Thursday, December 3, 2009

Ken Follet's Masterclass on Getting Published

Ken Follet is an author of thriller and historical novels, who has sold over 100 million copies. If the elusive dream of a writer is to "get published", Ken Follet can safely be called a success. So, if you want to get published, it would make sense to listen to any advice you could get from Mr Follet, wouldn't it?

Well, Mr Follet has published a very informative "masterclass" on writing on his webpage. If you have any desire at all to get published, go and read it. Mr Follet introduces the masterclass by writing:
The basic challenge for the writer can be very simply explained – it is to create an imaginary world and then draw the reader into that imaginary world.

All novelists are trying to do that. Once we get there, different writers may have different concerns. Personally, I want to entertain you. I want you to be thrilled or moved to tears or scared and I definitely want you to be on the edge of your seat all the time, wondering what is going to happen next.

There are a few things that I really like about Ken Follet's masterclass. Firstly, he uses examples from his own work. This is especially informative if you've read the books that he references, including The Man from St Petersburg and The Hammer of Eden.

The other thing I find especially informative and inspirational is the way that Mr Follet describes how to expand the germ of an idea. Using a kind of brainstorming method on a notepad, he takes us through how to grow a single idea into something bigger, and bigger.

Mr Follet unashamedly uses an outline to build his novels, and tells us how. Using feedback from various people (using, not blindly following), he continues to work on his outline until he is satisfied with it. All this happens before he even starts the first draft. Don't think this process will take you a Saturday afternoon, either. Ken Follet is a full-time, skilled, experienced craftsman; and even for him the process takes quite some time. In his masterclass he writes:
The whole process of coming up with [an] idea, fleshing it out, doing the research, drafting the outline and rewriting the outline comes to about a year all told. There are quite often a couple of false starts within this. I may spend a month working on an idea before I realise that it isn't going to work and abandon it. But after this whole process, I'm ready to write the first draft.

There is further practical advice on going from the outline to the first draft. There are many ways for a first draft to go wrong. Ken Follet takes you through some of the key problems, and how to avoid them.

Finally, Mr Follet takes us through the process of working with an editor and publisher to get the novel ready for publication. In his section of the masterclass called Finding a publisher, Ken Follet has some very encouraging words for those of us that want to get published:
So although people say, "it's terribly difficult for a first novelist to get published," in fact, if you are good it is not that difficult.

The catch of course, is that little phrase, "if you are good." No one wants to admit that they aren't any good, and so they'll externalise and blame others for not appreciating their masterpiece. This is a lot like being a loser. Don't be a loser – get published. Listen to the advice of those you respect, such as Ken Follet, and work on your craft. No one is born a great writer. Humble your pride, sharpen your axe, and get published.

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