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Chick Lit and the Art of Getting Published - One North London Mum tells her publication story and explains how you too can write a chick lit novel

If, ten years ago you’d told me I would end up being a “chick lit” author, I’d have laughed at you. It wasn’t at all what I imagined for myself, but I couldn’t be happier.
There was a time when I might have been disparaging about books with cute pink covers with swirly writing and women’s shoes, but I spent some time working for a book club that specialised in women’s fiction and as a result got to read a lot of the stuff. Like any genre, chick lit varies enormously. I’ve reads books that will remain nameless that I’ve wanted to hurl across the room because they contain such cliché, unbelievable ditzy and pathetic characters who get themselves into ridiculous situations and speak unrealistic dialogue, only to be rescued by the manly grumpy bloke they met on page ten who has secretly loved them all along. You know what I mean, you’ve read those books too, so I hope you’ll excuse the rant.

But at the other end of the spectrum, you get books like Lisa Jewell’s simply beautiful After the Party, the sequel to Ralph’s Party, which presents an honest, heartbreaking and realistic view of what happens to a long-term relationship once kids come along. I think Lisa Jewell’s writing, along with a few other stars like the legendary Marian Keyes and Jenny Colgan, stands up to scrutiny against lots of so-called literary novelists. They understand people, and they write feeling, sensitive books that really talk about how people feel, and think and love.

I suppose what I’m saying is that if you want to write a chick-lit or women’s fiction book, the sky’s the limit and you can write about anything and everything you fancy. The hallmark of most chick-lit is that it will involve a romance of some sort, but that doesn’t have to be a conventional one, or you could choose to write about an existing relationship that changes and grows. Write about people you would like to meet, and remember that what makes real people endearing and interesting is their idiosyncrasies and odd little foibles. I think a bad story starts with a rigid plot idea which forces the characters to conform to it. A great story starts with interesting, multi-layered characters who go on a journey.

How do you go about writing your story? Well, every writer has a different method. Think about how you would tackle any big task in your life: a work project, DIY at home or planning a big event. Are you a list-maker? A detail person? Or do you tend to wing it and see what happens? I’m a “wing-it” person, so my method is to start with the barest plot outline, and then write a set amount every day, allowing the story to unfold quite organically. If, as I go, things need to change in what I have already written, I go back and fix it later. Many people would find that method daunting and not very productive, so they prefer to write a plot outline and then work to that, but you need to think about what kind of method will make sense to you.

I would very strongly recommend that you write every day, though. That way, you don’t lose momentum. You keep track of all your plot threads, and you end up living with your characters on a daily basis, as if they are real people. My husband jokes that when I am writing a book, I talk about the characters as if they are friends of ours, and I expect him to know all about them because I know them so well.

The other good reason to write every day is to avoid The Fear. The Fear is the writer’s biggest enemy. A book is a large and intimidating project, and it’s too easy to get stuck in a plot cul de sac, or worry that what you’ve written isn’t good enough and lose courage. If you promise yourself that you’ll write every day, you just have to keep going. If you hit a dead end, write your way out of it, or leave that bit and start another bit. Just keep writing. You’ll be amazed how the momentum will keep your ideas flowing, and how once you start to build up a chunk of text, you’ll feel inspired to keep going. I write 1,200 words every single day without fail. I started my new book at the beginning of January (not so long ago). I already have nearly 50,000 words: about half a novel. There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of editing, but I have written a substantial chunk of a first draft in less than six weeks.

Getting published

There are thousands and thousands of people out there having a go, and getting a publishing deal is very difficult. I was a professional writer in TV, advertising and theatre for twelve years before I wrote my first book. It was published in my native South Africa and did pretty well, and I thought, that’s it! I’ll just get a UK agent and publishing deal and that’s my career sorted. To cut a very long story short, it took me eight years and three more books to attain that goal.

If you have a manuscript that you want to get published, your first order of business is to get an agent. Yes, you can submit direct to publishers, but your manuscript will go on what they call a “slush pile”. It will sit there for months, and if you’re lucky, may get read by a work-experience intern or a junior assistant. Your chances of making it off the pile are slim to none, By contrast a reputable agent will have relationships with editors at many publishing houses and will submit on your behalf. In my experience, if an editor is sent your manuscript by an agent, they will read it within a couple of weeks and always give feedback, even if (as is usually the case) they’re saying no. An agent will also negotiate your contract and make sure you get the best possible deal.

You can search for literary agents online, and sites like Writer’s Workshop give good advice and listings. It might also be worth investing in the Writer’s Handbook or the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook to find agents that handle the type of thing you’re writing.

I wish I could tell you all that writing a book is easy, and that getting published is a sure-fire route to riches and fame, but that just wouldn’t be true. It’s hard work, takes a long time, and it can sometimes be boring and lonely. I hope that doesn’t put you off, though. Because, of everything I have ever done, bar getting married and having my children, nothing has given me greater joy than watching a story unfold under my fingers. When it works, when you write a great paragraph or a plot knot unravels and you can see the way forward, it’s the best feeling in the world. And I know on 1 March, when I finally get to walk into WH Smiths in Brent Cross and see my book, with my name on it, sitting on the shelf, it will make every late night I spent scribbling worth it. Good luck!

Rose Fiore’s novel, Babies in Waiting was published by Quercus on 1 March 2012.
LJ Filotrani 15 February 2012 at 08:15 said...

Good advice Rose, thanks and good luck on March 1

Danielle Lamprell 14 September 2012 at 15:28 said...

I wish you all the very best!

Thank you for your advise, I have wanted to write a book for many years now but now the desire has really taken hold

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