A Recipe for Success: Guest post by Sam Tonge

This week, after 6 years of subbing to agents, I finally signed a contract. Whilst I know this alone is no guarantee of a publishing deal – let alone Hollywood film rights, dinner at The Ivy or worldwide stardom – it’s an important step for me, up onto the first rung of an author’s career ladder.

So, how have I accomplished this? What is my particular recipe for success?

100g of Maths

Hemingway said you needed to write 1,000,000 words before you were publishable. Okay. I’ve written 5 books. That’s 500,000 words. Plus short stories this last year. Call that 30,000 with all the rewrites. Blogging for a year, four years at university years ago if I can count that… All in all I’ve probably raked up 700,000 words. I’d say once you hit the half million mark, you are seriously on your way.

Someone else said it took 10,000 hours of practise to become the top of your field – an outstanding sportsman or great concert pianist. Okay. For the last 6 years I’ve probably written a minimum of 15 hours a week, minus 2 weeks hols. 50 weeks x 15 = 750, 750 x 6 years = 4500 hours. Plus all the extra stuff – uni etc – I’ve probably racked up around 6000-7000 hours. So, again, whilst there’s still great room for improvement, I’d say rack up around 5000 hours of writing practise and that first rung of the ladder should be in sight.

50g of Networking

Networking in itself will get you nowhere if the writing is not good enough. But it will open doors into getting your work read, hearing about new agents setting up and looking for clients, making friends with other writers who will introduce you to their agents. Over the years, through contacts, I have had large chunks of my novel read by certain agents. They’ve never offered me a deal, clearly I wasn’t ready yet – but their feedback was always invaluable. Join an online forum and get to know other writers on Facebook. Blog. Attend literary events. Get yourself out there.

50g of Feedback

Join an online workshop. Upload your work to get critique and, just as importantly, critique other writers’ work – it will teach you a lot. Over the years I’ve also had several editorial reports done, from which I’ve probably learnt the most.

I medium-sized eye for the market

Don’t write in a vacuum. Keep an eye on what is selling in your genre.

A pinch of madness

Only a fool would put themselves through years of rejection, right? Treat with large quantities of chocolate and Chardonnay.

To Decorate

Ice with a huge dollop of determination and sprinkle with sweat and tears.

For some the recipe is more straightforward and may contain nothing more than an appearance on a celebrity reality show and a ghostwriter. But for most of us, the combination of ingredients is more complex. Whatever your own personal recipe turns out to be, I wish you the best of luck. Don’t give up. The final taste is worth it.


Helen Black said...

Sam, may your agent get a deal, may your book sell like hot cakes. And may all those cakes be chocolate.
HB x

Anonymous said...

LOL, Helen!

Thanks:) x

Jacqui said...

Great post, so true Sam. Congratulations, what Helen said x

Gillian McDade said...

Thanks for sharing with us, Sam. It's proof that we should never give up! Good luck with the book and I look forward to reading it. xx

Anonymous said...

Thanks, guys.

Well, like i say, i'm not saying the book will even get published - small steps and all that. Plus the current market is particularly bad for chick lit.

But at last i feel i am making some progress.

I'd be interested to know what people thought was the main, most important ingredient of their own recipe.

Sam x

Caroline Green said...

Sam, just loved to read this - is so well deserved. I think perseverence was my key ingredient. That and a very large dose of stubbornness...

Kat said...

Great post Sam, and well done :)

Gillian McDade said...

My most important ingredient was the spice! When I've done my Average First Draft, I go over it and 'layer' it to make it tastier. It adds depth of flavour and the whole dish comes alive. (You can tell I've been watching Masterchef).

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Kat!

Yes, perseverance, that's a big one, Caroline - absolutely essential, and you've got it in buckets.

Ooh, yes, spice, i like that, Gillian - as long as you know when to stop, before ruining the whole original, basic flavour of the thing!

Sam x-

Roderic Vincent said...

Yay, Sam. So well deserved.

Colin M said...

Great post and great news. Best of luck with it, Sam.

Karen said...

Fantastic news! Fingers crossed the agent gets you a deal :o)

Simon Cornish said...

Sounds delicious, although the cooking time looks rather long.
Might have to turn the heat up, just to speed things along.

Great post and good luck with your book.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Rodders and Colin :) x

Ooh, yes, keep them crossed please, Karen:)

Thanks Simon - yes, it did feel like a very long time and i hope other people's recipes use the literary equivalent of a microwave!


Fionnuala said...

Inspiring Sam, just when I need inspiration!! x

Unknown said...

Congratulations, Sam. Well done for hanging in there.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Fionnuala and Fiona!

DT said...

Well done Masterscribe Sam - whatever your recipe, you've managed to conjure up a sweet surprise. Writing, as they say, doesn't get any tougher than this!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Derek!

HOpe you have a great writing year in 2012!


Susie Nott-Bower said...

Yay, Sam! You are an inspiration. Hope you get that deal very soon.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Susie! x