Becoming an Author is a dream job for many people. In this interview with Jobulo, published Author Lucy Clarke shares tips on what it takes to make this dream job a reality.
Tell Us About Your Career Background
I was 24 when I realised that I’d love to be a novelist. I’d always assumed that I’d have a career in business, and I pushed aside all the signals that I’d perhaps make a good writer: I’ve always kept diaries and journals; I read hungrily; I studied English Literature at university; I’m at my happiest with a notebook and pen in my hand. Once I’d made the decision to be a novelist, then came the small matter of actually doing it. Like most writers I needed to work to support myself whilst trying to make it happen, so I set up a small business delivering events in schools, which afforded me both an income and a flexible schedule so I could make time to write. It took me until I was 30 to sign my first book deal. I could paper a wall with the rejection letters I received along the way, but eventually good news landed. I was delivering an event at a school in Kent when I got the call to say I’d had an offer, and my knees literally went weak with the shock. A month later I sold my business, and now I’m thankful for being able to do what I love full-time.
What Was the Process of Writing Your First Book Like?
I wrote my first book alongside running a business, and it took me two and a half years to complete it. I would write in any free moment of the day, as well as on weekends and evenings. After committing so much energy and time to my first novel, I was heartbroken when it then got rejected by publishers. I had to take a very deep breath, dry my tears, and begin work on my second book, The Sea Sisters. It was worth the heartache and effort because when I finished The Sea Sisters my agent sold the novel to HarperCollins UK as well as to publishers in the US, Canada, Brazil, France, Germany, Holland and Italy.
What’s a Typical Day at Work Like?
I’m a morning person, so I set my alarm early and am usually at my desk by 6.30 am. I’m hopeless by evening – it’s as if my creativity fades with the day. I generally write Mondays to Fridays so that I have evenings and weekends free to spend with friends and family who have ‘proper jobs’! I prefer to write by hand – there’s something about the simplicity of a pencil and a blank page that appeals to the romantic in me. I love to write to music too. There are certain albums I play to help me step into a character’s mindset, or to inspire a particular atmosphere in a scene.
I only have one rule when I’m writing: get outside every day. Fresh air is good for the soul, and great for the imagination.
What’s the Hardest Part of the Job?
For me there are two hardest parts of the job: firstly, getting published is incredibly difficult. Just like wanting to be an actor or a musician, the path to being a published novelist can be long, competitive, and filled with rejections, therefore you need to have plenty of self-belief and self-discipline in order to keep on going when times are tough. Once you do become published, the hardest part of the role (for me at least) is that you spend so much of your day on your own. Writing is a very solitary occupation, and because I’m not solitary by nature, I prefer to work around other people – coffee shops, libraries, or at the beach.
What’s the Best Part of the Job?
If I had to reduce it down to one word, I think it would be: freedom. As a novelist I love the absolute freedom I have to create something – whatever I want it to be. Beyond having a deadline, there is no pressure or constraints. The beauty of looking at a blank notebook and thinking it’s going to be the foundation of a novel is, for me, hugely exciting. On top of that, I also love the freedom of the writer’s lifestyle. I work incredibly hard as a writer – but I have the freedom to choose how I do it, when I do it, and where I do it. That’s what I love the most.
Do You Think Agents/Publishers Need to See a Particular Type of Job on Your CV?
I think an English Literature degree is a definite plus as it shows a real commitment to the written word. However, it’s certainly not a prerequisite for becoming an author. The wonderful thing about literature is that it’s composed by people from all walks of life, at all ages, with a myriad of backgrounds – and that’s what makes it interesting. Whatever your background and qualifications, you can still be a writer.
What Was the Process Like of Trying to Find an Agent/Publisher?
Agents and publishers are two very different things. Most successful authors have an agent who represents them (a bit like in football). Your agent will try and sell your work to publishers, who they have great links with. They will take a 15% cut of your earnings as recompense. Most authors will tell you that having an agent is invaluable. The problem is, finding an agent to represent you can be rather tricky as they only take on authors whose work they think they can sell. To find an agent I’d recommend looking at ‘The Writers and Artists Yearbook’, which lists all the agents in the UK. From there you can see which agents represent the type of writing you’re doing (crime, women’s fiction, children’s books etc.) and you can approach the right ones.
What Tips Could You Give to Someone Writing a Cover Letter/CV to Send Out to Agents?
Approaching an agent (or publisher), is a very different process to applying for a job. For a start, you don’t need to send a CV, but you will need to write a fantastically strong covering letter (with NO typos, of course!) about why you’d like to be represented by them, and what your novel is about. You would also typically send the first three sample chapters of your novel – and if the agent enjoys them, they will request to see the rest. Every agent will have a website, which will usually include guidelines of exactly what they require you to send, so do check individual requirements first.
What General Career Advice Would You Give to Someone Wanting to Become an Author?
Go for it! It can be a very long and challenging journey to becoming a published author, but if you are passionate about writing and believe in what you are writing about, that is half the journey. Here are my top 5 writing tips:
1. Write. Try and write as often as you can, even if it’s only ten minutes snatched at the end of each day.
2. Read. Voraciously. I always read with a pen in my hand so that I can scribble notes in the margins about interesting techniques the author may have used. (Not recommended for Kindles!)
3. Write for yourself. Don’t try and write for a market trend, or on a hot topic. Just write the type of book you love reading, or on a subject you’re passionate about. That honesty will feed through your work.
4. Get feedback. Ask people to critique your work. Feedback is so valuable, but only chose people who will respond to you with honesty. And be prepared: sometimes it can sting!
5. Be open to inspiration. It’s all around us. Start keeping a notepad and pen on your person and make yourself write one thing in it every day, whether it’s a snippet of conversation overheard, an interesting sight, or something you watched on TV that caught your imagination. Inspiration is out there; you just need to tune in.
Lucy Clarke is the author of The Sea Sisters published by HarperCollins. Please visit her website for more details:www.lucy-clarke.com
Image By: James Bowden