Morgan McCarthy is a superbly talented author whose debut novel, The Other Half of Me, gained her a legion of fans and brought her to the attention of the critics. Here Morgan shares her top tips for getting published.
In 2008 Morgan started working part-time in order to write her first novel, which took seven years to complete, and was inspired by favourite books such as F Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Morgan has since followed this stunning debut with The Outline of Love; a gripping read about obssessive love, and Strange Girls and Ordinary Women; a dark story about three very different lives that come crashing together.
Here Morgan shares her top tips for getting published.
Firstly, make sure the novel is ready. I sent my first book off to agents in a fever of excited optimism as soon as I’d finished each draft. In the end it took several drafts before it was anywhere near a standard that agents and publishers would consider starting their own extensive editing work on it. If you can stand it, let your book lie for a month or two and do something else. Then revisit it, by which time you’ll see it more clearly. Seek opinions from honest people who like the kind of fiction you’re writing. You may have to pay for honesty. There are various manuscript reading services available online. I sent my own first novel to The Literary Consultancy, who gave me a clear (and at times painful) assessment.
When it comes to sending your book to agents and publishers, do your research! You need a targeted approach if you want to be taken seriously. Don’t take a scattergun approach; firing your book randomly into the publishing world in the hope it will hit the right people. (Somewhat sinister analogy, but I stand by it). Work out your genre and which other authors are like you. Go online or use The Writers and Artists Yearbook to find out who represents or publishes them. Look at the websites of agents and publishers to find out which people are responsible for other writers like you, and if they take submissions.
This shouldn’t need to be said, but agents don’t welcome submissions that have nothing to do with their stated genres. They won’t applaud your out-of-the-box thinking or be encouraged to widen their horizons from children’s fiction at the sight of your ground-breaking literary sci-fi meets erotic fiction masterpiece. You will get the standard ‘No’ slip – with a signature if you’re lucky – and your manuscript won’t be read at all.
On the same note: follow every single rule on the agent or publisher’s website. What it boils down to is this: everyone wants to find new talent but nobody really has time to read your manuscript. If you break the rules you won’t be differentiating yourself from the crowd and getting attention. You will get a sigh of relief that the reader doesn’t have to read past your cryptic cover letter, your ten-page synopsis, or your single-spaced first page.
But do break this rule: if an agent tells you to only submit to one agent at a time, ignore it. Agents take weeks and sometimes months to reply, so send your manuscript to several at once (remembering to personalise each letter, as explained above). Most agents do understand that you’d like to be published in your own lifetime. Having said that, don’t feel obliged to confess who else you have sent it to!
Strange Girls and Ordinary Women is out now in paperback.