Journalists working across national press, consumer
and trade have been sharing their stories of making the switch from day-to-day reporting
to novels and non-fiction writing in our Journalist as Author series.
If lockdown, furlough or ‘anything can happen’ 2020 has
got you thinking about the book you’ve always wanted to write, check out the
following advice on how to go about it from those who have done it.
‘Can you offer any advice to other journalists thinking about writing a book?’
‘I think the first thing that you need to be pretty sure of is whether you actually want to write a book, or whether you like the idea of having written a book. The whole process is very intense and always takes longer than you think it will, so unless you actually are very interested in your subject then you should probably give it a miss. It’s easy to think that because you already write for a living, a book can be a logical next step but they’re very different things. That being said, I really enjoyed writing my book and would love to do it again, so absolutely give it a go if you think you may like it!
Marie Le Conte is a freelance political journalist who has worked at outlets including The Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard and Metro. Her first book is Haven’t You Heard?.
‘It’s an all-consuming experience, so time, patience and flexibility are vital. As an editor, collaborating closely with those contributing to my book, to get their stories on the page, I also had to mute my own ‘voice’ to make sure each essayist’s voice remained paramount – despite my personal connection to the book’s subject matter.’2)
Saba Salman is a writer for The Guardian and the author of Made Possible: Stories of success by people with learning disabilities – in their own words.
‘Find the time of day that works for you, and stick to it. Juggling a full-time journalism job with writing a book hasn’t been easy. In fact, at times, it has been very tough. But I am a morning person, so I quickly learnt that setting my alarm an hour and a half earlier than usual and writing in bed with a coffee pre-work was the key to getting those words down. It’s a slow but steady process, and journalists are good with deadlines, so a bit of self-discipline definitely helped!’
Ella Dove is commissioning editor at Good Housekeeping, Prima and Red magazine and the author of Five Steps to Happy.
‘Make sure you have a real passion for what you want to write about, as a book length treatment is far more demanding than a regular piece.’
Rowan Hooper is joint head of features at New Scientist and author of Superhuman.
‘If you’re a journalist, chances are you need less of a proposal ready to meet with agents than those who don’t already write and report for a living – a good agent will spur you on, so do find one. Otherwise, wake up early, stay up late – writing the thing is like training for a marathon, you’ve got to do it even when you don’t feel like it. Finally, accept that your day job may play second fiddle for a bit. And just crack on! You won’t regret it.’
Alice Vincent is a digital arts and entertainment journalist and author of Rootbound: Rewilding a Life.
‘Whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, I found that separating my journalistic work from my book writing helped — whether that’s spending three days a week on your book and two days on other work, or splitting individual days up. They tend to require different mindsets and I found it hard to switch between the two.’
Lauren Sharkey is a journalist, author, presenter and speaker – her first book is Resisters: 52 Young Women Making Herstory Right Now.
‘Find a gap in the market – there are a lot of books out there! Think about how you’d market your book, too – publishers are inundated and need to know how your idea would sell.’
Journalist Lucy Tobin is the co-author of Being an Adult – the ultimate guide to moving out, getting a job, and getting your act together with Kat Poole.
‘I’ve self-published five books, and five others through conventional publishers. Both have their merits. If you’ve got a very niche idea, I’d consider going it alone. If you think it has broad market appeal, I’d look at doing it through a publisher, and perhaps try to find an agent. Attend the London Book Fair – it’s a great place to meet publishers and get a sense of what they are looking for.’
Freelance writer and editor Alex Gazzola specialises in health. A writing tutor and consultant, Alex is the author of books including 50 Mistakes Writers Make.
‘Get someone who you know will be critical to read each chapter. If they don’t like it, you know things need to change.’
Sara Yirrell is a freelance writer/journalist and a consulting editor at CRN – her first book is Diary of An Angry Commuter.
‘Get a good agent. Mine is a living legend and has made the whole experience of publishing a book so much simpler and clearer and joyous. Ask around – the good thing about being a journalist is that you’re not a million miles away from the publishing industry, so you’re in a privileged position; probably someone that you know has an agent, and they will likely be interested in seeing your work as you’re a writer already.’
Caroline Corcoran, freelance journalist covering lifestyle, TV and popular culture and author of Through the Wall.
‘Be consistent. If you’ve got an idea, you just need to start it and then chip away at it every week. If you let a month pass by without writing anything, you’ll find it difficult to get back into — at least I do. I also think it’s really important to write for yourself. If you send your first three chapters to agents and don’t get any interest, keep writing. Some of my favourite pieces of writing have never been placed anywhere (both as a journalist and an author) but if you write because you love to write, your time will never be wasted.’
Caroline Allen is a
lifestyle journalist, author, blogger and copywriter and is the writer of a
number of novels as well as historical guidebook The Krays’ London.