Monday, January 23, 2012

The best publishing advice I've received? All you need is love...

This week’s Lucky 13s theme is on the best industry advice we’ve ever been given. First up is Amy McCulloch, and the advice she’s passing on is: Write what you love (and love what you write).

First off: Kung hei fat choi to all our Lucky 13 readers who might be celebrating! (I am with homemade spring rolls and copious cups of Longjing [aka dragon well] tea from Hangzhou!)

Write what you love.

This is one of those pieces of industry advice that can sound so silly. Write what you love? What else would you write about? Why would anyone write a book that they didn’t like?

Yet it’s the one piece of advice that I give to almost everyone who approaches me for tips on how to get published. Write what you love because if you don’t, believe me, it shows. It’s a rule that applies as much to established authors as to debuts. I remember one particular editorial meeting last year where one very senior editor sighed over a proposal from an author.

“Why doesn’t he just write what he loves?” she said. In this case it was clear he was writing for a trend - and the resulting sample pages were nothing like the quality of the rest of his work.

Indeed, I’ve witnessed several books turned down because it’s obvious that the writer is trying too hard to follow a perceived trend, or because they’ve heard a particular genre is more commercial or an easier sell than another. Far more often than not, this approach just doesn’t work.

Oh, I know the temptation of writing for trends. Last week, when the Lucky 13s wrote about abandoned novels, I could really sympathize. I have at least five novels abandoned that I tried to write that I thought would be an easy sell (or at least, an easy pitch) – yep, there’s an abandoned vampire romance and, yep, there’s even an abandoned contemporary ‘chick lit’ novel too – so NOT me. And if an agent said ‘I really want a steampunk near-future zombie misery memoir this year’ – trust me, I was brainstorming ways to make one of those work too!

Even more disheartening for me was that the more I heard about new, hot trends, the more I heard that new epic fantasy for teens was a hard sell, and that while a few editors were looking for ‘boys adventure’, it was more for middle-grade than young adult.

I never gave up on my novel, but for a long time I gave up on believing it would sell. I wrote it for me – because I wanted to read it, strange as that sounds – but I didn’t pin any publication hopes on it. When eventually it did sell – to an amazingly passionate editor at RHCB – it felt amazing. It’s great to know that someone else has fallen in love with something you’re desperately, hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with too.

That’s not to say that your love can’t be on-trend – in a lot of ways that’s how trends grow and develop: by having a lot of passionate authors running the trends in new and exciting directions. And it also doesn’t mean that writing to a trend won’t make it an easier sell – sometimes it does.

But ultimately, whether you’re blazing a new trail or filling in a gap in the market, if you’re writing what you love, you’ll find an agent, editor and eventual audience that will love it too.


Amy McCulloch is a girl of many publishing hats: author, editor and reader. Originally from Ottawa, Canada, she currently lives in London, UK. Other than books, she is addicted to travelling, running and Starbucks coffee.

Her debut novel, THE OATHBREAKER'S SHADOW is due from Random House Children's Books in Spring 2013. Find out more on her blog or feel free to say hello on Twitter!


  1. Dude, I am drinking dragon well tea too! Well, look at that.

    For the other Koreans in the crowd, "Sae hae bok mahn he bo du sae yo!"

  2. I need some of that tea.

    Great blog. Good luck to Amy. Very inspirational words.

  3. Great advice to write what you love. You spend so much time with a manuscript I couldn't imagine writing anything else.

  4. Wonderful post, Amy. Great advice. Sometimes I'm tempted to write to what's popular, but then I remember that I don't want to be a trend follower. I want to be a trend setter. And that means doing something totally new.

  5. Great post!
    It can feel so easy to follow trends... But that is not exactly how great writers are made. I can't quite imagine someone telling Steinbeck or Hemingway that they need to get "on trend"

  6. A very dear friend of mine gave me a book called 'Write to Get Published'. It's been sitting on my book shelf for the past six months, and I didn't even dare to look into it. The thought of NOT writing what I love just fills me with dread. I'd rather not be published than to stop writing about what is close to my heart.