The journey to publishing can be long and harrowing. I sit here over twenty years into my career as a writer, and I can look back on it both fondly and regretfully. Why twenty years? Well, let’s just say I’m counting back to the moment I wanted to become a writer/author/novelist. Lots of nice names for it, but I digress. I think one of my colleagues recently stated that anyone can be a writer, whether they are attempting to write the Great American novel (ahem!) or jotting down the ingredients to a recipe, and it is an altogether different thing to be an author. I have to agree in a way, except I tend to use writer as a general term more than anything. And you may ask why I say “regretfully” when I have published sixteen books. I just wonder if I would have done things differently if I knew then what I know now. But, that’s neither here nor there.
In my youth, I was a writer. I created fantasy worlds both in child’s play and yes, even on the page. How did I come to feel the urge to be a writer at such an age? That’s far too complicated a subject to go into, and even today, I can’t tell you why I let the pen scrawl across the page at its leisure, or why I have published what I have. The urge to write has always been there and there’s no stopping it. But again, I digress.
After such an arduous journey, a journey I’m positive is bound to have more twists and turns, I can say one word. Whew! How did that happen? And what brought me here? I suppose I feel a mixture of pride and well, to give you a pretty bad metaphor, scraped knees. This tiresome journey, which is still hardly over, was worth if, of course. But, the steps I had to take to get there? Wow. I wish someone had taken my nine-year old self aside and said, “Look, I know you’re stubborn and you’re going to do this anyway, but this won’t be easy. You’re going to need perseverance and nerves of steel.” I’ll come back to those terms later, but would I have listened? I don’t know. Probably not. I was in that dreamlike state. I had wonder in my eyes when I dreamed of being an author. So, I’m sure you get that. I’ve established I was a dreamer then. Hell, I still am in some ways, a fact that can frustrate my family to no end. It’s hard not to be as a writer. And I don’t want to lose that.
So, where was I? Oh, yes. How do you really get published on this journey? Well, there’s no clear-cut method. There are no guarantees in life. We all know that. So, the most I can offer up is a little advice. I’m sure you’ve all heard the requirements a million times: finish your book, edit the crap out of it, write an amazing query letter and synopsis, get a literary agent, and, well, get published, damn it! So, I’m not going to bore you with the details. We’ve all read the tips. We’ve done the dance, or at least we’re working on it, right?
So, what is the key? What makes you stand out from the million or so other aspiring authors out there?
I don’t know. That’s right. I really said that. The truth is, the publishing journey, however harrowing, is different for everyone. I would say most of us struggle with it. But, you pick up things as you go, things that will help you improve your writing and how you go about getting published.
So what, if any, advice can I offer you? I don’t have all the answers. Who does? But, I can offer some things that will make the publishing journey slightly less difficult.
After your book is written, you want to shout out loud because it’s a major accomplishment. And it is! So pat yourself on the back. Reward yourself somehow. Then comes the next arduous step. Editing. Yes, the dreaded word. Editing. Even though the book is finished, there’s more to do. Go over it a million times. And yes, it will feel like a million. But, if you love it, it won’t hurt that much to read it over and over. Take a step back occasionally. When you return, you may see it in a different light. You’ll find new errors.
The important thing to do at the editing stage is to get a critique partner. Or several. Maybe you have a local group you use. No? Yahoo has some nice critique groups. And yes, you will have to return the favor and read someone else’s work. Critique groups were not a foreign concept to me as I majored in Creative Writing in college. But, it’s still a necessity in the editing process. You may not agree with everything they have to say, but it definitely helps. You can also have these groups look over your synopsis and query letter. You can pay an editing service to do it for you, but they may not be familiar enough with your genre to give you what you need to hear. Not to mention who has that kind of cash lying around? Edit as much as you can. If you do get published traditionally, your editor will thank you for it. You just made his job a little easier.
A natural next step after editing is…yes, you guessed it: find a literary agent, or at least a publisher who will take you on without one. And there aren’t many of those. I have to side with the naysayers about literary agents. Though they can certainly get your foot in the door, it is not easy to obtain one. Literary agents are a different breed. Yes, they are familiar with the industry. They know what sells. Each one, however, knows exactly what they ‘re looking for, and in some cases, your book won’t fall into that category. Prepare yourself for rejections, or at least form letters stating, “this is not a good fit for me…” Blah, blah, blah. Believe me, I had about thirty of them. And those were the ones that bothered to respond. I’m not saying you can’t get lucky, that someone can’t get a literary agent. I’m sure it happens.
Querytracker.net is a nifty site that not only helps you organize your submissions and keeps you from submitting to the same agent/agency twice, it also gives you a list of agents and publishers specific to the genre of your book. And QueryTracker is simple to use. You just sign up for an account (I recommend the free one), and from then on, you can search for what you want. If you’ve submitted to an agency, you mark it as a submission for a certain agent, give the date and details and it is saved for you for future reference. You can even go back and mark if it was rejected, if a partial or full manuscript is requested, etc. This site also gives you a basic idea about what each agent is looking for, and some authors have even left comments. Of course, you’ll have to double-check on the agency’s website to be sure that agent is still working in that genre. But QueryTracker will save you a lot of headaches. Before I found it, I was marking everything in a Word document, and I sometimes forgot to check it. Afterward, the tool helped me avoid sending to the same places.
The other tool, which I absolutely swear by for many reasons, is Pred-ed.com. Preditors & Editors (yes, it’s spelled that way) is a website that takes the guesswork out of the industry. Do you want to get an agent or publisher that won’t expect you to dish out money upfront? They’ve got it covered. This site has lists of resources on everything you can imagine. More importantly, it will let you research agencies and publishers. Preditors & Editors (or P&E, as the moderators affectionately name it) bases their findings on actual reports from authors. You may want to stick to places that are “recommended”, because those are the best, and they’re certain to get you exactly what you want in an agent or publisher. P&E has many categories to choose from, and you won’t be disappointed at the plethora of information stored there. Notice I have not said these tools will fix all your problems. They sure won’t, but they’ll definitely help during your submission stage. The rest is up to you.
The publishing journey is not easy. You’ll have roadblocks. You’ll take detours. I think anyone who has a solid manuscript with a compelling story deserves to get published. Unfortunately, life rarely hands us exactly what we want. We have to go out and get it. Sometimes we have to dig hard to find that gem. Remember that word I used before? I don’t expect you to after all of my babbling. Perseverance. Perseverance will help you along the way. Because, if you get pushed down and you have the ability to brush it off and keep going, there is hope for you. You have what it takes to get published. Again, there is no clear method. What works for one writer may be totally inapplicable for someone else. The last thing I can say is, perseverance is only one thing.
Nerves of steel are almost essential. You’ll get some bad responses, if you’re lucky enough to get them from an editor or agent. Or maybe it came from a peer or critique partner. Are you a sensitive soul? Get tough. Honestly evaluate what is said in relation to your book, of course, and change something if necessary. But, don’t take it personally. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, and if we all agreed, we’d be robots. There is no room for hurt feelings in this business. Believe me, I am a sensitive person, and I take things personally. But, I’ve had to toughen up a lot.
Don’t worry, though. You will learn as you go. I’m still learning. We learn new things each day, new ways to write or cope with losses. It is a harrowing journey, but it can be positive too. Hopefully, when you sign your contract, you can look back at your journey and see what led you there. Or maybe you end up self-publishing. That’s a topic for another day.
The journey is hard. Even if yours is easy, you are one of the lucky ones. For those who don’t have it easy, hopefully my words have brought you a measure of hope. Happy writing! And don’t stop trying.
Guest Blogger Bio
Marie Lavender has been writing for over twenty years. She has more works in progress than she can count on two hands. She has published sixteen books. Marie’s real love is writing romances, but she has also written mysteries, literary fiction and dabbled a little in paranormal stories. Her most recent release, Upon Your Return, a historical romance, was published in February with Solstice Publishing.