How to Get Published –
So you’ve got a story you’re aching to share? Here’s a step by step guide to getting published.
This is the fifth post in a series called Options for Publishing. This series is based on a talk I did recently in Taranaki.
Before reading this post, I suggest you go back and read the other posts in this series, as they tie together. Here’s the links:
This is a long post; you can download the PDF here.
Here are the slides from the talk:
How to Get Published:
Keep a journal, a diary or a blog. Write poetry. The more writing you do the better. Think of it like fitness training; you don’t build a muscle without exercising it.
2. Read a lot
Read books from diverse genres. Read classic books, read contemporary novels. I prefer reading books that are ten + years old more than the latest blockbusters, because I find time sifts out a lot of dross. However, I know that’s not always the best idea if you’re trying to work out what the market wants, and writing styles are constantly evolving. But you can NOT write well if you do not read. Period.
3. Write for free
Writing for a wider audience is good discipline, and helps you to get used to criticism aka “feedback“. I edited a professional magazine; it taught me about deadlines, formatting and word redundancy. School or universities generally have magazines and often welcome contributors. If you’re in a community or church group you could either start or contribute to a magazine or blog.
Doing a writing course is not essential, but it does help. There’s nothing like intensive tuition to improve the craft of writing. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest spending enormous amounts of money or time. Gaining a Masters in Creative Writing is expensive and may not be any more beneficial than say a twelve-week course at a polytechnic. I prefer face-to-face to online, but there’s nothing right or wrong. Just make sure you participate. You won’t learn if you do not do.
5. Develop networks
Often in this world it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know. Talk to other writers. Join professional societies, like the New Zealand Society of Authors. Attend meetings. Read the magazines. Interact in forums. Talk to writers on twitter. Be helpful. Only one rule: Don’t be a dick.
If you write romance, or novels with a romantic theme I strongly recommend joining your national Romance Writers Association. RWAs are generally very commercially savvy and they’re highly internationally networked.
6. Go to conferences
In New Zealand there are very few writing conferences, alas, but if you’re in the States it’s a lot easier. Reason for conferences: you meet other writers (networking), you can have lessons in craft (training) and most usefully of all: you can often do cold reads or pitch agents/publishers. This can short-cut a lot of slush piles.
7. Submit to competitions
This was my break. Competitions are frequently listed in the forums of various professional organisations, and you’ll find more online. I suggest the smaller comps, as anything with thousands of entries are almost a lottery. But with some of the smaller ones, like the RWA ones, (another reason for joining), you’ll get feedback from the judges, and if you’re shortlisted, you may get your manuscript read by an agent or publisher.
8. Publish your own
The last four posts are my explanation of why this isn’t as crazy as it seems! There are pluses and minuses to publishing your own work, just as there are to using a publisher. These days, it’s more about understanding your options than recommending one particular path.
But whether or not you use a publisher to reach your audience, or you do it yourself, I would still follow steps 1 – 7 above.
How to Submit to Agents/Publishers
If you decide that you don’t want the hassle of publishing your own work, then you’ll probably need someone to publish for you. Generally this involves an agent or a publisher. This is the classical approach, and until 2010 (ish) it was pretty much the only way to get your book published.
Warning: This can take a long, long time.
1. Write your book
2. Find out who the publishers and agents are that might be interested. You want to know who’s looking for new writers, what kind of work they want (no point in sending erotica to a children’s publisher, for example!), what format they want you to submit in. FOLLOW THIS! Generally, this information will be on their websites.
Here’s what to do:
- Check the lists on Writer’s Digest (US) or Writers and Artists Yearbook (UK)
- Follow agents on twitter. You’ll get a definite vibe for their style and what they’re looking for. Search the hashtag #pitchwars.
- Ask writer friends who they’d recommend.
- Avoid scammers. If anyone charges you to read your work: run away. Check the Writer Beware list.
3. Make a list of who’s looking in your genre.
Be strategic – don’t submit to everyone at once. I’d start with 5 established agents with a great track record and 5 new ones who are hungry. Follow their submission instructions (have I said this before?!).
4. Send your submissions
- Submissions generally consist of a query letter, a brief synopsis and, if requested, the first three chapters. This may vary, so again: check.
- General rule of thumb seems to be that simultaneous submissions are okay to agents (that is, you it seems acceptable for you to submit to more than one agent at a time), but a definite no-no to publishers. If you are submitting to multiple agents at a time, I would let them know this; at the very least, it’s polite.
- Here’s instructions on query letters and Marissa Meyer’s really good blog post on synopsis writing.
- If an agent likes your work you’ll generally hear reasonably quickly. Publishers seem to take longer.
- I allow 4 -6 weeks for an agent, and then I follow-up with an email. If I still don’t hear anything I follow-up with another email advising I’m sending elsewhere. If you’ve submitted to a publisher you may not hear anything for 4 – 6 months. Longer than that, and I usually send an email.
- If you don’t get a good response to just a query submission, it might pay to rework your query letter.
- Keep a spreadsheet of who you’ve submitted to, the date and the outcome.
- Try not to get depressed. I know of writers who have submitted 1000 times before landing a deal!
If you want to short cut this process, enter competitions and go to conferences (see above!).
5. While you’re waiting, write another book. Or two. Or three…
An alternative approach:
Be famous or otherwise notorious!
Publishers and agents LOVE writers with an audience. If you’ve got a million followers on wattpad, SAY this. If you’ve got a huge youtube following, again: mention it in your pitch.
This depends on your goals.
If you are desperate to see your book in book stores, you may be better to follow the classical approach of using an agent/publisher. Book stores tend to work through established channels, although there are signs this is changing. If you love literary fiction and you prefer to write richly textured novels, you may be better to approach traditional publishers. If critical acclaim and acceptance is important, again: a traditional model may be better.
However, if you’re just wanting to find people who want to read your work, if you write in a commercial genre with a huge readership (such as romance) and you’ve previously run a small business, my suggestion is self-publishing.
I say this because in the long run, you may be better off by finding your own route to market than by relying on a publisher third-party, who may or may not have the same goals as you. It’s also about the rights. Given that your copyright can last 50 + years, and that rights are constantly evolving, you may be better off in the long run to own the lot.