Concept Can Get You Published: Guy Saville Explains All

I’m breaking a rule today, which is always a good thing to do once in a while. Usually my guest authors write children’s or YA fiction. However, today I’m happy to welcome Guy Saville, an very dear friend of mine. Guy most definitely does not write fiction for children. His books are action-packed thrillers which explore the darker side of human nature.

Here’s what he has to say about getting published:


It took me twelve years and six rejected manuscripts to get a publishing contract. I like to think that other unpublished writers can draw inspiration from that. Beyond inspiration, I suppose the most interesting thing is why did book number seven succeed where the others failed?

That’s a tricky question and one I’ve reflected on at length (if I’d been able to work it out sooner I might have saved myself years of heartache!). One of the elements, vital to any commercial novel, was concept.

You need something original, something to intrigue an agent or editor. You must also be able to sum up your concept quickly. I’m always reluctant to reduce fiction to the level of soundbite but this is the reality of mainstream publishing today. My book, The Afrika Reich, is a ‘thriller set in an alternative history where the Nazis have conquered Africa’. Twelve words to summarise 120 000. The concept doesn’t necessarily need to be a milieu. The originality of something such as Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, for example, comes from the character of Lisbeth Salander.

Afrika_Reich_by_Guy Saville

A word of warning. Be careful of choosing something too original. It can scare off publishers as they won’t know how to market your book. Ideally you’re looking for a fresh and unusual take on something that’s already been successful. With Afrika Reich I was able to point to other thrillers such as Len Deighton’s SS-GB or Robert Harris’s Fatherland. You need to push boundaries rather than break them.

Once you have a concept, don’t waste it. The error some writers make is to reduce their idea to little more than a backdrop. Instead make it integral to the story; make it so that your concept and plot cannot be separated. This reinforces both, giving your novel a stronger and more satisfying structure. In my book, although the swastika flies from the Sahara to the Indian Ocean the true focus of the narrative is an SS conspiracy to dominate the rest of the continent. The specifics of the story can only work within the world I’ve created.

Ultimately there’s no magic formula to writing a publishable book. If there was we’d all get published with our first novels and live happily every after (at least until the follow-up). An original concept isn’t enough on its own. You need a good plot, credible characters, atmospheric setting. A dash of luck is essential, as is the ability to persevere. But if you can muster all of these, then you’ve every chance of succeeding.

Extracted from Guy Saville’s essay ‘Thrillers that Sell’ in The Arvon Book of Crime & Thriller Writing, published by Bloomsbury.

Book Reviews

There’s a good review of The Afrika Reich over at Milo’s Rambles.

About the Author

Guy Saville’s debut novel, The Afrika Reich, was published in 2011 and became an international bestseller. It was named as a ‘Book of the Year’ in the Economist and Express. He is currently writing the follow-up. More details at:

5 thoughts on “Concept Can Get You Published: Guy Saville Explains All

  1. Old Kitty says:

    Very inspirational! Thank you, Guy! You make me want to open a blank word doc and start afresh, fingers poised over the keyboard! I especially like making concept integral to the story and not losing sight of it!

    Thank you This Craft Called Writing for hosting! I read Afrika Reich in a day – it was such a brilliant read and I cannot wait for book 2!

    Take care

  2. mrscarlielee says:

    Thank you Lorrie, agree with Old Kitty – it’s articles and blog posts like Guy’s that keep me going.
    Good luck Kitty, open that Word Doc!

  3. Guy Saville says:

    Kitty & Carlie – thanks for taking the time to comment. Glad I can be of inspiration. Keep writing… you will succeed in the end! :o)

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