I’ve had several people ask me about “How do you write a book and get published?” over the last few months. At first, I felt like I was a pretender, someone who had no right to give advice. After all, I’m “pre-published” which is a nice way of saying “wannabe.”
Then I realized that I really do have something to offer. Not only do I have a short story coming out later this year, but I’ve spent the last year and a half actively pursuing the advice I found about becoming a successful writer. So, yes, I do have something to share. I hope this can help someone else who is diving into this world for the first time.
- Anyone can type “I lik to weed and rite good story now u bye it ok?” and upload it to Smashwords or another self-publishing site. They might offer the book for free, or charge a wide range of prices. When a READER goes to Smashwords or one of these other sites, they know up front that they will find a mix of terrible, horrible writing, as well as some incredibly fascinating and well-written work. It is pot-luck… a real treasure hunt.
- Although the world of publishing is changing rapidly, writers still write, agents still represent, editors still edit, and publishers still publish. The traditionalway to get published is to write something good, then edit/proofread/polish it until it is the best it can be, then send queries to agents until one says “I’d like to represent you.” Then it is the agent’s job to sell the book to a publisher.
- Many, but not most (and certainly not the “big” ones) publishers will accept submissions directly from writers without agents.
- Agents have very specific guidelines about what they will represent. Do not send a vampire vs zombie story to an agent who only represents Amish romance. There are a couple of sources (my favorite is the Writer’s Market) to find out what agents are looking for. I went through page after page to find an agent who would represent romance and erotica and non-heterosexual relationships and science fiction. There weren’t many. Not only do you need to find an agent who represents what you write, but then you need to follow the agent/agency’s guidelines regarding how to submit. Once upon a time this meant mailing something to an agent. These days, many accept/insist on the query being an e-mail. Some specify “No attachments.” Anyway, read carefully exactly how they want you to send a query, then do exactly that.
- There are several things a writer will be expected to do even long before they ever finish their first rough draft. The main thing is to establish a web presence. For most, that means a blog and/or a website. It is a good idea for writers to network with people (readers, other writers, and just plain people) via social media such as twitter, facebook, G+, LinkedIn, and others. But you don’t need to do it all. Do what feels right for you. Go ahead and pay the $12 – $20 it costs to get yourname dot com. If you like twitter, tweet. If you like facebook, share.
- The only thing worse than having no blog is having an abandoned blog. If an agent or publisher sees that a writer got really enthusiastic one day and started publishing a million blog posts, then later got sick of it and stopped, that’s a huge red flag. Decide how much you can blog, and keep it up. Some only blog once a week. The average I’ve found is three times a week. Saying you’ll do it every day is usually a recipe for disaster.
- Make friends with other writers. In my experience, this is easiest on twitter. Be supportive. Say “Congratulations!” when someone says they’ve sold something, or it’s their release day, or they just got to see their book’s cover for the first time. Re-tweet announcements for people. Do NOT just advertise either yourself or others. You need to engage people and be real, not a spammer.
- Write as much as you can, even if it’s crap. Some writers can only set aside an hour a day several times a week, and write less than a thousand words each time. Others are more prolific. But there is value in getting the words out of you, even if you feel like what’s coming out is crap. For one thing, you need to get the crap out of you before the good stuff will come. (Just look at my blog… I’ve got both gems and crap side by side lol!) For another thing, you might very well discover that what you’ve written isn’t as crappy as you thought, and with some polish it can be pretty darn good.
- Embrace the editing process. Realize that only the miracle-workers churn out perfect results the first time through, and half the people that claim to are lying. Most stories that end up being published by a reputable house go through 6-12 or even more rounds of editing. Sometimes this means a re-write. Sometimes this means the proofreader caught some typos.
- Stop thinking about your manuscript as your baby, and see it as your grown child who needs to grow up, go get a job and start supporting itself. There might be scenes that you absolutely love… maybe they really happened and you feel it would be dishonest to leave them out, maybe they’re incredibly poignant or funny or passionate… but if the scene isn’t important to the overall story, out it goes. Your manuscript is a commodity that will (hopefully) be bought and sold. It needs to be the best it can be.
- Besides establishing a web presence, there are other things a writer can do that will help their career, or at least improve their skills. You can proofread, either for an actual publisher, or for other writers. Offer to Beta-read. Read books that you enjoy, especially those similar to what you write. Read books about writing. Don’t worry too much about all the “Do not do this ____” advice you’ll find. There are exceptions to every rule. Find writing communities and immerse yourself. I like linking up with Write On Edge with a short prompt every week. I also keep up with A Round of Words in 80 Days. Every November I do NaNoWriMo. I’m sure there are hundreds of others… find what you like and dive in. Don’t overcommit, just find what works for you.
- Understand that most writers have day jobs, even the so-called successful ones. Becoming a published author won’t make you a celebrity or pay all your bills. This is something to aspire to… it can happen. But don’t think that just because someone out there bought something you wrote means the journey is over. Indeed, it has only just begun.
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