Now, I’m fully aware that I may be jumping the gun here, but there’s one piece of writing and publishing advice which just won’t wait because it may be the most important tip I can give.

(I know. It’s a shame to have peaked so soon, but it is what it is…)

Publishers pay writers. Writers do not pay publishers.

Take some time to digest that because it really is vital.

Should you find yourself in talks with a publisher, and they ask you to pay set fees upfront, for all the standard stuff – editing, cover design, formatting, etc. even if it all sounds reasonable – run like hell.

Publishers pay writers. Writers do not pay publishers.

Yes. I know I’m repeating myself but here’s the thing: There are people I have known, and so many horror stories I’ve heard about others, who have paid thousands – actually thousands – to have their books published.

Common themes seem to include – a contract written in enough legalese to confuse everyone on the planet, and a writer who has wound up handing over the rights to their works, as well as paying out serious money, in exchange for a handful of printed copies that the writer can sell on to their family and friends.

A person or company who charges an author for publishing their books is known as a ‘vanity publisher’ or ‘vanity press’. There’s no judgement here but the clue is in the name.

Everyone would like to see their name on a book. But not at any cost.

My advice is this: even though it will mean taking a little time to educate yourself on all the aspects of writing and publishing and, yes, that can get frustrating, don’t pay someone with no discernible talent and without whom – there would still be a book.

For myself, when I was fourteen my father died. It was very sudden and shocking and it threw the family into total turmoil. We had just relocated from the other side of the country, my mother was often ill in hospital and I was at a tricky age, being bullied at school and finding most things difficult.

I’m not telling you this for sympathy. I’m telling you this because it was my first experience with publishing.

I wrote a lot of poetry at the time. When my dad died, I wrote a poem. It was the only way I could really understand what I was feeling – to see it written down. One of my teachers read it and it wound up going into the school newspaper. Unbeknownst to me, whichever teacher it was also sent the poem off to a publisher friend who was putting together an anthology of teenage poetry. Technically, the teacher probably should have asked my permission but I think she just wanted to check that it would be accepted, rather than raising any expectations on my part.

As I say, it was a difficult age. I had no expectations at all.

Anyway, not long after the anthology came out, I received a letter, at home, from a publisher. This was pre-internet and I don’t know how they got my home address but in the letter, they said where they’d seen my poem and asked if I would like to be included in a collection that they were bringing out a few months later.

On reflection, that should have been a clue. And would have been, if I hadn’t been fifteen at the time. The process of publishing, through a publishing house, takes absolutely ages. A contract can be signed with an author, but the book usually doesn’t come out for a year or two, depending on what else they have coming out at the time. Still, I was being offered another publication, and it was a small freckle of light in an otherwise gloomy and bloody awful world.

The publishers then said they would need to charge me for “the usual costs” and my mother duly wrote a cheque for £50. I don’t remember how much a copy of the book was, but my devastation was pretty total when the book arrived.

It was hard-cover, about 14″ x 12” big and several hundred pages long. On each page, poems were printed in columns – perhaps half a dozen to a page – and all these poor buggers had laid out £50 a pop. None of the writers made any money, and between the vanity costs and the profit margin on the printed copies, the publishers must have made hundreds of thousands of pounds.

There’s nothing to make you feel less special than being ripped off with two thousand other people who thought they were talented and wound up in a book that no one would read.

The most important thing I want you to learn from all this is: the writer is paid by the publisher. Always.