Step into the shoes of a chick-lit author

CLARK'S SANDALS or Blahnik heels? Whatever new shoes you fancy for your wardrobe, one original way to earn the funds for them is to pen a piece of bestselling chick-lit.

At least, that's according to the author of a new guide on the subject, Will Write For Shoes: How to Write A Chick-lit Novel. "I think chick-lit still has a lot of potential," its writer, Cathy Yardley, says. "A lot of women have stories that still fit the genre."

But how does a girl go about producing the post-Bridget Jones narrative? We asked some of the book world's most successful and well-known chick-lit authors (plus one star of lad-lit) to share their top tips. Their words of experience may inspire you to give it a go: you have nothing to lose.

GETTING STARTED

LOUISE BAGSHAWE: "Think of your book like a movie. The premise is very important. You can't go to a publisher with a book about a couple of girls sitting in a flat who are having boyfriend trouble. You have to find a really good, startling idea."

LISA JEWELL: "Writing a book is not easy. I thought it would be when I started; I thought it would be a doddle and I was very, very wrong. I can't emphasise enough how important it is to bear this in mind."

JENNY COLGAN: "It is harder for young women starting out, but that's true of anyone who wants to write in a genre that's already quite full. Publishers are always looking for novelty."

MATT DUNN: "As a new author in any genre it's harder to get published nowadays, as booksellers are more interested in sure things than in taking a gamble. All you can do is give it your best shot - if you write well enough, you'll give yourself the best chance of being published."

INSPIRATION

LISA JEWELL: "Keep a notebook. Carry it around with you, because, without wishing to sound poncey, inspiration does tend to strike when you're least expecting it, and by the time you get back to your computer, you'll have forgotten [the details]."

MATT DUNN: "Read the kind of books you'd like to write, see how [their authors] do it, and, in particular, try and work out how they achieve their page-turning quality."

JENNIFER WEINER: "Get the rhythm of good writing in your ears. Cram your head with characters and stories. Abuse your library privileges. Never stop looking at the world, and never stop reading to find out what sense other people have made of it."

LOUISE BAGSHAWE: "Read one book by every author in the genre you want to write in, otherwise you'll start copying. Don't start writing until you've read five or six on the trot."

KATE HARRISON: "Think about the things you and your friends talk about and care about, and really focus on the idea and your characters so that your readers will care, too."

WRITING FOR MEN VERSUS WOMEN

SOPHIE KINSELLA: "I wouldn't ever sit down and try to write 'a novel for men'. First, because I'm sure it would be quite dreadful - and second, because I hate that stereotyping. Believe it or not, I do have male readers!"

MATT DUNN: "The women who read my books apparently do so because they want to get the male perspective on issues that concern them. The men want to laugh at themselves and how pathetic they can be when it comes to the opposite sex. So, for me, it's the same writing, but, hopefully, readers get different things out of it."

KATE HARRISON: "Women make up about 70 per cent of fiction readers. [So] it's probably best as a writer to aim at women, as you have a bigger potential readership."

WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

JENNY COLGAN: "Chick-lit describes modern society, for better or for worse. Bridget Jones' Diary was just about how a lot of women think. Write for yourself. Write the book that's in you, and worry about the rest later."

MEG CABOT: "Write something about which you feel strongly. In my latest, Queen of Babble, I'm actually writing about a period of my life over which I still have nightmares - that time straight after college when I had no job, no place to live, but just couldn't go back home to my parents in defeat."

SOPHIE KINSELLA: "The worst thing an author can do is try to second-guess an audience. Write from the heart. Write something you'd love to read yourself."

LISA JEWELL: "Unless you're very keen on research and are willing to learn other subjects in great depth, stick to your own experiences and feelings - you'll sound more convincing and sincere."

HOW TO STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD

SOPHIE KINSELLA: "A friend once described my writing as 'a map of women's minds', and certainly I always want my heroines to feel absolutely real, both inside and out. I also enjoy creating heroes that I - and hopefully my female readers - would find sexy!"

LOUISE BAGSHAWE: "I made a very good living writing Jeffrey Archer-style feminist versions of the 1980s novel, and I was the only person doing it. I had a tiny corner of the market to myself."

MEG CABOT: "If you write comically about something about which you feel deeply, others will feel it too, especially other women who've been there."

KATE HARRISON: "Don't be a copycat - the best way to get published is to write in a fresh way about what matters to you."

GETTING INTO A ROUTINE

MATT DUNN: "I have lots of people come up to me and tell me they've always wanted to write, but very few of them have actually started. We can all spare a few minutes a day and that's all it takes - for example, write a thousand words a day and you'll have finished your first draft in three months."

LISA JEWELL: "Try a creative-writing course. Most writers don't, but I did one (at an adult education college) and it really helped me. It taught me to get into the habit of writing regularly."

JENNY COLGAN: "If you can get 1,000 words on paper for 80 days, you'll have a book."

LOUISE BAGSHAWE: "Too many amateur writers say 'I just go where my characters take me'. That's codswallop. Every serious author has a plan and a synopsis before they start. You need to know exactly where your story's going and plot it out."

GETTING PUBLISHED

LOUISE BAGSHAWE: "Get an agent before you do anything else. Never, ever, send your manuscript to publishers. Send it to agents. Publishers turn down work that isn't agented and agents will turn down work that has been rejected by publishers. Take your time and make sure the manuscript is the best it can be. You only get one chance, and your first shot is your best. Make sure it's right."

JENNIFER WEINER: "I availed myself of one of the many fine guides to literary agencies available, which lists contact names, addresses, websites and phone numbers and whether the agencies will even consider unsolicited material (most will, some won't). Then I put together a list of about thirty agencies, places that represented writers sort of like me, that were willing to consider unsolicited manuscripts."

LISA JEWELL: "Don't do a hard sell or try to tell the agent that you're going to be a bestseller or the next John Grisham. This goes down very badly. If your work is good, then they are skilled enough to know this within a few pages."

THE PANEL

Sophie Kinsella, author of the Shopaholic series, the latest of which, Shopaholic & Baby, is published in February

Jenny Colgan, Scots-born author of West End Girls and Do You Remember The First Time

Louise Bagshawe, bestselling author of Tuesday's Child and Career Girls

Lisa Jewell, author of Ralph's Party, Thirty-nothing and Vince and Joy

Meg Cabot, American creator of the Princess Diaries series for teenagers

Matt Dunn, 'lad lit' author of The Best Man and The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook

Lauren Henderson, author of Jane Austen's Guide to Dating

Jennifer Weiner, bestselling US chick-lit author of Good in Bed and In Her Shoes

Kate Harrison, author of The Starter Marriage and Brown Owl's Guide to Life