was some magic formula out there that got you published. Whether through connections or seminars or by the osmosis process of actually being near published authors, I believed--like many others--that there was some secret, some hidden door that, once found, would win me the coveted role as a published author. During my entire time as a writer and literary publicist, I have almost always come into contact with someone who, after finding out about my profession, tells me that they have written something/will write something/always wanted to write something/etc. Then they ask how get published. I did the same thing. I asked the same questions. It's what every beginning writer does.
Unfortunately, there isn't an easy answer. There isn't even on sure-fire, definitive answer. You want to be a doctor? Go to medical school. You want to be a lawyer, go to law school. You want to be a published author? Ummmmm....well...it's kind of a crap shoot. First of all, you will be rejected. A lot. That's a given. Once you accept that, you can move on.
Even established writers have difficulties in getting their sons/daughters/aunts/uncles/friends published. Sure, they may have an advantage, but the publishing world is fickle and extremely competitive. Here's the letter I received, and here is how I answered it (and I am in no way the authority on how, when, where and why someone should get published. But this is what I've learned throughout the many, many years of trying to get published.
I have recently completed my first novel. My husband has the laborious task of making the first edits. He is approximately 3/4 of the way through. I have arranged for a poetry/literary professor to read it once he's done. Afterwards, I plan to take your advice and seek an agent.
This was my advice. I know many people have heard this advice before and even though it is frustrating, it is a long, crazy, fickle process:
Dear (future writer),
You've finished the first draft of your novel. Yay! You've overcome the first hurdle.
Unfortunately, the hard work doesn't stop there. It sounds like you are definitely
headed in the right direction. I would suggest getting as many readers as you
can to take a look at your book. No matter how many times I thought I was done
revising, I still ended up having to take another crack at it. (I'm actually knee-deep
in revisions with my editor right now--I've probably gone through five to
six rounds up to this point already!!.)
Then, most importantly, you need an agent. It's pretty tricky finding a good match
in an agent. Your best bet is to find someone who's taking on new clients (usually
it's a junior agent, someone who just moved over to a new agency, or a smaller
boutique agency.) There are some online lists of agents that are actively seeking
clients. It's important to do research on what agents are interested in acquiring
different genres. Writer's Market puts out a great book on literary agents, and
they are pretty up to date. Almost every bookstore and library has one.
Another great tip is to find a book in the same genre and see who the author thanks
in their acknowledgements. They almost always thank their agent or even a junior
agent within that agency. Don't try to submit directly to editors. They are so
overwhelmed by the submissions from agents, that they rarely have the time
to read something from the slush pile (or unsolicited manuscript pile). Plus,
they view agents as the gatekeepers-- only passing along work that they think
has merit and will sell.
While you have others look at your book, work on perfecting your query e-mail
or letter. A lot of agents will take queries or partials by e-mail now, which is great.
Send out as many queries as you can. It's all about numbers. The more people
you get to look at your book, the faster you'll get an agent. But make sure that
your finished product is as polished as it can be before it gets out there. Check
out Noah Lukeman's book called The First Five Pages. He basically says that
the first five pages are what will grab an agent, then a publisher, and finally, the reader.
Also use this time to try to get published in smaller literary magazines. Or try
to get a magazine article published. It always helps to have a good "portfolio"
of your writing. Since publishing is getting so competitive, many agents won't
take chances on a completely unknown writer. So if you can get something into
either Ploughshares or any of the other dozens of small literary magazines, it
would help your odds. Join a local writer's group while you start submitting. It's
always good to get feedback from other writers.
Also, don't lose faith if you get rejected (which you will, because everyone does).
It's such a subjective industry. It completely depends on the person reading it,
whether or not they connect with it or not. NY Time's best-selling author Jodi
Picoult was rejected over 300 times!!! And even JK Rowling was rejected many
times--the agent who finally took her on told her to keep her day job because
he said she'd never make a living writing children's books (she only got a $5000
book deal with her first London publisher and now she's richer than the Queen
You could have written the "Great All-American Novel" only to get a curt rejection
letter in return. This is why it's important to find an agent who likes the type of
writing that you do. That's why so many writers look at books similar to theirs
to find out who was the agent for that "type" of book. But then, on the flip side,
you could send a book to an agent who has too many books like yours and wants
something different. I had an agent love my book, but she had just signed someone
with a very similar theme, so she passed. Even though I understood where she was
coming from, I was still crushed nonetheless. It's such a tricky balance of getting
the right person at the right time. The same thing happened to me with finding a
publisher. One house was really interested in my book, but had just bought a similar
book only one month prior to my agent submitting my manuscript. You really need a
thick skin in this industry. (Even when you finally get published, you quickly learn
that there are some reviewers that are not that nice!)
I wish you the best on your journey toward getting published. I wish I could say
that just getting the first draft done is the hardest part, but there's still a bit of
work ahead for you. (And then, even when you land the agent, the editor, etc.,
there's only more and more and even more work. It's never ending!!! But definitely
worth it in the end---I hope!)
Good luck to you and I hope to see your book on shelves in the very near future!
P.S. Definitely attend any writer/editor/agent conferences in your area. It's
great to get out there to meet agents and editors and get to know them and
what they are looking for. We've had many clients who've bumped into the
right agent/editor/publisher at just the right time and it made the process
so much easier. So, keep your eye out for any of those events. Best of luck!
Those were my two cents. Hopefully they helped the writer who contacted me.
And maybe they will help readers of this blog. Again, I'm far from being an
authority. I'm just someone who got lucky. (Not as lucky as JK Rowling,
Stephenie Meyer, or Harlan Coben. Plus I don't have Oprah beating down my
door to select my book as her latest book club pick, but I still consider myself