How the hell do I get published?

When I look at the search logs on WordPress.com one of the most common searches is something like the one I have used above. I thought it was about time I jot down a few ideas I have about getting published to satisfy those people and not have them go away empty handed.

How To Get Published (NOT FOOLPROOF)!

The journey breaks down in my mind into three segments:
1) Planning
2) Action
3) Follow Through
That’s seems a little abstract but it will change very soon.

1) Planning

This stage is all about decisions, thinking, observing, reading, learning and basically preparing. If you just start writing with absolutely no thought for where you are going, you might get published at the end of it all but you might also end up like the millions of frustrated writers who leave their unfinished/finished manuscripts at the bottom of a pile of papers or in the drawer of a dresser they never open.

It is vital that you ask yourself why you are writing. Are you writing to become a best-selling author and become famous, are you a self help guru whose ideas have not yet been written down, do you have a compelling personal story that you think the market needs and wants to read, have you researched an obscure but wonderful historical episode that will amaze and astound readers, do you possess some new thinking on an aspect of current affairs or politics that will be lapped up by press and readers alike or are you someone much more modest who feels sure that not many people will want to read your material but who just wants to write and see their work in print?

Once you have answered that question you need to respond to the answer. if you are planning on becoming a best-selling author you need to ask yourself do i belong to a genre of any type? Am I really mass market material? And this is the stage where research is important, reading books by rivals/fellow authors, hunting around amazon for similar books and titles. If you don’t know what is out there than you can hardly tailor your work to fit the market segment you want to write for. Every genre and sub genre have their quirks and attributes. if you intend to impress agents and publishers who publish in that genre then you should make damn sure you know them.

Funny that I mention agents and publishers there because this is also the stage when you should be figuring out who is likely to publish such a book. Fiction, Non-fiction, Illustrated or non-illustrated, English German, Sci-Fi, Romance, Computer Programming or Java Script for beginners, they all have natural homes and it is a bit mistake to send letters and queries tot he wrong imprint/publisher/agent because it is wasted time on everyone’s part. Learn you market and learn your route to market.

So you have decided your purpose, located your market, selected the potential publishers/agents and you think you are ready to write. Well I suggest that you make the planning stage a little step or two longer and brainstorm you book first. Use the brainstorm to research stuff you know you will need for the book but don’t know anything about. for instance if you are setting a novel in an Irish fishing village but know nothing of fishing, village life or Ireland, you might be in for a rude awakening when you send your script for assessment. Research, research, research!

2) Action

I reckon if you know what you want, know who will want it and know everything you need to know about the subject your are probably ready to write. So write. And this is hard. Some people can write very easily, some it has to be drawn from them. Most people I know who write need to find their own routine and stick to it if they ever intend to finish a book.

You will encounter problems throughout, writers block and mind blanks. Plot problems will arise and no doubt at least once you will question the whole premise of the books (Well hopefully you will or else your book will probably be terrible, a little self doubt followed by renewed confidence never hurt anyone. On the other hand too much self doubt is disastrous [you see the delicate balance a writer must maintain]) and want to stop. In fact some of you will stop. Many of you will stop. Some of you will stop and come back but some will just stop and the book will die.

A few will come through the process of completing a first draft. And you are thinking now I get to submit it. NO YOU DON’T! Now you edit it and prune your work and get out the clunkers and the terrible writing and the inconsistencies and the poor set ups, the horrible bak story that just eats up the first few pages. this is the time for really heartbreaking work. But this is also a great time because you have a manuscript and almost a final product.

3) Follow Through

Once you have redrafted and reworked the book it is time to thing of moving past action to follow through. I would recommend first having someone you trust (and not family, they will think it is great whether is terrible or amazing) read your masterpiece. If you cannot think of anyone ponder it a bit longer and approach someone independent. You should not need to pay for this service. There are enough good readers with critical ideas out there that you must know at least one. If anyone should pay for the manuscript to be read its the publisher or the agent. DO NOT BE SCAMMED INTO PAYING FOR IT!

Before you get your envelopes ready and your stamps licked think over your query letter strategy. Some publishers might not list a query system so call them and ask. Others may request just a letter or a sample. My advice is to follow advice from the companies themselves if you cannot get it and to read generously from the blogs/newsletters and web-sites of agents and editors. The publishing industry is full of little idiosyncrasies and it’s best to obey the diktat rather than get an immediate rejection. Miss Snark has a very good blog though as the name suggests she has a certain tone and may offend.

Once you have sent your query be sure to track dispatches, responses, requests for more and rejections. Best to do so on a spreadsheet or paper if that is your thing. You should always pay close attention to the actual words and tone used to reject your manuscript or query. Agents and publishers are subject to the same constraints as other businesses and sometimes manuscripts are rejected not because they would not work but because they already have enough in a certain genre, have no funds to expand their representation, feel they would not be able to do justice to a title or for myriad reasons which have nothing to do with he quality or lack thereof of you manuscript.

Last but not least if at first you don’t succeed, try try try again. keep at it and keep taking on board the advice and the ideas put to you by the professionals. They may be annoying and indeed a little obnoxious but they may well know what they are talking about!

Remember the balance of the steps is yours but the three segments are good guides:

1) Planning
2) Action
3) Follow Through

Hoping that helps a little
Eoin

12 thoughts on “How the hell do I get published?

  1. Wonderfully helpful, Eoin! I just wish you could change me into a bestselling novelist type of writer rather than the academic writer I clearly am! It wouldn’t hurt to earn a little money in this life, now, would it? But I’ll take your very wise words to heart and follow through on them. Do you think for non-fiction you need a full manuscript to submit, or is it possible to get a contract on the basis of some sample chapters? I only ask because I’m very bad at writing without a contract to spur me on….

  2. All evidence to the contrary to the side (I doubt anybody who has read your blog thinks you are a bad writer, either in terms of quantity or quality) I’ll take you at your word and make two observations.

    Yes you can get a contract for non-fiction considerably more easily without a finished manuscript. In fact it is fairly regular. For a first time author though, I’d still recommend trying to do the bulk of the work first.

    The second is that I think your voice would be fairly well placed in fiction. I am thinking especially of your more playful posts like yesterdays. The tone coudl easily be that of one of the more frustratingly untrustworthy/inconsistent narrators modern literature has a penchant for!

    But that is just my opinion! But I’m sure others would agree!
    Eoin

  3. I know many writers (self included 🙂 ) who have judiciously followed every one of your steps – and still remain unpublished. I think the reality there is, keep on writing, keep on perfecting your craft, keeping on submitting material – and be realistic – certain markets are overcrowded – every man and his dog wants to write the “next Harry Potter”.
    The thing is it’s a long road and it takes time. I once read that it can take, on average, ten years for a writer to be published.
    If you don’t have perseverance and self belief, I don’t think the writing game is one you’d want to be in.

  4. Nicky,

    Sadly I completely agree. I once heard that Walt Disney went to 300 banks before he got the capital to start Disneyworld!

    The truth is that following these steps will make getting to the point of publication easier. They should allow you to reach the point where you can start to imagine publication and more importantly get you there in a form that is welcomed by Publishers and agents!
    Eoin

  5. What you say Eoin is of course all true but there are shortcuts, the easiest of which is to get to know the right people. It is much easier to have gone to the right school or the right pub or crackhouse or whatever. I mean if every good writer had a book published the earth would be devoid of trees.

    Or stick your fingers up at them and do-it-yourself like I have.

  6. I have written children’s stuff for years now and it is only recently I have started to get somewhere. Co-incidentally I have only recently started to follow some sort of plan; if only I had been able to access this sort of advice years ago!
    Addy

  7. What a funny mixed reaction.
    The plans outlines above will certainly only take you so far Skint, I admit that. Chance and luck play a role at the submission stage. But getting to the submission can be so difficult for a first time author that a plan like mine at least sets out a roadmap to help!
    As I have said before the route you have take is incredible and bound to become more travelled as we move forward.
    Eoin

  8. Eoin, This is wonderful. I’ve been waiting to hear something on this subject from you. I think your clear vision of what it takes to get yourself to the right publisher/agent is very helpful, particularly your emphasis on the amount of hard work you have to do to get a manuscript into good enough shape to even show it to that right person. I’m about to head into the final push to finish my novel, now that I’m done with doctors for a while and I will not forget that after that the pruning and shaping must begin! Best, BL

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