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'No Man is an Island' — John Donne says collaborate!

Yvonne Knop

By Yvonne Knop

An overhead photo of a part of Fraser Island

I can with absolute confidence say that my debut novel would have never signed a traditional publishing contract without the help of others. And I don’t mean the cute 'Could you read this blurb and say what you think?' kind of help but the 'Could you read my manuscript a fourth time and edit it with me?' Kind of help.

I am talking about engaging in writer’s groups on social media, calls with strangers online to talk about plot holes and character flaws, beta readers who tell you that chapter XY could be deleted, editors that tweak and correct your writing, and 3am calls with family members about how you can open a wine bottle without a bottle opener.

Writing is a collaborative process. If you shake your head at this point and think you can do everything by yourself, there is a big chance you will never sign with a publisher. Because the hard truth is, although you should write the book you would love to read, you also must write a book others should also love to read – and buy. You are creating something that is made for others to enjoy – and not only for yourself.

So how can you find out if what you passionately wrote touches others like it touches you? How can you find out if the message you wanted to deliver can be understood by others? How can you find out if anything of what you wrote makes any sense at all? You can only find out by working with others, by listening to them patiently, by asking them questions and by swallowing your pride sometimes.

There is no room for arrogance in the publishing process: if three people tell you a scene doesn’t work, trust me, it probably doesn’t. As much as you think this particular scene is brilliant and will make Shakespeare look like the worst writer of all times. And if you think you cannot share anything about your book because it’s the next bestseller and people will just steal from you…put your book down until you come back to reality. Nobody is waiting to steal from you – but a lot of people will be willing to help you. As John Donne said: “No man is an island.” Not even you.

‘But how can I do it?’ – Here are some tips:

1. Engage in groups on social media. There are plenty groups that are especially made for writers seeking literary agents or writers who work on their debut. Get in touch. Read, learn, and ask questions.

2. Ask others to read your story. At the beginning it might be comfortable to ask people you know, but later in the writing process you should have people read your story that you might not know. Why? Because we tend to be super nice to people we know and strangers, well, they will tell you your side character is an arse (in case they are). It’s also great to let them ask your characters questions. This will show you what might be unclear to the reader.

3. Get in touch with a freelance editor and/or proof-reader. While I consider this an absolute must for every self-published author, it might not be necessary for everyone who wants to be traditionally published. For me it was because English is my second language. But it might help you as well to get your manuscript as polished as possible. (Say it with me: I will only send a manuscript out that is polished and follows the guidelines.)

Now, go out and connect! It will be worth it! And remember to stay kind!

Yvonne is a bi and nonbinary writer who dedicates their free time to extending the secret Gay Agenda – in part through their debut novel A Case of Madness. Although born and raised in the north of Germany, Yvonne’s passion for Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who, their sassy humor, and aversion to talking on public transport made them suspiciously British from early on.
This blog post originally published on Yvonne's blog.

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