So you want to be a writer? These are the 10 steps to make it happen  

Apparently we all have a book in us. In advance of their appearances at Cork World Book Fest, fiction writer Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin and literary agent Simon Trewin explain how you can go from idea to actual publication 
So you want to be a writer? These are the 10 steps to make it happen  

As well as readings and interviews with authors, Cork World Book Fest will also have a number of workshops. Picture: iStock

Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin is a bestselling crime fiction author, writing under the pen-name Sam Blake, and also founder of writing.ie, the Inkwell Group publishing consultancy and crime writing festival Murder One. On Saturday, April 24, she will facilitate three panels on how to get published at the Cork World Book Fest. Participating on the ‘First Page Pitch’ panel is Simon Trewin, a long-established literary agent based in London. Here they give ten of their top tips to aspiring writers.

1. Find your voice

 “The most important thing is to write your own book, that is true to you. That is what voice is about — publishers are looking for a new and unique voice,” says Fox O’Loughlin. 

Adds Trewin: “Often, I think people look at something successful and write something a bit like it — that is like karaoke, there is no heart at the centre of it.  Have a real story to tell and take your time.” 

2.Write and rewrite 

“What you shouldn’t do is sent your book out after you’ve written five chapters to an agent and say ‘what do you think?’,” says Trewin. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is people sending something out too soon, not doing another draft.” 

 Adds Fox O’Loughlin: “The only way you are going to know the first few chapters you submit are the right three chapters is when you’ve finished it because when you get to the end, you are 100,000 words further on in your understanding of your plot, characters and everything else than when you started. That is when you go back and start polishing.” 

3. Forget about it

 “Putting the book away when you’ve finished it and coming back to it with fresh eyes is really good. It is extremely difficult to do but new writers have the luxury of time to get the first book right,” says Fox O’Loughlin.

 Adds Trewin: “Don’t share it with anyone until the end is almost in sight. At that stage, lock it away in a drawer, give the key to someone else and don’t look at it for three months. That is where the real work starts.”

Literary agent Simon Trewin, and author Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (Sam Blake).
Literary agent Simon Trewin, and author Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (Sam Blake).

4. Get an agent

 “In an ideal world, every author wants an agent. An agent is there to bat for you. They work on a commission basis so they don’t make money if you don’t,” says Fox O’Loughlin.

 Trewin agrees: “When you feel really happy to be judged on what you’ve done, at that stage, think about where in the market your book might sit. For example, if you think you’ve done something that will appeal to the readers of Donal Ryan, Hilary Mantel, John Boyne, or whoever, go on the internet, hunt down their agents and write to them. Follow the terms and conditions on every agent’s website, they can be very different. Some want a full manuscript, some an email, some 10,000 words. Don’t buck the trend. If someone wants it written in green ink and posted on a Thursday, that is what you need to do.” 

5. Be patient 

“Write to four or five agents at a time because you won’t get a reply at all from a couple of them and the rest might take some time. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket,” says Trewin.

 “Don’t kiss the first frog that comes along — if somebody wants to represent you, you need to get on the phone, get on Zoom, meet them in person if you can and find out what appeals to them about your book, where they think it should be published and what are their plans.” 

6. Perfect your pitch

It is not always possible to get an agent: “There are always more writers than there are agents, it is a numbers game,” says Fox O’Loughlin. In the case of submitting directly to publishers, it is important to research the requirements of each one, and to get your pitch right. “A really good pitch paragraph is crucial, to convey what your book is about as simply and clearly as possible,” she adds. “You have to understand yourself what the book is about — if you do struggle with writing the synopsis or the pitch, often it is because there is an issue with the story that needs to be fixed.”

 7. Don’t take it personally

 “You will get rejected, it is something that happens in this business, take it on the chin and get on with it. It doesn’t mean it is a bad book, it is just that for whatever reason, that book doesn’t fit with the publisher at that time,” says Fox O’Loughlin.

8. Get an (objective) second opinion

 “Don’t get your mum to read it because, well, it’s your mum. You need someone who will give you practical, constructive, critical advice,” says Fox O’Loughlin. “It is no good someone saying to you ‘I didn’t really like that character’ if they can’t tell you why. There are lots of different ways of getting that feedback, for example, it could be another writer.” 

9. Find a support network

 “Writing can be a very lonely business,” says Trewin. “If you can, join some kind of writers group early on in the process where you can get mutual support and feedback. Also, go to events, festivals, workshops, all of that; writing.ie is an amazing resource, everything is on there.” 

10. First isn’t always best

“It is hard for people to realise that it is not always your first book that gets published,” says Fox O’Loughlin. “Little Bones, which was my first published book, was actually the fifth book I had written.” 

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Cork World Book Fest: Other highlights 

Trish Kearney joins Gareth O'Callaghan at Cork World Book Fest to discuss their recently-published memoirs. Picture; Larry Cummins
Trish Kearney joins Gareth O'Callaghan at Cork World Book Fest to discuss their recently-published memoirs. Picture; Larry Cummins
  • The Power of Memoir, Wed, April 21, 5pm:   Trish Kearney and Gareth O’Callaghan discuss their work with broadcaster PJ Coogan. Kearney recently published her memoir Above Water, a story of survival after her abuse by swimming coach George Gibney. Former radio presenter Gareth O’Callaghan was diagnosed with Multiple System Atrophy in 2018, and is the author of six books including A Day Called Hope, which documented his experience with depression.
  • Celebrate Cork World Book Fest with Nano Nagle Place and Dr Gillian O’Brien, Thurs, April 22, 5pm: Dr Gillian O’Brien is author of The Darkness Echoing: Exploring Ireland’s Places of Famine, Death and Rebellion, in which she tours Ireland's most haunted and fascinating historical sites. She will discuss her work with Dr Danielle O’Donovan, followed by a Q&A.
  • The Writer as an Activist -Do writers have a duty to engage with Climate Change in their writing? Thurs, 9pm: Writers Sara Baume and Cónal Creedon join Cork City Libraries’ Writer-in-Residence Tina Pisco to discuss the role of writers when it comes to dealing with climate change and social injustice.
  • Children’s books from Around the World, Fri, 3pm: This session takes younger readers on a trip around the world, featuring stories from Germany, Indonesia, Japan and China. Suitable from ages 3 upwards.
  • Fiction at the Friary: The Secret Life of Book Bloggers, Sun, 3pm Mairead Hearne, Noelle Kelly-Trindles and Emma McEvoy chat to Madeleine D’Arcy and Danielle McLaughlin about book blogging and all it entails.
  • Cork World Book Fest runs from April 20-25. To register for events, go to corkworldbookfest.com

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