents and even publishers. By December I’d signed with an agent, and by Christmas she had it out on submission and an early offer. By February it was sold in a two-book deal, the book I’d barely started nine months before.
Now it’s June again. Book two has been edited twice and is now being copy-edited. There’s jacket copy. It’s available to pre-order on Amazon. Soon there’ll be a cover and hopefully it might appear overseas too. I’ve been able to quit my job, and I’ve been to lots of writing events as a member of that privileged circle. Although the book isn’t out yet, I feel like one of the people on the stage, not in the audience.
So, sorry if you’ve heard that story before, but I feel it bears repeating, and I know that last year sitting in that audience, I’d have liked to hear it myself. I’d be the first to say I was lucky. First, that the competition ran, and I heard about it in time to enter. Second, that I signed with a publisher who were willing to bring the book out quickly (a year being quick in publishing). But I’d say the single most key decision was that I accepted the first book maybe wasn’t going to be published, and wrote something else. And that I learned as much as I could in the meantime about the business of writing. Oh, and having an online profile, so prospective agents could track me down.
If you’re in the situation I was last year, and perhaps you’ve been sitting disheartened in an audience, it is totally possible to change this around in a year or less. A writing friend of mine and myself have coined a phrase for this – ‘Wrote it, sold it.’ (Following on from another conversation, this has been extended to: ‘Wrote it, sold it, got invited to the Oscars’. Maybe one day….) If your current book isn’t working, write something else. Learn from what’s gone before. Go to events. The next one could do it. Then you can walk round saying ‘Wrote it, sold it, job done’. And everyone can hate you too with a jealousy that is almost palpable. That’s the dream, no?