Many longform pieces lend themselves to a book, or perhaps others would be better as a book to begin. Alyson Warner hosts journalist-turned-author Chris Stokel-Walker and his published Martin Hickman as they discuss bridging the gap between the world of journalism and novels.
— Greta Ruffino (@RuffinoGreta) March 2, 2019
The book begins with a pitch, something all journalists will be used to. However, Stokel-Walker admits pitching a book takes more anticipated. He had to pitch his idea as something with sustenance, something that would work over 75-80 thousand words.
In terms of what the publishing house is expecting, Hickman says they need to understand how it would work. “Whoever receives it in the narrative house gets the idea of how it would flow,” he says. But what does this mean?
Hickman advises thinking from an editors perspective, your pitch should say, “In a bookshop what shelf it would be on, what genre would it be? What makes you the best person to tell it?” However, the main question they want answering is “will it sell?”
Hickman says the transition from journalism to novelist isn’t easy, “It’s as profound as going from a sprinter to a marathon runner.” From commission, the process of researching, writing, editing, rewriting, reediting then publication and promoting is a slow one. “You should be thinking in terms of years,” he says.
Once you have your book idea, there are three ways of getting published.
Hickman explains, “the first is the traditional route and the best if you can get one is to get an agent.” The agent can shape the proposal for publishers with your interest at heart. They act as the bridge between you and the publishing world. Most charge around a 15% cut, but it is the quickest and easiest way to get published.
The second is to approach publishers directly. However, Hickman explains most are looking to deal with agents and could overlook ignore your pitches.
Finally, Hickman strongly recommends self-publishing, he says, “I do recommend you look seriously at this, particularly if your work is a labour of love and not commercial.” He lists platforms such as eBook, for a quick and easy publication, or Amazon print book.
“It’s such a difficult transition to make from 10,000 words at most to 100,000,” says Hickman, “You need to have themes in the book, you need to have characters, the chapters need to speak to each other”
Because of this, Stokel-Walker identified the hardest part of transitioning as relying on his narrative voice more and his quotes less. He says, “I had an awful lot of paragraphs and quote that were taken out because there was too much of ‘that character’”
As a final piece of advice, Hickman recommends writers “write a dummy blurb, write the 250 words that are going to go on the back cover and it will give you an idea of whether it’s going to hook in the reader.” If it does, run with it, if it doesn’t, refine it.
Words by Corrie David