So you want to be published? First, you need to be able to write: Ali Hull explains how not to be rejected…

Ali Hull

Ali Hull

IF YOU’VE BEEN in the Christian book trade for any length of time, odds are you’ve heard of Ali Hull; you may even know her. But if not, that’s not surprising: she’s one of those remarkable people who work away in the background, helping authors turn their ideas into books, one of the unsung heroes without whom the book trade as we know it today simply wouldn’t exist.

Ali is a Commissioning Editor who has been commissioning books since 1999, and is currently working for Lion Hudson. She has edited over one hundred titles, and worked with most of the leading UK Christian authors, including Jeff Lucas, Nick Page and Adrian Plass. She has also been running (and speaking on) writers’ courses since 2003 and is an active member of the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) facebook group. In this post she explains to would-be authors…

How not to be rejected

One of my favourite jobs, as a Commissioning Editor, is going through the slush pile. There are two reasons for this – the first is the hope of striking gold, in the form of an excellent manuscript or idea: well presented, clearly written, properly thought through, and ideal for our market.

A girl can dream …

And the other reason? Sheer amusement.

I have a file on my laptop labelled ‘Insane proposals’. And while it is not full, it should be, and would be, if more of these arrived by email, rather than by post.

Most of those that do come by post come without that simplest of accompaniment – the SAE. Our website specifies that we need one, and won’t respond without one: people do not send them. Having ignored the guidelines – and most publishers do put these onto their websites – what else do writers do that ensures their work hits the bin in a matter of seconds?

They don’t look at what we publish: they don’t look at what anyone publishes. They send novels that are 200,000 words long. They send the Bible, in rhyming couplets. They send short stories. None of these fit our list.

No matter how often you tell me, I do not believe that God dictated your book to you.

Their writing is poor. Their stories have no shape (I don’t deal with fiction, but see memoir and autobiography – and this needs to be as well structured as a good novel). Their characters are two-dimensional at best: their dialogue lacks credibility. Most of us hate being bored, but we are quick to bore others. Their descriptions rely heavily on adjectives and adverbs; they don’t know when to show, when to tell, or what I mean by showing not telling. They wouldn’t go near a GP who hadn’t studied, yet want to let their writing loose on the world without ever having thought about honing their writing skills. They don’t understand how language works. They often don’t want to write – they want to be published. You have to love writing for its own sake.

They have no idea why their books should be picked up and bought, or read. They have a completely misguided belief – make that a delusion – that, as soon as their books hit the shelves, the bookshop will be surrounded and the shop assistants crushed in the rush to seize their precious title.

Finally, no matter how often you tell me, I do not believe that God dictated your book to you. What I do find interesting is the good writers – who could perhaps be forgiven for thinking that He had a hand in their work – never claim it. The poorer the writing, the more likely it that God is apparently responsible for every inappropriate word and misplaced comma.

Whatever you do, take your writing seriously, and make it the best writing it can possibly be.

What remedy? Waterstone’s stocks quite a few books on writing and being published: and my three current favourites are Write to be published by Nicola Morgan: Creative Writing, edited by Linda Anderson, and How to Write, edited by Philip Oltermann. Join the Association of Christian Writers. Read, read, analyse and read. And there are courses out there, and if you want one that will give you access to a commissioning editor, as well as the former Publishing Director at Authentic media, check out www.lakesSchool.com

But whatever you do, take your writing seriously, and make it the best writing it can possibly be.

Links Revisited (and more)

Last but not least: all of the books Ali mentions should be available to order from most bookshops, not just Waterstone’s, including any Christian bookshop with a mainstream wholesaler’s account such as those signed up to Gardners’ Hive. Any Christian booksellers reading, please feel free to shout out for your shop if you can supply these books…
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9 thoughts on “So you want to be published? First, you need to be able to write: Ali Hull explains how not to be rejected…

  1. Great post, and yes this bookshop can supply the books 😉
    Can I also point out that many towns and cities have some good and very active writers groups where you can go along and learn writing skills and often get some valid, real and sometimes painful critique of your writing.
    Sad but true that the adage no gain without pain is also true in the craft of writing.
    I have to say that i do also keep a copy of the ‘writers and artists yearbook’ in stock – why? so that when those budding wanna be published authors come in the shop I can pull it off the shelf and suggest they buy it for that information, two very frequent questions I get asked are which publisher would suit my book its about xyz is a frequent enquiry! along with can you give me the address of xyz publisher so I can send them my book!
    we have also noted tht at our author events these days there are a good percentage of people that come not to buy the book but to interrogate the author on how they got published, who published them etc etc etc, they frequently take up much authors time and then don’t buy anything – this is a little mean as the author is there to promote their book and increase their sales, though they often don’t mind talking to fellow aspiring writers and sharing their stories and advice it really would be good of the aspiring writers to at least buy a copy of the book, after all it it’s succeeded in getting published there is likely information on style and content in the book to be learnt from as Ali said.

  2. We have the same “God told me to write this,” (or worse, God told me to sing this) with hymns and songs sent for “publication” by the Jubilate Group, for whom I work. “My church loves this” is a favourite. If so, I hope there’s a quiet room in heaven.

  3. You can also point aspirant writers to my blog http://www.thecraftywriter.com I have a free online creative writing course that attracts students from around the world. Can’t guarantee people will produce anything worth publishing at the end of it, but at least it covers the basics. And for those with genuine talent it should hopefully help them hone their craft.

  4. Like Fiona, I, too offer free online Creative Writing resources as well as Article Writing and Blogging tips on my website http://www.melmenzies.co.uk. This has a following from all over the world. I’ve led writers’ workshops at Lee Abbey and Swanwick, and have a number of books published, some of which were commissioned by Hodder, Lion and Kingsway. I love to hear from visitors to my website and will always respond.

  5. Dear Ali,

    Thank you for this article. I appreciate your honesty. I am a Christian writer, and I have been writing for most of my life. Seriously, though, for over 20 years. I find it interesting, that I write, and write, and write, and I cannot help but write.

    And yet, I have not been paid, one penny, by anybody. I don’t know how to network. I don’t know how to be rejected any more. For when I have submitted any of my works, and complied with the guidelines, I have been rejected.

    And because I do feel, this is my “gift and calling” and I have paid my dues. And, I have written, the messages I do, for the sake of the gospel, for the lost, and more then anything to give glory to God, I do not search any more. I am one of those writers, who do not ask. I am extremely, weary of rejection.

    But….if God brought someone to help me, I would receive it. I am looking for someone, who has the same vision, and understanding, as I do, who knows, times are short, and Christ will return. I want to be a soul winner. I want people to see, by my writings, that one must not take their salvation for granted. And though my writings, they would be inspired. For the lost to find their way. For He is the way, the truth, and the life. John 14:6 And more then anything, I want everyone to see by my writings, how good God is. That all things are possible with him. Luke 1:37. And in doing so, He would receive glory honor, and praise.

    I look at it this way. If I try to make it happen any more, its my efforts. If God brings someone to help me, then He can get the glory and honor in this. I am just His servant. I am a “Prayer Writer” and I write truth in love.

    If you are interested in reading any of my articles, I have many blogs, and web pages. But my main blog is:

    http://elenasjustmythoughts.wordpress.com

    Thank you for your considerations, and your insightful suggestions, and guidelines, to help writers.

    May God bless you.

    Elena Ramirez
    Just My Thoughts, with Love……

  6. To Elena Ramirez,

    I loved your heart for God but technically I found your use of so much punctuation interfered with the flow of your writing. As you asked for help, my tip would be to grab yourself a simple children’s punctuation-workbook with exercises and hone your skills in that area a bit more. They’re really good and Smith’s high-street bookstore should stock one. Also, don’t start a sentence with “and”. It’s a linking word and should only really be used as such, tho’ some modern writers, even in upper-echelon mainstream newspapers have started to. It’s just a bit grating.

    Ref. “help” again: go on a Lakes Writers Course. I did and it was fab; great investment and fun too. The tutors are very kind and I think the encouragement and being with other writers who also love God and want to put Him at the centre of their work would do you good.

    Keep praying and listening to Him Who Is,

    With love in Christ,

    Ivona, Angeli Christian Books.

  7. To Elena:, you should take Ivona’s comments seriously. If you develop your technical writing skill you will put yourself in a better position to be accepted by an editor or publisher. This is not ‘doing it in your own strength’ but rather making the most of the gifts God has given you. I’ve looked at your blog and I see that you are from the USA so I doubt you know Smith’s or the Lakes Writers Course. However, I’m sure you will be able to find the equivalent resources in your own country. God bless you as you continue on this journey.

    Fiona

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