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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Writing at any Age, Guest Blog Post from John Yeoman

Today I am turning over my blog to John Yeoman who writes The Wicked Writing Blog and runs the Writer’s Village website. He has two MA’s and a PhD in Creative Writing and has been writing and publishing for decades. Now here’s John in his own words…

If your novel has been banging on agents’ doors for years and got nowhere take heart from Berwick Coates, an English author who this week nailed down a $130,000 deal and a two-book contract at age 80.

His historical thriller The Last Conquest was snapped up by one of the world’s largest publishers Simon & Schuster after Coates had failed to impress agents with several previous novels. “They were clearly not being read,” he said.

A retired history teacher, Coates succeeded only when he caught the eye of agent Jim Gill, who was recommended to him by a fellow author. Now Coates is finishing his second novel The Last Viking and can hope to see both in book stores at an age when most authors might have given up
or resorted to vanity publishing.

There’s nothing new about novelists in their Silver Age gaining a major publishing deal. P D James recently published her 19th novel at age 93. But it’s almost unprecedented for a debut author. Only Mary Wesley, whose debut novel The Camomile Lawn was published in 1984, comes close to Coates in age but she was merely 72 at the time.

As authors, what can we learn from Coates’ success?

1. Coates persisted with what he loved best.

After repeated failures with historical fiction he was urged by his son to write a contemporary novel replete with “sex and violence”. It too flopped. So he returned to what he knew and loved. And won.

2. He was introduced to an agent by an established author.
That’s the ideal route. “Mary Brown, whom you represent, suggested I approach you.” Any personal introduction is better than a cold call. (No doubt Jim Gill will now be overwhelmed by debut novelists who start their cover letters with a reference to Berwick Coates.)

3. Any age is the right age to submit a novel.
Carolyn Gill had her first best-selling novel Don’t Knock The Corners Off published at age 14. Susan Hill was an established name before her 18th birthday. But old authors often have the advantage of being able to exhume a dozen previous failures from their sock drawer, resubmit them and see them lauded in reviews - once their debut work has achieved success.

Coates’ achievement also highlights the wisdom of pursuing the traditional agent-publisher route, unless you can devote 18 hours a day to selling your novel yourself. Success in self-publishing lies 10% in talent, 90% in marketing. Perhaps Coates realized that, at age 80, he no longer had the energy to promote a self-published eBook with the passion of a John Locke, Amanda Hocking or Hugh Howie.

Moral: Keep knocking on agents’ doors. Write several novels. Then you can choose which you submit via the traditional route and which you self-publish. Sell a million eBooks under your own imprint and publishers will come knocking on your door.

John provides wonderful tips on his website and blog. He even offers FREE courses in writing. If you would like to learn more about writing, here's the link to his website

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