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How to get published: Six first-time authors tell their stories

PUBLISHED: 16:25 14 October 2010 | UPDATED: 17:57 20 February 2013

Ever thought about writing a book? Derek Clements was inspired by the subject of his book but finding a publisher was another matter completely

Ever thought about writing a book? We asked six authors how they went about writing and getting their book into print

Blood, Sweat and Treason, My Story. The autobiography of Henry Olonga

The book

Olonga is a former Zimbabwe cricketer - he was the youngest to play for his country and the first black player. Although he was born in Zambia, Olongas family moved to Zimbabwe when he was very young and he grew up as a patriot. In school he was taught that Robert Mugabe was a great leader, but Olonga began to hear stories about opponents of the government being arrested and disappearing. As he grew older he became increasingly disillusioned with the politics of his country and realised that Mugabes regime was corrupt. When the time came, Olonga made up his mind that he wanted to take a stance against his president and he did so at the 2003 Cricket World Cup when, along with teammate Andy Flower, he took to the field wearing a black armband in what he and Flower announced to the world was a protest against the death of democracy in their homeland. Blood, Sweat And Treason tells the story of how Henry Olonga reached this point in his life, what happened afer the protest and what has become of him since.

The writing/publishing process
I originally contacted Champions UK, a sports agent, because I was interested in writing a book with one of their other clients, a European Tour golfer. They were keen, but the golfer decided that the time commitment was too great. During various discussions, I realised that Champions represented Henry Olonga, the former Zimbabwe cricketer. I did some research and was soon convinced that his life story would make a compelling book, so I went back to Champions and asked them if they thought Henry might be interested in co-operating with such a project. Eventually the two of us got together and he agreed to let me write his life story. That was the easy part. I then had to find a publisher and convince them that this was a story worth putting into print. I contacted dozens. The Olonga book was not the only proposal that I was putting forward, but I felt that I was hitting my head against a brick wall until Vision Sports Publishing contacted me and said they would like to meet me.
As we went through my proposals it became clear that they werent sold on any of them, but I knew there was mileage in Henrys story so I asked them to look at it again. In the end, I offered to write a sample chapter, and that did the trick.
I havent ordered my Ferrari just yet. There was a 5,000 advance, but Henry and I had to share it, just as we will have to share the royalties. If the book sells well, I will make a decent amount of money from it, but that is not really the point I cannot describe how satisfying it was to be given my first copy of the book, to be able to hold it in my hand and say: I did that. I have already written three more books but I still dont know whether I can make a living from it.

The pitfalls
I believe that if you keep knocking at the door, somebody will eventually let you in. But there are some basic requirements, the most obvious of which is that you have to be able to write.
It is not enough for your family to tell you that you are the best thing since sliced bread. Put some examples of your work together and ask an English teacher for an honest appraisal every secondary school or further education establishment has one. Tell them that you dont want them to spare your feelings, that you want them to be honest.
It is worth looking for a good agent, but dont expect it to be easy. The best ones may not take you on. If they do, it will be because they feel they have a chance of placing your manuscript, and they will not charge you. An agent receives his fee only after your book has been published and you start receiving royalties. He will ask for anything from 10-20 per cent of those royalties and will give you a contract before trying to market your book. Make sure that you get a solicitor to look at it before you sign anything.
Is your idea as good as you think it is? And is it original? A little bit of internet research or a visit to the library will soon tell you.
Publishers receives dozens of submissions every day if you are going to add something to their inbox make sure that you check their submission requirements first. It would be better if you could find a contact, speak to him or her and get a personal email address before sending your submission.

Derek Clements is a former East Anglian Daily Times and Sunday Times journalist who lives in Ipswich


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