Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to Get Published

I had a discussion the other day with a friend of mine about the book publishing business. It got me thinking that I have never really written down the process, as I understand it, to getting a book published. So for my benefit, here is everything that I know, or think I know, about how to get published.

  1. Write The Book - First you must have something to publish. In the fiction world of publishing, unless you are already a published author, you need to have a completed manuscript before you can get a publisher to agree to take on your book. For non-fiction it works a bit differently, you can find a publisher based on a proposal for a book, but then the publisher relies more heavily on what is called your "platform". Platform is basically, your credentials, why will people want to read a book written by you? Usually this is because you have already acquired some kind of fame. Which really goes back to the same thing for fiction work. If you already have a base of buyers that know you or your work, then you can get a publishing deal without having first written the entire manuscript. So that being said, as a new, unpublished fiction author, you must write a great story. Refine that story. Join a critique circle. (I belong to a group on FM Writers Community) Have people read it. Refine some more, until you are absolutely certain it is the best you can write at that moment in time.

  2. Write the Hook - Your next goal will be to get the attention of someone in the publishing industry. This is typically done through a "Query" process. Which starts by writing a query letter, that includes your hook. The hook, as I talked about earlier, is a paragraph or two that will make people want to buy your book. Maybe at some point I'll go into what I think that looks like further, but for our purposes here, you are going to write the best darn letter you can that makes someone interested enough to want to see more. Don't try to guilt them into reading more. Don't try to trick them into reading more. Just be professional, and write something compelling.

  3. Hire an Agent - Next you might think you need to find a publisher. While this is true, there is one major problem. Many of the big publishing houses do not except submissions directly from authors, or "Unsolicited Manuscripts" as they like to call them. Therefore the best next step is to find a Literary Agent. An agent will help you get in the door at the publishers. They also help negotiate contracts, sell sub-rights (movie deals, language translations, Action Figures, etc...) and they help guide your career. They can and should be a good sounding board to bounce ideas off of. Here are some quick notes about what I've learned about finding an agent:
    1. Research Agents - Do lots of homework to find agents that would be a good fit. Only query agents that represent your genre. If you write fantasy, don't query an agent that doesn't say they represent fantasy.

    2. Beware of Frauds - There are a whole lot of people out there, eager to take advantage of folks like you who have a dream of being published. Watch out for them. Look at potential agents client lists. Talk to their clients. Don't pay a fee to them for them to look at your work. Legitimate agents get paid when you get paid. Here are some sites to help protect yourself:

    3. Follow the Rules - Once you find your list of agents, find out how they want to receive queries. Then do what they say. If they only ask for a query letter, only send a letter. If they ask for a letter and the first five pages, send the first five pages. If they want it typed in a certain font, mailed with a SASE then do it. At this point you don't want to lose out on a great agent because you tried to be cute, or tried to stand out from the rest. Let your writing, and only your writing stand out.

    4. Be Courteous, but Persistent - Agents get hundreds of queries a week. It can take months for them to get to yours. Don't shoot off an email after only a week asking if they read your query. Your best bet is just query as many agents as you can and then do something else. Work on your next book. If your writing is good, they will contact you.

    5. Send Your Manuscript - Usually the next step would be to send your manuscript to agents who request it based on your query, or upon a short amount of writing they have previously requested. Again follow the rules. Then wait again. At this point you can be a little more proactive. When you send in the manuscript, try to get the agent to tell you a time-frame that they will look at it. Ask them if it will be OK for you to contact them after that time period to see if they have had a chance to read it. But still, remember that they are very busy, they have clients, queries, and other manuscripts to look at.

    6. Celebrate - At some point, hopefully, you will get a call from an agent (or multiple agents) offering representation. Again there are many things to think about before you sign on the dotted line, and perhaps I will cover that in the future as well, but congratulate yourself, this is a huge accomplishment.

    7. Modify the Manuscript - Many times at this point, the agent will have advice for you to help make your story stronger. Listen carefully. They are the experts. This doesn't mean you have to do everything they say, but give much more weight to what they say, than if your Aunt Edith told you she hated your protagonist, and why don't you make him a her instead.

  4. Find a Publisher - This is where your agent gets to do her job. Your new agent will now go through a similar process that you did to find your agent. They will write a query letter. They will research their target list of editors at publishing houses, etc... But their biggest advantage is that they should already have a pretty well established relationship with editors from all the big houses. So when they tell Editor A at Random House that he will love your story, Editor A should be happy to take a look at it. If the agent does her job right, and if your writing is as good as she thinks it is, she should be able to find one, or hopefully more than one editor that wants to publish your story. At which point your agent will help you decide who to go with, and help you negotiate your contract.

  5. Modify the Manuscript - Again the Editor will probably have some feedback on your story. How to make it even stronger. Take their advice.

  6. Book Production - At this stage the book is for the most part out of your hands. The publisher will design the book. Design the cover. Again they are the professionals here. You will hopefully get a chance to offer your suggestions on the design, but don't be surprised if they don't take all, or any of your advice.

  7. Promotion - You may think your job is done once the book goes to press, but it isn't. Publishers will allocate a budget for promoting your book, but at this point if you think of their job as getting the books to the store shelves, and your job to promote it, you will be better off. Book signings. Speaking at Libraries, book clubs. Getting involved in various online activities; building your own site, writing a blog, etc... Do everything you can yourself to promote your book. Don't count on the publisher doing it all for you.

  8. Write the Next Book - Through all of this you should be writing the next story. Most Agents and Editors want you to always be working on the next story. I've heard that to get an agent, many times they will want to know that you already have a second book in the works. They are in it for the long haul, and don't usually want one book authors.

So, there you have it. Everything I know about publishing (condensed in easy to swallow chunks). One caveat to all this: I am not a published author. All of this I have learned from reading blogs on publishing. Lots of blogs. So take what I say with that in mind. Do your own research, and if you find something that I've said that is just plain wrong, let me know.


ORION said...

Know what? This is right on...
nice job!

D. Robert Pease said...

Great to hear that I'm on the right track. Especially from someone who is actually published. Thanks Pat!