1. Write a great book. This is very hard and will take you a very long time. See (3.).
2. Never refer to yourself as any of the following: budding novelist, aspiring novelist, wannabe novelist, soon-to-be novelist, unpublished novelist, or any variation thereof. Write it large and loud: I AM A NOVELIST. You’re either writing a novel, or you’re not, right? If you’re calling yourself an “aspiring novelist”, what does that even mean? That you might write a novel one day? It says two things very clearly: I’m not serious about this (and in order to succeed, and be taken seriously, you need to be very serious yourself) and I’m not a very good writer (because 50% of your sentence is redundant, and gives-presumably-the wrong impression). Also: “unpublished” has many negative connotations. And it immediately provokes the question, why?
3. Take it seriously. See (5.).
4. Be professional, courteous and respectful at all times, to all people, both in person, on email, and on social media.
5. Learn as much about the industry you want to work in-publishing-as you can, because that’s where published authors work. A published author is part of this industry. You see, your book is art, but when it’s published, it’s also a product, as well as art. If you’re not keen on that idea, that’s fine-scribble away to your heart’s content, then put your manuscript under your bed where no one will be able to read it.
6. Meet as many people who work in (5.) as you can, either in person, on email, or on social media. Workshops, courses, talks, Twitter, websites, festivals, open days. This is not 1995. Literary agents are not mythical beings sat behind cherrywood desks and brass plaques in posh and obscure parts of London. They are Real People. They are not “Gatekeepers” (oh, how some people love that word). Their gates are flung wide open and they beckon you in, saying, please have written something wonderful so that I may take you on and sell it to a publisher on your behalf. It’s down to you to write something wonderful. See (1.).
7. Never give up, and also know when to give up.
Ben Johncock is the writer of the brilliant, The Last Pilot. His short stories have been published by The Fiction Desk and The Junket. He is the recipient of an Arts Council England grant and the American Literary Merit Award, and is a winner of Comma Press’s National Short Story Day competition. He also writes for the Guardian.