If your goal is to get published this year, then you obviously didn’t listen to my lecture at the start of the month. Any goal that is out of your control is a bad goal. And I’m here to tell you, getting published is not something that’s in your control, baby. There are hundreds of people trying to get published every single day, and publishing companies are flooded with submissions. The good news is that a lot of the submissions are really good. The bad news is that really good books don’t have any better chance of getting published than really bad books. I promise you that there are books in print right now that make your novel look like Lord of The Rings. And there are books that are in the reject pile that make your book look like a pile of month old fruitcake that a cat’s eaten, shit out, and then a dog has eaten and shit out. Mine too, if you’re wondering.
So you can’t control whether or not a publisher is going to accept your work. But I have some good news, too. That’s the only thing about the process that you can’t control. Everything else is totally up to you. And if you follow these six steps, the same six steps that led me to a book contract, you’ll be in a better position to succeed.
Step one, the polished manuscript
The person who looks at your book at a publishing house is in no mood for your second best work, my friend. They are in no mood for typos, misspelled words, or weak beginnings. So you have to come out of the gate with your very best material, right up front. That usually means your first chapter or first ten pages.
For some unknown reason, some authors seem to think that’s all that needs to shine. But no, you should not ever ever be pitching a book that isn’t in it’s final, completed stage. That means that you’ve written the book, the whole way to the ending. You’ve edited it and made it shine. You’ve had someone else read it. You might have even run the first ten pages through Grammarly. (I totally did this.) If your book is not completely done, then you’re done with this post, my friend. Bookmark it and come back to it when your book is ready to go. When you’d swear on your copy of Elements of Style that this book is ready to be printed and sold as it is right now. (It’s not, but that’s what editors are for; finding all our flaws when we think we did the perfect editing job.)
Step two, do your research
Let me tell you something else the person who reads your book at the publishing company doesn’t have time for. A fantasy novel if they carry horror. A western when they sell self-help books. So please, take some time and do some research. Every literary agent and publisher has a website where they list all of the vital information that you need to pitch to them. What genre they take, when they take submissions, who they’ve worked with in the past. Read their requirements before you make a query packet for them, please. You don’t want to waste your time submitting to someone who doesn’t publish or represent your genre.
Another thing to research is whether or not you want to query an agent or a publisher. I went the direct route and pitched to an indie publisher. I’m now trying to get an agent because I’m ready to step up my game and I need some professional help. So you can go either way. Having an agent will help you land a publisher. Getting a book or two published will make it easier to find an agent (I hope).
Finally, check with a respected source like Predators and Editors before you submit or accept any kind of deal. Remember, a respected agent or publishing company would never ask you for money upfront. They make their money if your book succeeds, not from you directly.
Step three, your query packet
I actually wrote a whole post about making a query packet, and you can read it here. Just remember, this is your first, maybe your only, chance to impress the editor. Make your query letter shine, because if it doesn’t, no one’s going to read past it.
Most agents and companies will tell you exactly what they want to be included in a query packet. Before you even start looking, it doesn’t hurt to have a book blurb and personal bio ready. While your query letter will be personalized for each new agent, these can pretty much be standard.
Step four, the waiting game and the numbers game
One thing I check for when I’m submitting, and that I try to gracefully work into my query letter, is the matter of simultaneous submissions. Most places accept them, but they like you to tell them if you’re doing it.
And I suggest doing it.
Submitting is a waiting game. It usually takes agents or publishers months to get through their slush pile and respond to you, if they take the time to respond at all. So it doesn’t hurt to keep on submitting while you wait. It’s going to take a long time to find a place to sell your book if you’re only pitching once every three months.
Submitting is also a numbers game. The more people you pitch, the more likely you are to catch someone on the right day, at the right time, in the right mood. So keep on pitching.
Step five, tracking submissions
As you’re pitching, make sure you’re keeping track of where and who you’re pitching to. I keep an Evernote document tracking the following information.
- Who I sent it to (Company and person. Agents move around sometimes and I don’t want to pitch the same person the same book they already rejected just because they switched jobs.)
- When I sent it, and how long they said they’ll take to get back to me. If they don’t give a time, I assume three months.
- What sort of response, if any, I got.
Start keeping track from query number one, and don’t let yourself lose track. If your submitting like you should, which is to say a shit ton, then you’re going to need to take this seriously.
Step six, don’t take it personal, kid
As I said in the beginning, getting published is freaking hard. Don’t take a rejection personally. Maybe the book just didn’t appeal to them, or they’ve got too many of that genre already. Maybe it’s not the right time of year, or they just weren’t wild about it. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, or that you’re a bad writer. It probably just means that it was a bad time.
Finally, if you want to get published, don’t put it all on this year. Don’t forget, I started writing Broken Patterns on July 20, 2013. It was just published in December 2016! So don’t feel like you’re behind, or that it’s taking you too long to get published.
And don’t stop writing while your submitting. It’s never going to be a bad thing to be a book ahead.
It is of course a long road to publication, but there’s probably one point above all others that too many people forget in the pursuit (and tunnel vision) of publication: Write something that you enjoy writing and enjoy the enjoyment of others who read your work.
That’s what often pushes me at least to keep going.
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