On getting published and becoming a writer – Twenty7 Open Submissions

Looking for inspiration for our 27 Days of Open Submissions, which we’re running in association with Cornerstones? Author GJ Minett describes how he came up with the idea for his gripping debut novel, The Hidden Legacy.


‘I trust you will be sitting down when you read this’ – the simple opening line of a life-changing email from my agent, telling me ostensibly that I had a two-book deal with Twenty7 but in reality telling me so much more than that. And on Friday 13th too – you couldn’t make it up!

I’d had plenty of time to prepare myself for a moment such as this, more years than I’d care to recall of hurling myself against doors that creaked and groaned but somehow refused to open. And yet, once the initial mad scenes of celebration and frantic phone calls to friends and family were out of the way and I had time to sit down and reflect on things, I was surprised to realise that exhilaration was having to share top billing with other emotions. Prominent among these was a huge sense of relief at no longer needing to feel like some sort of fraud whenever I talked about my writing.

One of the hardest things about being an unpublished author, at least in my experience, is convincing yourself that you are a writer. I’d been trotting out the same old answer for years whenever anyone asked what I did for a living: teacher, timetabler, data analyst. If writing ever got a mention it was way down the list, usually once the conversation turned to hobbies, and I always found it hard to talk about any literary aspirations I might have without seeking out that knowing look in their eyes. It was probably a reflection of my own insecurities but the feeling was always there that others would be bound to see this as some sort of pose assumed by a wannabe who never would be, and the realisation that I’d no longer need to equivocate over such things brought with it a warm glow that I’ve carried around with me ever since. Yes, it’s exciting to have broken through. Yes, it’s nice to be talking with publishers about editing and publicity and book covers and blurbs and shout lines instead of emailing to check whether my manuscript has made it off the slush pile. It’s wonderful to have entered this new world where I have so much to learn. But more than anything else, it’s just so damned liberating to be able to say ‘I’m a writer’ and not squirm inside.

I remember so many panels I listened to, so many talks by authors, publishers, agents, and whenever they were asked by aspiring writers for advice on how to get published, there was always someone who suggested that the answer was to keep going, to accept rejections as a necessary evil and take the positives out of them. If you want it badly enough, the message seemed to be, you’ll get there eventually. And I found myself wanting to scream at them, because all I inferred from this was if you don’t get there, it’s because you don’t want it enough. And I wanted it so badly – I really did.

But they were right. I was a long way short of doing everything I could to make the breakthrough and it wasn’t until I acknowledged this and gave my writing the level of priority it required that things started to move. I didn’t get a book deal by opening an email from my agent. That was the final stage of a planned route which I followed faithfully. I studied for a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester where I discovered that I wasn’t even close to the finished article I’d always assumed I was. Then I entered competitions, making use of the short stories I’d written for the course, and set about putting together a CV that might persuade a busy agent to break off from her/his frantic schedule and take a look at my opening chapter. I may not have bought into the cliché of papering my walls with rejection slips but I did study every letter carefully in an attempt to identify criticisms (positive as well as negative) that were common to most. Once I started getting longlisted, then shortlisted and finally winning competitions, I knew I was ready to research agents who specialised in what I wanted to write. And once I found the right agent . . .

It worked for me but it’s certainly not a one-size-fits-all scenario and I wouldn’t dream of suggesting everyone should do the same. All aspiring writers need to find their own way which suits them as individuals. I always swore that if I ever made the breakthrough I would never patronise others who may be only days away from following me. All I would say is that at 5.30 on Friday 13th I was a person who writes. At 5.35 I was an author. But it’s amazing how much needs to go into those five minutes to turn you into an overnight success.

And if I could urge any writer to take one thing from my own experience, it would be this. If you enjoy writing, whether it’s for your own amusement or to entertain or impress others, you are a writer. If you dabble in the occasional short story or are deep into planning a 100,000 word novel, in those moments when you shut yourself away with pen in hand or laptop at the ready . . . you are a writer. Say it – I’m a writer. You need to tell yourself that as often as you can because it’s what makes the difference. And if you don’t believe it, why should anyone else?

Good luck.

*       *       *

The Hidden Legacy GJ Minett1966. A horrifying crime at a secondary school, with devastating consequences for all involved.

2008. A life-changing gift, if only the recipient can work out why . . .

Recently divorced and with two young children, Ellen Sutherland is up to her elbows in professional and personal stress. When she’s invited to travel all the way to Cheltenham to hear the content of an old woman’s will, she’s far from convinced the journey will be worthwhile.

But when she arrives, the news is astounding. Eudora Nash has left Ellen a beautiful cottage worth an amount of money that could turn her life around. There’s just one problem – Ellen has never even heard of Eudora Nash.

Her curiosity piqued, Ellen and her friend Kate travel to the West Country in search of answers. But they are not the only ones interested in the cottage, and Ellen little imagines how much she has to learn about her past . . .


Parties, Hollywood deals and Conchita – What really happens at the London Book Fair

LBF Media

As you’ll have noticed, we didn’t have a blog last week, and that’s because of the London Book Fair!

For those not in the know, London Book Fair is one of the biggest publishing events of the year. It’s a big gathering of people across the book trade, this year in Kensington Olympia, and as a new imprint it was incredibly important for us to spread the word about our new company, and also to set up relationships with important publishing people.

In the run-up, it was crucial to make sure we got the right information into the book trade press. The big players are The Bookseller and Bookbrunch (who are affiliated with Publisher’s Weekly in America), and during the fair they each publish daily magazines with all the latest news. These are distributed really broadly at the fair, and are the perfect way to communicate news – of which we had lots!

Bonnier Stand London Book FairThe challenge was working out what to announce, and in what order. We’d organised a big interview in The Bookseller with Mark Smith (our CEO) for Thursday, the final day of the fair, which seemed the perfect way to launch Twenty7 and Zaffre. We’ve obviously got more authors to announce than would fit in one news report, so we chose to only announce four of our books which are all publishing this year, keeping the press release brief and exciting enough to guarantee a space in the paper.

The other big pre-fair concern was organising meetings. There are so many different types of people at the fair from all around the world – publishers, agents, scouts, authors, typesetters, printers, digital start-ups – and the challenge is fitting them all in – and also persuading them to take the time to meet with you. Mark and I were both there, ably assisted by Mark’s assistant Rob, who co-ordinated the timetables and made sure there was space on our very busy Bonnier stand. A lot of the meetings tend to be about buying and selling international rights for books, but since we’re so new our plan was to wait until later in the year to get started on that, once we had more books to sell. Or at least, that was the plan…

With just a week to go before the fair, out of the blue we heard about a potential film deal for one of the books on the Zaffre list – Maestra by L.S. Hilton, which is a really special new thriller. It’s no exaggeration to say that we heard at the beginning of that week that a film deal might be likely, and by Thursday a massive Hollywood deal had been concluded – and in between we started getting calls from American publishers who had heard that we had something special on our hands.

So suddenly the plan changed. We scrambled to send the book to all the big scouts (who are brilliant for spreading news about an exciting book to international publishers), hoping that the momentum of the film deal might create some interest – although it’s notoriously hard to predict, since every publisher and agent is trying to achieve the same buzz for their books, and most of them had a head start.

Things could hardly have gone better – the whole week our stand was swamped with scouts and publishers who had heard about Maestra, and wanted to know more. The interest snowballed, and by the end it had spread from western Europe all the way to interest for the Complex Chinese rights – all managed by our unflappable rights team, Ruth Logan and Alex Dickinson.

Conchita London Book FairThose impromptu extra meetings filled every spare moment in Rob’s meticulously organised timetable, so sadly there was no chance to go to any of the brilliant events and seminars that happen across the fair. These ranged from detailed seminars about the future of digital publishing to a very well-attended talk with last year’s Eurovision winner Conchita Wurst (interviewed by our Hot Key friend, James Dawson), who has a book of her own on the way.

Luckily though, the meetings end at 6pm (and, if you’re very lucky, the last ones come with champagne!), and that’s when the social side of the fair kicks off. Lots of publishers and agencies host parties, and even if you aren’t fortunate enough to score an invite, the pubs and bars around Olympia provide hearty consolation. One of the great things about the fair is catching up with publishing friends – and we’re lucky to be in an industry full of brilliant people who love what they do.

All in all, it was totally manic, and a real reminder of how wonderful working with books can be when it goes to plan. One quote that stuck in my mind from the week, from the email footer of Ziv Lewis, a brilliant Israeli publisher, was Cass Canfield’s ‘I am a publisher – a hybrid creature: one part star gazer, one part gambler, one part businessman, one part midwife and three parts optimist’. I think we filled most of those roles across the week.

And that’s it, for another year at least. Or it would be if I didn’t have a pocket full of business cards to follow up with (at least some of which came from ever-so-slightly hard to remember conversations late at night in the pub…), and an inbox full of all the new books we promised to read!

Business Cards