As people who have read earlier posts should know, I’ve recently signed a publishing contract (two, actually [yay] but one is being published under a pen name, so I’ll leave that for other places). After congratulations, what I have heard most since telling people is “How do you get published?”
So far I have refrained from the two-step answer:
1. Write a good book.
2. Find someone who wants to publish it.
Truly, that might be the simple answer, but I doubt it’s what the people who ask the question want to hear. Hearing how those people talk, it sounds like they think publishing is some large maze that you just need some pointers to get through before you get the ultimate goal of that book print in your hands. Perhaps there are some pointers someone could give about how to get on the fast track to publishing, but sadly I don’t have one. It just comes down to writing a book that someone thinks is good enough to publish and then finding that person.
But, in the interest of actually giving people something more substantial when asking about publishing, I’ll try to offer a few more pointers, answer a few more questions.
– Don’t let rejections bother you. Personally, I hate those statistics people throw around when trying to be encouraging about this. Stephan King was turned down by this many publishers, J.K. Rowling by this many… I don’t keep my rejection letters like some of my writer friends do, I couldn’t tell you how many times the two manuscripts were rejected before someone wanted to publish them (more than a couple, less than a ton). I don’t gain any sort of motivation from my rejections like it seems some people do. Rejection letters are a part of life as a writer–at least if you’re not a best seller. Some will be form “thanks but no thanks” some will be very nice (one of the most recent rejections I have gotten stated “I’m sorry to say that I wasn’t connecting wholeheartedly with your writing, despite its poise and polish” which I thought very sweet) and give words of encouragement, but I always expect some rejections to come. Don’t let them bother you, all you need is that one yes.
– Nothing replaces a great manuscript. Writing credits can help (have you published a novel before? great) but not having any isn’t the end of the world. From my years working in acquisitions, I can completely honestly say that the manuscript is what is most important to selling your novel. Having a long line of previous credits and a PhD is not going to make up for having a bad plot, flat writing, or three typos a paragraph. What won’t help you is putting in things that are vaguely related as a way of trying to fill in credits you don’t have. Writing “This is my first novel, but I have worked X years as a technical writer” tells me that you probably have good spelling and grammar, but nothing else. Creative writing is an entirely different skill than technical writing. Trust your writing to prove what your lack of writing credits can’t.
– It’s easier to get short stories published than novels. That said, if you feel better having something to put in that final paragraph of a query letter, you should probably focus on publishing short stories. They’re cheaper than a Master’s in Creative Writing, and easier to get published than a novel. I’ve never seen a reason to spend the money entering writing contests, but there are plenty of publishers who put out literary magazines and anthologies on a regular basis. As it costs them less, and it’s less of a risk than backing you for a novel, you will generally find your short stories up against at least less scrutiny than any novel submissions. They are also a good way to get some money off your writing while trying to score that big novel deal. 1,000 word story isn’t going to take you as long to write as a 100,000 word novel and–even if you don’t make as much off it–you’ll have enough money for a few cups of coffee and a professional writing credit to put to your name.
As unhelpful as that might be for any “insider” publishing secrets, I hope it helps shed some light into getting published. I am always willing to answer questions if you want to contact me (comment, or find my contact info on the contact page above) I’m happy to share what not-so-sage wisdom I might have from my years on both sides of publishing.
But yeah. Two steps. Write good book. Find someone who thinks it’s good.
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