Special Things

Sunday, June 12, 2011

You say you want to get published?

I don't mean to sound harsh at all, but a career in writing is a hard way to go! Breaking into the publishing world is difficult and often heartbreaking. Once, a really good story had a fair chance of getting your foot in the door, but these days, it's next to impossible to find a publisher, even if you do have a fantastic story. Collectively, publishing houses receive literally thousands of submissions per day. You have to interest them from page one and do it professionally, or they won't read past the first few pages at most.

Today, the would-be author has to have a killer story, possess a better than average command of the language and know where and how to market herself. More than that; you have to have raging tenacity, get used to rejection, be willing to continue to submit your tale aggressively to dozens, maybe even hundreds of publishers and not be at all attached to the belief that your story is perfect as it stands. You may think you have written the next New York Times bestseller, but in all honesty, it isn't always the best story that makes the cut. Aggressive promotion and lots of very hard work go into making a book a bestseller. Often it's the author's own "elbow grease" that gets a book into that highly coveted position.

My advice? Unless you love writing so much you would do it even if you never sold anything, quit NOW, before you get turned down 100 times. Still want to be a writer? Okay. Some of us HAVE to write, just like we have to breathe. If you are one of us, here are some tips:

1. READ a LOT, especially in the genre you are interested in writing. If romance is your "bag" for example, read all the bestselling romance novels you can get your hands on--not all the novels out there, just the best ones! But don't just read. Absorb the way the authors write, the things they say and how they phrase their sentences. Analyze everything.

2. Proof your manuscript for spelling, grammar and dum-dum mistakes, and then proof it again . . . and again. Keep a good thesaurus and dictionary by you at all times (or use the online ones). If it isn't professionally presented, it won't get read past the first few sentences, and it certainly has very little chance of being published. Inexperienced writers think editors are there to rework their books. Not true. Editors will rake you over the coals, make you re-write it until you get it right and still not ever lift a finger to help you whip it into shape, beyond making a few suggestions. After all, this is your book; you are the one who needs to write it. If you need someone to make your work shine and you can't do it yourself, you need to hire a professional ghostwriter. Your editor is too busy to re-write your book for you, so don't expect it.

3. Join a local writer/critique group (or several) and get their feedback. DON'T be insulted if these people tell you all kinds of ways to improve your writing. Just follow their advice! Join online groups and read all the tips of authors who are making making their way out there (avail yourself of the many writer's resources these groups post to their files), because it's a tough business (have I mentioned that?) and only the fearless and strong make it. These would be the ones who kept on keeping on until they got published, so follow their examples.

4. When you think your manuscript might be ready, look through a new (as in up-to-date) copy of Writer's Market and find a dozen or so (for starters) publishing companies you want to submit to. Read their submission guidelines and do exactly what they say. Warning: this is likely to be somewhat different with each different publisher, so don't think you can put your manuscript together and just shoot it out to everyone. If you want their attention in a good way, tailor your submission and query letter just for them, as though you wrote your book with them alone in mind. You will have to rework your submission and query for each different publisher, probably; and many publishers don't want you to submit to more than one place at a time, so get ready to WAIT . . . three to six MONTHS just to be rejected and start over. Here's a hint: Don't submit to the big guys until you have made your mark with a book or two sold to less prominent publishers, unless you long to start a collection of rejection letters. I know plenty of authors who have had a dozen or more books published and they still have trouble finding a home for the next one in the world of the traditional publishers.

5. Write and write and write. Read what you have written aloud and see how it flows; check to see if it sounds dull or plodding . . . Look at it like it was someone else's work and ask yourself if you would continue reading it if it wasn't your baby. Be honest, even if it hurts. Writing is a skill which can be learned and improved on with practice, but you have to write a LOT, re-write even more and accept the critiques like they pure gold, because they may be that valuable in terms of improving your style and technique. Successful writing (and selling) begins with hard work: start with a good concept for a story; create strong, memorable characters who are real, compelling and believable; hone your presentation with sentence variety, correct grammar and immaculate usage; find a way to grab and keep your readers' interest, because if you don't, your book won't sell. Sounds simpler than it is, and it sounds like a tall order, because it is.

6. Don't think just because you have a book (or even a dozen) published that you are going to be rich and famous. Over 99% of the authors out there never get rich or famous, even though their work is worthy of recognition. Besides that, once you are published, that's when your work begins. You have to hustle to get readers, because no one will buy your book if they never heard of you or your book. You have to eat, drink and sleep promotion, and it still may not get you the results you want. If you can't promote yourself, you probably won't sell your books; and if you don't sell your books, publishers won't publish any more of your work. A publisher--even a big, established traditional publisher--can/will do only so much to promote its authors, and only authors who are already bestsellers will get a lot of promo from the publisher. You gotta do it yourself! You want to be a bestseller? Go for it, but know in advance it's going to take all the courage, stamina and consistency you can manage.

In the world of eBook publishing, the outlook on getting published is not quite as bleak . . . yet, although competition is very stiff and getting more so every day. Face it, probably more than half the people you know have written, are writing or will write a book, and they all want to see their work out there. So even eBook publishers have to deal with a lot of submissions. You should take no less care in submitting to a small indie eBook publisher than you would submitting to the cream of the top traditional publishers. Attention to detail, correctness and consistency will eventually get you where you want to be, so don't skimp in attention to details. You want them to think the best of you, so give them your absolute best.

My publishing company, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, is a small, indie publisher. We have been open since September, 2009, and to date we have 75 authors and about 150 eBooks under contract. When I say small, I mean two women read, proofed, edited and produced all those books (125 are out right now; the other 25 are in various stages of completion) in less than two years. We've had to turn a lot of stories down, just as all publishers do. It didn't mean they weren't good stories; only that there isn't enough time, energy and enthusiasm between the two of us to accept all of them. Check out our Submission Guidelines, and if you want a more detailed description of the dos and don'ts of writing and getting published. I invite you to check out a new book we just released by Jim Woods, titled: So You Want to be an Author?


Anicka said...

Thanks Denise that was most insightful.a

John B. Rosenman said...

Thanks, Charlotte (Denise?) . . . it is most insightful and should be required reading for any aspiring writer. As you advise, don't write unless you're willing to face years of failure. RAGING TENACITY. Yes, it's a requirement for writers if they want to get better and see their work in print.

Sheila Deeth said...

The where and how to market herself bit is still overwhelming, but I can't help writing. Thank you for all the encouragement you give us.