Helen Slavin Q&A: What I Wish I’d Known Before I Was Published

If you’ve never been published before, it’s easy to get bogged down by indefinite writing with no concrete end in sight. But if there’s anyone who can show you that there is indeed a light at the end of your writing tunnel, it’s an author who has figured out the key to getting published — and we just so happen to have a few of those who are willing to share their expertise with you!

This week, Helen Slavin, author of The Witch Ways series and The Extra Large Medium, takes a turn in our hot seat.

If you could tell your pre-published self one thing, what would it be?

Keep going. Don’t fall down the cracks. Digital will save you but you won’t make a living.

What do you wish you’d known about being published before you became a published author?

That it is not the gentlemanly pursuit that once it was. It is a media business and subject to the same mad insanity that TV and film are. The cut and thrust of just trying to have books reviewed or carried by bookshops was a revelation, as was the ‘window of returns’ which, I was told, once closed, never reopens. I had to ask a library colleague who had worked for Waterstones what exactly the ‘window of returns’ was and he gave me a detailed explanation. Books are a very disposable commodity and the modern publishing world is as disposable as plastic bags or fast fashion.

Did your approach to writing change after being published?

Nope. I write. The getting it published is another game entirely. The characters arrive and start running around my head and I have to pick up my pen and open the notebook. I can’t change that, it’s fundamental. It’s like asking a violinist to play their instrument upside down. You can’t do it. 

What’s your biggest piece of advice for an aspiring author?

It’s your story. Tell it the way it asks to be told. Ignore ‘foolproof’ creative writing plans and ‘show don’t tell’ nonsense. There is no one way to tell stories. It’s mental alchemy and the story will tell you how to do it and you will know it is wrong if it is wrong.

The best way to learn to write is to read, read, read and then write, write, write.  Then rewrite. That’s the fun because by then the pages are full! When I ran creative writing courses my mantra for everyone was ‘there is no wrong way, only the write way’. I should get t-shirts made.

As always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN if you have any questions for our authors about being published!