The Endeavour by Jo Castro

Today, author, scriptwriter, ghost writer and mentor John Harman, has kindly taken the time to write a fabulous guest post about the chances of getting a book published, and the steps to follow. [pinit]

As a travel writer with a memoir bubbling to be finished, this post was particularly interesting and answered many of my own questions, which I know other bloggers and writers often ask too.

John Harman
John Harman

Over to you John …

I had my first non-fiction book published in nineteen seventy-six. Back then, everyone said it was impossible to get a book published.  I had my first novel, Money for Nothing, published in nineteen eighty-eight. Back then, everyone said it was absolutely impossible to get a novel published.  A friend of mine told me to give up trying… unless I was a genius or a friend of someone in the publishing industry, it was never going to happen, he said.   Well, I was neither.  I had two things going for me: I was persistent and I was lucky.

Publishers need new talent

Today many people assert the same thing: that because of the tectonic shifts in the publishing industry brought about by the rise of eBooks, there is no chance of someone new being published.  This is a fallacy. Every month books by first-time authors appear on the shelves of bookshops. If publishers didn’t publish new authors where would the industry be in twenty years time when all the old-timers are dead?  Publishers need new talent: it just has to be talented enough to be published.

Steps to follow

Like a lot of things, getting published is partly talent and partly luck. The difference is that, these days, there’s an established sequence of steps, a process, which it pays the emerging writer to follow. Knowing the steps in the process definitely helps reinforce your luck and if you put time, effort and hard work into the process, your goal of being published may become a reality.

Question: what do you call an emerging writer who is persistent? Answer: published.

So, what is the process?

The first thing any writer must do is produce a high quality piece of work. This is your product. Your work has to touch all the bases: if non-fiction it must be succinctly and cogently written and free from obvious errors, be grammatically correct and properly punctuated, and laid out to industry standard.  All of that applies to a novel too, but the novel must be engaging; must have drama and tension and be written in the style appropriate to the genre.  If your manuscript isn’t all these things, submitting it to an agent is a waste of time.

After the first draft

Completing the first draft of your manuscript, whether for a novel, short story, non- fiction book or magazine article is a major achievement. Yet, having accomplished this Herculean task, which may have taken years, you are still much closer to the start of the publishing process than you are to its end.

Your first draft is only the beginning. Now comes the re-writing, and yet more rewriting. Only after the third or forth draft should you consider having your MS assessed.  Many writers put their MSS in for an assessment too early and end up paying an assessor to tell them what they would have discovered for themselves if they had worked longer on the MS.

Once you are happy with your MS (or as happy as you can be) you need to write the synopsis, probably the hardest writing you will ever do. Synopses are usually written in the first person and many agents expect then to be no longer than a page – say four hundred words but in no case should your synopsis ever be more than a thousand words.

Write an attention grabbing letter

Finally you need to draft a scintillating email or letter which makes a literary agent or an editor of one of the smaller publishing houses really want to read your synopsis and a small selection of your chapters. This email or letter is no longer than a page and has three distinct paragraphs.

One paragraph is about your book; another is about how it may be marketed… who are the likely readers and/or where it fits in the firmament of fiction genres; the third paragraph is about you and your writing credentials. If you don’t have anything previously published you need to demonstrate a good understanding of your subject or the genre you are writing in.  Of course, this email or letter must be beautifully written.

Research the market

Finally, you need to research the market: who is the best agent to represent you or your book, the best of the smaller publishers to publishing you. This entails going into bookshops and finding books similar to your own to find out who published them or which agent represents the author.

About once a year I run a full day’s workshop on the subject of getting published for UWA Extension. It’s called: ‘Getting Published – Mastering the Process’ and some of the subjects covered are:

  • Assessing your manuscript for story-line and/or narrative structure
  • Proofing for grammar; punctuation and Industry Standard Layout
  • Doing your own market research
  • Finding an agent
  • Approaching a publishing house directly
  • The query letter: what must it say?
  • Writing the synopsis
  • Considering the market for your work
  • Devising a chapter summary
  • Deciding whether to self-publish: what are the factors to consider?
  • The basic steps of self-publishing
  • Self publishing your book as an eBook

Foremost among emerging writers who realise the importance of understanding the protocols in approaching agents and publishers are travel writers, who have unique issues in approaching travel editors of magazines and newspapers.

Many travel writers learn their craft (as well as the basics of photography – good pictures always help sell an article) by going on Travel Writing and Photography Tours and Workshops. Wildheart Tours mounted a successful travel writing and photography tour to Turkey last year and are repeating it again in 2013.

Whether you attend the UWA Extension course, or other similar courses, or read books on the subject, what is important is that you know all the steps in the process.

Getting published was never easy, but understanding and mastering the process is a major step forward in achieving your dream of being a published writer.

John Harman has always written for a living, first in advertising and then as a journalist on London’s famous Fleet Street as well as in New York and California. He  owned a small film company and wrote hundreds of training and documentary film scripts before going on to write scripts for popular UK television series. For the past twenty-five years John has earned a living as a full-time novelist and author with a number of major (600-page) crime thrillers published by Headline in the UK. His backlist of novels is available from Amazon. John has also written over a dozen non-fiction books and  has ghostwritten many biographies of well-known politicians, businessmen and celebrities.

John’s last book, ARTHUR’S WAR, commissioned by Penguin Books recounts the war memoirs of well-known local hero, Arthur Bancroft who survived the sinking of HMAS Perth, two years on the Burma Railroad and the torpedoing of his prisoner-of-war ship en route to Japan which resulted in him cast adrift in the South China Sea for six days and nights.

John is a lecturer and teacher of creative writing at UWA Extension. He also leads  workshops for government departments and major companies on ‘Improving Communication Skills’. John has taught at the University of Cambridge Board of Continuing Education in the UK and at the University of California Summer Schools in America. Here, in WA, he teaches for The University of WA; UWA Extension; Edith Cowan University; The Fellowship of Australian Writers and The WA State Literature Centre.   He is an adjunct senior lecturer in the School ofCommunication & Contemporary Arts at Edith Cowan University.

Check out John’s Books at Amazon

and his eBooks at

Note from Jo at Zigazag

Friends, travellers, Zigazagers, have you had a book published? Or do you have an E-Book for sale? Scroll on down to Speak Your Mind, let me know in the comments box and I’ll link back to your website or blog.

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  1. Thank you John for an inspirational and heartening post. One of the best tips for me is to go to a book store and look for similar books in the niche I want to write in, and see what they’re writing and who’s publishing them.

  2. Thanks for taking the time to write some uplifting tips for writers who want to get their books published. There is so much negativity surrounding book publishing that, for new authors, it can often seem like a waste of time trying to go down the traditional route. I hope that people are inspired to get going, and also show an interest in your writing classes and courses.

  3. Thanks Jo,
    very informative article. Yes, I agree with John’s ideas, especially the ‘luck’ aspect.

  4. Yes, it always helps to be in the right place at the right time with the right person 🙂

  5. Thanks Jo for the very informative and encouragingat article by John Harman. I have attended a couple of John’s workshops at UWA Extensions and have enjoyed them and found them inspirational … in fact I’m booked in to another of his workshops in Nov.

  6. Anna… then get hold of the ‘Australian Writers’ Marketplace’ to check out the publishers. Good luck.

  7. Mike…and Jo
    Yes, to paraphrase Pasteur – you need ‘chance – and the prepared manuscript’. In fact, ‘chance and the fabulous manuscript’, would be a better bon mot.

  8. Thanks a lot for your kind words, Ingrid. I’m delighted the courses are helpful.

  9. Thanks Ingrid, I’m glad you found John’s post inspirational, as I did too. Great that you’re booked into another one of his workshops in November.

  10. Thanks John and Jo for a most interesting post. It is certainly more than just putting the words on the paper. And also a lot about coming up with something new. John, I went to one of your courses with Dale Neill in Fremantle a few years ago. I am getting along with my travel writing and photography for magazines, but I think a book is still a long way off – but who knows what the future may bring!
    Thanks John.

  11. Thanks for your reply Jill. Perhaps that book is something that needs to be pushed forward this year?

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