Just a Face in the Crowd

12/12/2011 18:31 GMT | Updated 11/02/2012 10:12 GMT

'Now I ain't gonna be just a face in the crowd, you're gonna hear my voice when I shout it out loud...'

Sound familiar? Probably. They're lyrics from It's My Life by Bon Jovi; you know, that song that has that weird gravely 'whoa-whoa' sound in it. No, I've never really liked it either. But, for now, it's relevant.

At first, it seemed kind of romantic to be a 'struggling writer'. I wasn't too disheartened when I received my first, second, third rejection letter; I imagined myself to be a modern-day Parisian bohemian, sat on wet cobbled streets which glisten in the moonlight, penning beautiful words which would only be truly appreciated long after I'm gone.

By the time the pile of letters rose past my knee the romance had worn off somewhat. I was on the knife-edge between 'struggling writer' and 'failed writer', doomed to live a life where I could only fantasise about seeing my book on shelves up and down the country.

Nowadays, the marketplace for new authors is so crowded that if one of us farted everyone within a 10-metre radius would pass out, and once all the bodies had been counted it would number into the dozens. Everybody believes that their novel, or biography, or poetry is the best, the next big thing, a work of genius. But, to a literary agent or a publisher, you are just a face in the crowd.

The key to unlocking success - whatever 'success' is - is finding a way to rise head and shoulders above the sea of heads and get yourself noticed. Easier said than done, of course. Many people, myself included, become so dismayed at the mounting stack of rejections that they turn to self-publishing and a life of relative anonymity (unless you have the time and budget to plough into a huge marketing campaign, that is).

But it's not quite right. Self-publishing doesn't quite hit the spot when it comes to the satisfaction of seeing your words in print. It's akin to being given a glass of water during a hot day, when all you really want is a pint of crisp, cool cider: it's refreshing, yes, and quite nice, but it's not what you were really looking for. Plus, it's tasteless. And wet.

So what can an aspiring author do to stand out from the crowd and land that elusive publishing deal? First and foremost, you must believe in your work with every inch of your being. Anything less, and you will never make it. I recently interviewed renowned literary agent Carole Blake for Writing Magazine; and, when asked how aspiring authors should react when treading water in a sea of rejection letters, said: "Stoically, I guess. Those piles are never going to go away. If you believe in your work, realise that you will probably have to accept many rejections before you attain success."

Someone as impatient as me expects to write a book, wow an agent and land a deal straight away - and, in some fortunate cases authors find themselves doing just that. Is it talent, or luck? The answer is both, in differing percentages, depending on who you are, what you've written about, and who is reading it. In reality, though, for those of us who aren't so lucky, landing an agent is simply a milestone at the end of a marathon. For an agent to be even remotely interested in you, you will need to prove that you have what it takes to be a published writer. So get pieces published in newspapers, magazines, respected online publications, and build up a portfolio. Then, when you march into an agent's office demanding to be represented, you can whack a dusty folder crammed with newspaper cuttings to back up your claims that you're the best thing since sliced bread. (Although sliced bread struggles to hold a pen.)

I'm telling you this like I've made it as a writer. I haven't, not by a long shot. I've had things published here and there, but it's going to be a while yet before I get representation, and the satisfaction of seeing my name on bookshelves. Some people say that having a literary agent isn't all it's cracked up to be, that it actually turned out to be the worst thing they ever did. Perhaps: but I'd at least like the opportunity to find out for myself.

'Tomorrow's getting harder make no mistake, luck ain't even lucky got to make your own breaks...'