The struggle to get published

 13 December 2011

Keith Gray is an award-winning writer of books for teenagers and the Scottish Book Trust's first Virtual Writer-in-Residence. Keith shared some useful hints for aspiring authors.

Getting a book to the publishers

"I'm not writing to please my mum, pass my exams or get nice reviews. I'm writing a story that I want to know how it finishes.”

"I knew nothing about the writing industry when I was starting off. I was from a working-class background in Grimsby, and all I knew was that I had to write a book first and send it out to as many publishers as possible.

"I could wallpaper my bedroom with rejection letters from publishers saying 'No, you're not good enough, you're not good enough.' and I guess I just never took no for an answer.

"I was just stubborn, I found addresses for publishers in the Writers and Artists' Yearbook or the Writers' Handbook and kept sending the manuscripts out.

"My first book published was actually the third one I'd written, so there's two books before that that never did get published.”

Finding work to support the writing

“I left school with a single A-level and went on to university but was asked to leave because I didn't do very well.

"I've worked as a pizza waiter, I've worked as a truck driver, I've worked in many pubs and restaurants as a waiter or a barman, all just trying to give me enough spare time at night so that I could write my books. It took me a while of doing the two things side-by-side before I managed to get published.

“One of the things I would say is that it's very unusual for a writer to make a career out of their first book. It took me six books on the shelves, published, earning royalties before I was able to give up the day job.”

Discovering a love of writing

"It took me six books on the shelves, published, earning royalties before I was able to give up the day job.”

“What made me want to become a writer…it sounds a bit silly, I suppose, but it was books. Once I got into reading, there was no stopping me, I really enjoyed it.

"I did try to be a magician, and I did try to be a rock star at some point during my secondary school education, but it was writing that I always enjoyed doing.

“I first started earning money from writing by doing my mates' homework for them. The English teacher would say 'You've got to write a story for homework' and my mates would all go 'Oh God, do we have to?' and I'd be like 'Wahey!'

"I'd write the story for them, they'd copy it up in their own handwriting and hand it into the teacher. If they got top marks, grade A, they owed me £2.50.  If they got grade B, £2, and if they got grade C then £1.50 – I thought that was fair, a sliding scale. And it worked for a while. We got caught, tears before bedtime, all that kind of thing, but that was in a sense how I learned to write, doing my mates' homework.”

Two pieces of advice for aspiring authors

1. Be patient

"The most important thing to bear in mind, if you want to be a writer, is the patience that you need. It's such a long-winded process. From you finishing that first draft of a book that you're sending out to a publisher, it could take two or three years before it's going to hit a shelf.

"It's going to take two or three months before a publisher even replies to you, before you know whether they want the book. There's a lot of patience needed, a lot of effort needed."

2. Write your kind of story

“You should write the kind of story you want to read. Even though I'm writing for teenagers, basically I'm writing the kind of book that I could still pick up now and read and enjoy.

"I'm not writing to please my mum, I'm not writing to pass my exams or to get nice reviews in the broadsheet newspapers. I'm writing a story that I want to know how it finishes.”

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