With all the options available for publishing now, it’s a great time to be a writer. You can quite literally pick the best way to get your work out there, and you can do it from project to project. In taking a look at the ins and outs of publishing, the first place I want to stop are the preliminaries.
So, you’re a new writer, and you want to get published. What are those first steps?
Please make sure you’ve written the very best book you can write. Let’s look at that under a microscope a little, because this is a bit tricky. First of all, is your book finished? Did you write a whole book? I cannot emphasize how important this is. If you have a whole book done and someone wants to see it, voila! you can ship that bad boy right out. If you don’t have a book done, well, there could be a rough all-nighter in your future, or you could hurry and send a book that is not reflective of your complete abilities, with revision process attached. So, before you query, get your book done. I know you’re excited by your project and you want to share that with others, but others won’t be excited unless they can see your whole vision. Again, I know why you want to send it out before you’re done. I don’t think there’s a single writer who’s not made that mistake. But it is kind of an amateur thing. My fellow narrators might disagree.
Now, in order to write the very best book you can, did someone else (besides your immediate circle) look at the book? It’s hard to get that right mix of readers for your work–people who are supportive, but will push you to do better. However, you need to find those people, and you’ll know when you find them. Patrick Rothfuss taught me (he doesn’t remember. He was on a panel, I was there.) about reader readers and writer readers. Reader readers are like the people who are going to buy your book and read it for fun. You need some of those, and I have 2-3 really solid reader readers, including my husband. And then you need writer-readers who can help you with the nuts and bolts of your story. Obviously I have unreliable friends and other VPXIIIers, and some friends from Taos Toolbox. You need to get readers to help you. Never send it out when you just finish. Never send it out at the end of NaNoWriMo. Let the cake cool, and let some friends look at it from all sides just to make sure you’ve frosted it evenly.
There are two more things that I should mention in preliminaries. Did you really write the best book you could? I sort of mean for now. You’ll get better with practice, experience, and if it interests you, education. But do what you can within your current scope of skill to make the best effort to get that book out there that you can. Next, please expect to be rejected, and please learn to not let it get to you. Because that’s going to happen, and yes, that’s going to suck, but that’s going to happen, even if your book is beautiful and skillfully written. It’s the rare writer that gets a contract or agent with their first novel. I’m on something like my 8th, and I’m not there yet. The first 3 were total crap, the 4th and 5th ones not too bad, the 6th one was a hot mess, and the 7th one is my best yet. However, I am still unagented and unpublished. That’s not meant to depress you. That’s meant to give you a feeling of scope. It’s been a near miss with a couple of them. Be prepared for a long battle.
One more preliminary, and we’ll get down to how to approach agents and publishers next time. You will have people show interest in your work. When someone tells you that they want to see something from you, still take your time to write the best book you can and complete it. Still take the time to let your friends look over your work. I speak from experience when I tell you that an interested agent or publisher will still be there after you’ve taken the time to write the best book you can. Book 6 was a hot mess because Book 5 had an agent interested and I rushed it. I lost an opportunity there, I think. I learned from my mistake.
And that brings us to this: you will make mistakes. Not only will you get rejected, but you will also make mistakes as you learn about publishing. How can you avoid them? Well, you can’t, but that writer education does help, as well as hanging out with writer friends and asking questions. You’ll get better at it as you go along.
Okay, so you have a book! It is a complete book and you’ve rewritten it by yourself a few times and gotten some guidance from good readers. You’ve proofed it, maybe even hired an editor (a few writers do this). Now it’s ready to go out into the world. What happens next? Well, that’s next time.