‘Be patient and persevere!’

Journalist Lucy Lord got a three book deal from Harper Collins - find out how she did it, here.

Journalist Lucy Lord got a three book deal from Harper Collins – find out how she did it, here.

‘‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ said Annabel, my agent, at the other end of the phone. ‘I’ve just been talking to Sarah at HarperCollins, and she wants to offer you a three-book deal.’

I certainly wasn’t sitting comfortably after that. I was leaping, prancing, jumping up and down like a woman possessed, shouting at my long-suffering husband, ‘three-book deal from HarperCollins!’

I’ve been writing all my life – pastiches of the 1920s and 30s when I was at school, hideously introspective teenage short stories, murder mysteries in my twenties that fizzled out as I couldn’t decide who dunnit.

Then, a few years ago, I decided to try again. As a freelance journalist, I’d been having the time of my life, going to Ibiza every summer, behaving badly at countless festivals, and I thought that that was something I’d like to read about. I was bored with drippy, cutesy heroines obsessed with shoes. I wanted my protagonist to swear, and smoke, and drink, and occasionally (Okay, frequently) make a complete idiot of herself. While still being a thoroughly good egg, of course.

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It took a year or so to write the book, and another year or so to get an agent – the brilliant Annabel Merullo at PFD, which was cause for the first of many celebrations. But there was still plenty of work to be done before a deal was in the offing. First I was told I needed to make the sex more graphic. Gulp. A challenge, let’s call it, especially as it is written in the first person, in the present tense (think about it).

Filth content upped, the book was sent off to publishers, and – hurrah – Sarah Ritherdon, publishing director at HarperCollins (now my editor) said she loved it. BUT she thought my heroine was too slutty – which was a bit difficult not to take personally, considering the somewhat autobiographical nature of my masterpiece. Oh, and some of the characters were not deemed likeable enough. So I spent several weeks taking out half the sex scenes I’d just put in, and adding random acts of kindness.

All of which was rewarded, several months later, by the THREE-BOOK DEAL.

And being a novelist is the best job in the world. OK, so you may not interact with other human beings for hours on end, but that’s what Facebook and Twitter are for. Writing fiction, immersing yourself in your characters’ lives, is an immensely enjoyable way to spend your days.

Having said that, I’m currently working on a massive rewrite of my second book, and sometimes the temptation just to kill them all off is overwhelming.  

Top 10 tips for aspiring authors
1.  No publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts that do not come through an agent, so finding a good agent is the first step. They are all listed in the Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook, and I found this website extremely useful writersworkshop.co.uk/Agents-listing
2.  Most agents will want to see three chapters and a synopsis, but they will also want you to have finished the book before they sign you up.
3.  It may sound obvious, but be punctilious about spelling and grammar in your submission. Any mistakes will send it straight to the bin.
4.  Be patient, and persevere. You will get rejections. Remember that JK Rowling was rejected 12 times. If 10 agents have said no, grit your teeth and approach 10 more.
5.  Be prepared to make changes to your masterpiece. You may be the author, but no book is ever really written by only one person and editors exist for a very good reason.
6.  Read. Lots. The more you read, the better you’ll write.
7.  Enjoy what you’re writing. Chances are, if you’re bored writing it, the reader will be bored reading it. That scene may need to be reconsidered.
8.  Take a break from time to time. I find a bike ride or a run in the park can really help untangle some of the stuff in my mind.
9.  If that fails, and the empty page is still staring at you, just write. You may be writing complete rubbish, but there’s bound to be something salvageable in there, and any progress is better than none.
10.  It’s important to make dialogue believable. I am currently steeling myself to watch an entire series of ‘Made in Chelsea’ as I don’t think my 19-year-old billionaire’s daughter sounds quite right. It’s a tough life.’

Revelry (£6.99,HarperCollins) is published on 21st June. Get a taster here, in Party Night, the e-book short story prequel.

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