Monday, January 13, 2014

How to Get Published: My Personal Journey

I got a great question from a Facebook follower today. Since one of my goals as a writer, is to help as many new writers with my experience as possible, I thought it was worth posting my answer here as well.

My reader asked:

How did you find your publishers or agents you are working with? It seems like an overwhelming process. My wife is also a writer and is looking for an agent. I just wondered about how that process went for you.

 Dear Friend,

Thanks for your message! It can appear to be a rather overwhelming process at the beginning, but just like anything else, finding a agent/publisher must be taken one step at a time. I actually don't have an agent, but know the process, because I've tried both routes. ;-)

My skeleton answer to your question is this: I started my journey by querying agents; I queried somewhere around 60, but alas, for me, it was not to be. If your wife wants to go that route, however, she must A) first have a complete, polished manuscript. B) Compile a list of agents that represent the genre she has written. C) Research said agents and write a query letter to each respective agent, individualizing each letter to let the agent know she did her research (they happen to like that.) And D) Finally, following the specific guidelines of each agent, she must mail out her submissions packet, and then wait anywhere from 6-12 weeks to hear back. Sometimes agents will ask to see more--anywhere from a few chapters to an entire manuscript--and if they like what they see then, they'll offer to represent her.

Anyway, that is the A+B+C=D formula for getting an agent.

Unfortunately, for most aspiring authors, it hardly ever goes that smoothly. Thankfully, there are a plethora of other ways to get one's work published if the agent route doesn't work out.  Furthermore, the following routes to publishing may eventually lead to the acquisition of an agent down the road--so, never, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Anything can happen.

In the meantime, here's how my journey worked:

 Surprisingly, I got my publisher after self-publishing my first novel Cobbogoth--the book my publisher ended up deciding to publish. (It will be out in May 2014!) That was my way of breaking into the industry. It turns out Cedar Fort liked being able to see that my book was well-received by an audience before investing in it. It used to be that self-publishing could completely ruin your chances of getting a particular work published, however, the book industry has changed so much since the technology for the e-book came out, that self-publishing is becoming a much more viable way to finding a publisher/agent. For me, and many other authors, self-publishing has eliminated the very subjective gate-keepers (agent) and allowed us to go straight to the publisher, because we already have credible evidence to show them that our work is worth investing in.

If your wife is interested in going the agent route--which isn't a bad route to go--she should get herself a copy of the 2014 edition of Writer's Market, and start compiling  her list of desirable agents. When she has that, she should start querying with her finished manuscript. And make sure you tell  her not to get discouraged if she doesn't get an agent after the first 10, 20, or even 50 reject her, because regardless of how good her manuscript is, they just might. As I said above, the publishing industry is extremely subjective, and you only need one agent to represent you. That agent might end up being # 105  I have friends who queried over 300 agents before finding their's.

If your wife doesn't know how to write a query letter, or even what a query letter is--I didn't--there is a great book by author Elana Johnson called From the Query to the Call that was extremely helpful in clarifying that enigma for me. Another very helpful tool, if she isn't already doing it, would be to start attending writer's conferences: LDS StoryMakers is a great one in Utah. Dave Wolverton has some fantastic workshops that he does, and if you subscribe to Writer's Digest they have ads for conferences all over the country in the back of the magazine. Conferences and workshops are not only a great way to familiarize oneself with the industry, but are also a great place to network, especially since writing is such an isolated career. Writer's groups are also a great way to learn from other writers and their experience. Lastly, any answers she might be looking for can be found online at author websites, author forums, list-serves, etc--that's how I learned 75% of what I know about the industry.

Finally, I wish I could tell your wife a 100% fail-proof way of getting her work published, but the truth is, there just isn't one. There are as many ways to break into the industry as there are authors. That can be discouraging, but if looked at in the right light, it can also be really liberating. It's an individual journey of honing one's craft, familiarizing oneself with the market/industry, and networking that happens for each author. For me, that journey took a total of 13 years--a 5 year degree plus 8 years of completely immersing myself in my craft.  Everyone learns at their own pace and has very different goals where writing is concerned, so your wife's journey might go MUCH faster than mine.  The most important thing in her journey, however, is for her to determine whether or not she really LOVES writing. Any published author will tell you that the road getting there--with very few exceptions--isa rough one. It requires fearlessness, determination, and a grueling work ethic. If your wife really loves writing enough, then I whole-heartedly believe she'll find her way to success!

This is by no means an exhaustive list of "how to's" but I hope its helpful just the same. Wish her luck for me!  :-)


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