The other day, my husband mentioned to his mother that I had sold one of my stories. She was very excited for me. But what prompted today’s blog was her comment, “Can she show me how to do that [get published]?” Another friend who was writing a book once said to me regarding typos, grammatical errors, etc., “Oh, I don’t worry about that. The publisher will fix those types of things.”
They say just about everyone has a novel stashed away in a drawer with hopes of someday being published. A lot of those people may work on their story for fun or as a hobby. But if you’re serious about getting published, there are things you need to do.
Today I’m going to outline the steps you should take on your own road to publication, and in subsequent blogs, I’ll go into more detail for each step.
Learn How to Write
Do you know how many submissions—queries and manuscripts—agents and editors receive? Thousands. Imagine looking at the envelopes piling up, teetering on your desk, or more common these days, filling your email inbox. If your manuscript, or even your cover letter, has writing errors, most likely your submission will be either stuck on the bottom of the pile or tossed altogether. Publishers do not have time to teach you the mechanics of writing.
You may think you know how to write, but believe me, there’s always something to learn. I was confident I knew everything about how to write. I just needed to work on my story, plot and characters. But along the way, when I decided to take some writing classes, I discovered (surprise, surprise) nuances in grammar and punctuation that have helped my writing look as professional as possible. For an added bonus, you’ll most likely learn tips and tricks on using your writing software.
Agents and editors are looking for a good story. But they’re also looking for a writer they can work with, someone who presents him-or-herself as a professional in the trade.
Read Read Read
If you want to be a writer, you also need to be a reader. Read, read, read. You should especially read books in the genre in which you’re writing. If you write for children, devour children’s books. If you specifically write mysteries for children, read what’s out there, learn from them, analyze them. Read reviews to get insight as to why readers enjoy them.
Reading in your genre is good advice, and you should concentrate on those books. But I believe simply reading as much as possible will help your writing.
Join Writing Groups
Get yourself out there. Join or start a critique group. Seek out writing groups and organizations. You’ll find one for every genre. There’s so much to learn from other writers, and so much you can give to them. When you share your writing and your journey with other writers, your road to publication will be smoother—and a lot more fun!
I was dragged kicking and screaming to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn—all the social media. But I’m happy I finally gave in. Doing so has put me in touch with more writers and publishing professionals. I learn about publishing news, submission openings, contests, reviews, articles, other writers’ triumphs and struggles, and so much more. I still have a list of other sites I need to be more active on, and I’m trying to get to them. As I said—it takes time, research and work!
I’ve also started creating my website. Many industry professionals say it’s important to have a website before you’re published. I chose to wait until I sold a book, but this is something you should consider doing now. When agents and publishers receive a query, they’ll often do an online search for the writer’s name to see if he or she has any publishing exposure.
If you don’t want to do a website before selling your work, consider blogging. The least you should do is sign up for Facebook and Twitter. Another good way to get your name out there is to comment on other writers’ blogs. Remember, though, your comment is on the Internet forever. Think before you hit the “submit” button!
Once you sign your book contract, it’s imperative that you have a website before your book is released. This is where reviewers and other publishing professionals, fellow writers and, most importantly, readers know they can find you and your book.
Study the Market
It’s very important to study the market you’re writing for and to send your query to the proper agent or editor. For instance, if you’re writing an adult romance, research and query the agents and editors who specifically work in this genre. You can find this information from fellow writers, market books and magazines, searching the Internet or specific agency and publisher websites. I’ll go into more detail about market information in a later blog.
The Query Letter
Learn to write a good query letter. You need to grab the agent’s or editor’s attention with the first line. Be sure to personalize the letter, meaning don’t send it to “Dear Editor.” Address it to a specific person who works with the genre you’re submitting. Each agency or publisher has specific and different submission instructions. Read and follow them. Make sure you spell the person’s name correctly. I’ve heard stories of agents/editors tossing queries if their name is spelled wrong. Maybe that’s an urban legend, but why take a chance? And by all means, check and double-check your letter for punctuation and grammatical errors.
Agencies and publishers also have requirements for formatting manuscripts, so check their website for those instructions. If they don’t specify, you can generally be safe formatting your manuscript with Times New Roman 12-point text, double-spaced lines and 1” margins top, bottom, left and right.
There are the lucky few authors who become “overnight sensations.” Whose first story is accepted by the first publisher they submit to, and the novel becomes a great success.
But for most writers, it takes time, research and hard work. It doesn’t “just happen.” If you go at it with that understanding, you’ll someday hold your dream in your hands!
What do you believe a writer must do in order to find success?