The Publishing Process Part 1 - Going The Traditional RouteI can already see that this post is going to be really long so I've decided to split it into 2 posts. The first will be about the publishing process - the traditional route, and I will discuss query letters, synopsis, landing an agent, etc. The second post will be about self-publishing and I will discuss what it takes to publish your novel on your own and how I did just that.
So here we go:
Part 1 - The Traditional Route
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about being an author that comes easily. Perhaps the easiest part of our job is that first spark of an idea that we jot down. But the easiness ends there. Then comes the countless hours of writing, saying dialogue out-loud to be sure it sounds right, scouring the thesaurus for the millionth time, the frustration of hitting a blank wall while working on your story, the endless edits and rewrites, the nail-biting as we wait for our beta-reader's responses, the second-guessing as we work on our 'perfect' query letter, the giddy anticipation when we drop that letter off in the mail or hit send on the email, the crushing disappointment when we receive the polite 'no'. And that isn't even the tip of the iceberg.
If anyone ever says that being an author is easy, they are crazy. Probably from doing the above-mentioned process one too many times and finally taking a dive off edge of the deep-end.
Writing your story, morphing it from a flutter of an idea to a 120,000+ word masterpiece, creating something completely unique and original from a spark that popped into your head is only HALF the battle.
Now you've written your book. You've gone through edit after edit, rewrite after rewrite. You've listened to your beta-readers and critique groups and made all the necessary adjustments. You've spent your hard-earned and very limited funds on an editor and polished your story to the highest sheen imaginable. Now how to get it published?
This is the REALLY hard part.
Traditionally, authors would go through the process of creating their masterpiece and have to write an amazing query letter, a synopsis and/or outline, a proposal and marketing plan. They'd have to take all those things, which are just as hard to write as the story itself, and send it out to literary agents and publishing companies HOPING that someone would like what they send.
It's a daunting idea. Here you've spent months, even years, creating a story that you've invested your blood, sweat and tears into and your baby (which is exactly what it has become after such a process) is going to be accepted or thrown in the trash, based on a few paragraphs that you have to use to describe something that you invested thousands of hours into writing. It just doesn't seem fair.
One person, an agent, editor or publisher. One personality, one style of writing and reading. One person, that you combed through dozens of publisher marketplace books and websites to find. One person who you've narrowed out of thousands that might actually like your book. That ONE person is the ONLY person who will decide the fate of your book. Maybe that one person had a bad morning. Maybe that one person missed breakfast because they were running late and their hunger makes it impossible to be receptive to anyone or anything. Maybe that one person just read someone else's manuscript and decided they like it and to not bother reading any others for the day. Maybe that one person broke a nail opening your envelope and now is so angry that your book has no chance of breaking through. It's possible. It has happened.
But maybe that one person has been waiting months for a good idea to land on their desk. Maybe that one person is itching for a new breakthrough author they can represent. Maybe your book is that ONE idea they have been DYING to read. Maybe that one person you sent your baby to absolutely loved it and a few days or weeks later you receive a response asking for more.
Both situations are possible. Most authors receive more of the first than the latter. Some best-selling authors have hundreds or thousands of NO's before finally getting a YES from that ONE person.
Getting a NO is hard. It breaks your heart. You try to brush it off like every other author you know tells you to. You may even be able to brush it off the first time. Or the second time. But sooner or later, NO NO NO NO will get to you and you'll reach a crossroads. You'll have to decide something. Quit or keep trying. Quitting is easy. It really is. But there is no reward. No happy ending. Nothing that makes it worth it. If you keep trying, you open up yourself and your book to a lot of new roads to take.
Here's some options to try if you keep getting a NO.
1) Work on your Query letter
This has got to be one of the hardest. You have to crunch you massive 120,000 word book into one stinking page. You have to cram the pitch for your book, your bio/publishing experience, and contact info into ONE page, all while sounding professional and NOT desperate, while making your book appear like the masterpiece it is.
Piece of cake.
Except it's not.
There are plenty of websites/blogs/writing communities out there that can help you perfect your query letter. Most of them are even free! Do some research, write up a few options and have some of your favorite writing groups critique them, just like you had your book critiqued. Once you find the perfect query letter, send it out again.
2) Send your Query letter to the right person: (This ties into #1)
When searching for an agent/publisher, this is THE MOST important part. If you don't do your homework on this, your book is going to end up in the garbage can. Every agent/publishing website has a tab called submission guidelines on their site. This tab is your friend. Click on it. Read it. If the agent matches your work, query them. If not, and it doesn't matter how much you want them to represent you, don't query them. Agents get thousands upon thousands of query letters, on a weekly basis. Your best chance of getting them to pay attention to yours is to do your homework. Writer's Market and Literary Agent Marketplace release new editions every year with updated info on all the literary agents/publishers and their submission guidelines. These books aren't cheap but can be checked out at your local library at no cost. This website is also good at helping you zero in on the right agent: Agent Query Form
Here's some tips for #1 & #2:
A) Make sure they actually represent your genre
B) Make sure they are open for submissions
C) Make sure you SPELL THEIR NAME RIGHT
D) Make sure you are sending the correct material. If they ask for a synopsis they mean a synopsis. If they ask for the first 5 pages, don't send them 10.
E) Make sure you are sending it correctly. If they ask for email with no attachments, you better send it exactly like that. If they ask for a self-addressed and stamped envelope to return their letter to you, you better send it.
F) DO NOT email, write, or call them to see if they got your work or if they've read it yet. If they say they will respond on their info page then they will. You need to be patient.
G) DO NOT send them anything with mistakes, grammatical errors, typos. Seriously. They aren't going to want to read your book if you can't even write a letter without screwing something up.
3) Work on your Synopsis/Outline
I don't even want to go here because this is the part that I personally hate the most. I am a 'backwards writer'. Meaning, I don't start with an outline or synopsis and then create my novel around those well organized ideas. I'm more of a 'chaotic writer'. I get an idea and I write it down. I could write half a novel on one idea that pops into my head. I also work on multiple books at one time. If I get an idea for another book I start working on that. Sometimes I write the beginning and end without knowing what the middle is going to be. Sometimes I have the end all figured out but have no idea what to do at the beginning. I really don't recommend this process as an author but it's what works for me. It makes writing a synopsis, however, the most difficult task ever.
A synopsis is basically a chapter by chapter outline of your book. All the main plots are covered, the crisis, the climax, the resolutions. The key characters and dialogues, etc. You aren't leaving any important details out. You aren't leaving the ending out either. Don't think that skipping the ending in your synopsis will catch an agent like a bait will a fish. The agent WANTS TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS. They have to like the ending to decide whether they want to represent you so DON'T LEAVE IT OUT!
4) Work on Your Bio
Here's a dreaded section of the query letter, especially for new authors. Agents want to know what kind of publishing experience you've had. What makes you qualified to be an author? What makes you know enough to write the next best selling book? Honestly, the answer is nothing because even best-selling authors can write a crap book. Even authors that have sold millions of copies can have absolutely no experience. But the agent still wants to know. So what do you say if you haven't published anything? If you have no education specifically for writing? If you have no experience what-so-ever? The first thing you can do is try to get some. Most community colleges (here in the US) offer adult education classes or non-degree classes for a descent price.
A)Take some creative writing classes, some English classes and get some education under your belt.
B) Publish in newspapers, magazines, blogs and websites.
C) Enter your book and other works in contests. There are THOUSANDS of contests to choose from.
D) Join writing groups/organizations. The Romance Writers Association is a big one if you write romance. There's a yearly membership fee, classes, and workshops, critique groups, contests, and a huge yearly conference (also a GREAT place to meet agents). There are quite a few local RWA chapters in every state that offer the same as the National group but with lower fees and closer to home. Meetup is also a good website for finding writing groups close to you.
5) Create an Online Presence
This is becoming HUGE in today's publishing business. The internet is a make-or-break machine. If you are wanting to get published, try running your name through a Google search. Did you find anything? Did it actually have something to do with you? If it did, was it some random Facebook post that would be more embarrassing than anything else?
Here's what you want to see when you Google search your name:
1) you're an author
2) what you're working on a book (or project) or what you have that's already published
3) what genre you write in
4) a link to a blog/website/etc where you strictly work as a writer.
Don't think agents aren't going to Google search your name because they will. And if all they find is a link to a Facebook rant about your ex you can bet they won't be interested in representing you.
Here's some tips for creating an online presence:
A) Have a Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. that is SEPARATE from your personal pages. These are your AUTHOR pages and should only contain things pertinent to you being a writer. Set these pages to PUBLIC and keep your private stuff on your PRIVATE pages. Also remember that all of these sites are MEMBER ONLY. Some can be seen when set to public but some cannot unless the viewer is also a member. Use these sites to provide updates on your current projects, answer questions from readers (or soon to be readers), give writing advice, connect with other writers, etc. Google+ has some great writing communities to connect with as well. I have learned SO much from those groups.
B) Start a blog. I didn't know anything about blogging but I started one anyway and have really enjoyed it. Your blog is a public site and can be viewed by anyone. All the social media sites can be linked to it. Use your blog for the same reasons as the social media sites but go more in depth. Today's post is part of my Thursdays with the Author posts that I write every week. I answer reader questions and write advice posts for authors. I also use my blog to give sneak peeks of upcoming works, announce promotions for already published works, and even random thoughts. But I try to keep the personal stuff off my blog.
C) If you're already published, make sure you have your author pages set up. If you published with Amazon (either CreateSpace or Kindle) you need to have an Author Central Page. Your Bio, blog, social media links, available books and current reviews are all listed on one site. Amazon offers this page for multiple countries so make sure you have one set up for all of them.
D) Create profiles on Goodreads and Shelfari (an Amazon company). These are great sites for readers and writers to connect. Also a great place for getting reviews. Even if you aren't published yet, start using these sites to write reviews for books you have read. The authors might do the same for you once you're published. You can also get an early start with fans by posting snippets of your projects here.
E) If you have the money, start your own website. There are some cheap options out there, especially if you know a little about setting it up but this option can get costly. Some authors wait for this option until they find a publisher since most publishers provide you with one anyway. Use the same techniques as the above-mentioned sites. Keep the personal stuff, unless it's relevant, off. For example, don't go on a political rant unless your next book is about politics. You can talk about your family and/or kids but don't bash your sister-in-law for pissing you off at Christmas. Got it?
F) Get started on a newsletter. You will use this in your writing career. You might not get a big mailing list until after you publish but it's good to have one already set up. Use your newsletter the same as the above sites but provide unique content only available to newsletter subscribers. You can get a bit more personal with your newsletter (still no bashing the in-laws and exes) but talking (in a good way) about your family is fine. Give sneak peeks and excerpts of your next novels. Have contest sign-ups for free books and/or prizes, etc. Having an already established newsletter will make things a lot easier once you're published. Newsletters can be released as often as you'd like just don't be guilty of spamming your readers. I release mine every 3 months or if I have a new release between newsletters. I use MailChimp since it's free until you get a huge mailing list but there are many options out there.
So those are some of my tips and tricks for going the traditional publishing route. Here's some websites I like to use that help with all of the tips listed above. There are MANY more sites out there with great information.
Gail Eastwood's Tips
First Novels Club Blog
Keep in mind, if you go with the traditional publishing route, your baby, that you've spent so much time creating, will no longer be your baby. You now have a literary agent, editor, publisher, etc. all investing their time, energy and personality into your creation. You won't have a publisher look at your book and say it's perfect the way it is and put it to print. It's not going to happen. Something will change. Even if it's just minor formatting or grammar. Sometimes it's huge. Like plot, or character development. If an agent or publisher has signed your book, you no longer have the say in what gets changed. That's not necessarily a bad thing either. Some books do need a lot of work to get them perfectly ready for sale but not all of them.
I went with the self-publishing route after more than a few NO's and more than a few horror stories about what a writer's book is morphed into after a big publishing company gets their corporate claws on it. That's not the route I really wanted to take. But if you choose self-publishing, remember, you have to be just as picky about quality as a traditional publisher. It must be edited rigorously, critiqued and beta-read, and polished as perfectly as a corporate publisher would do themselves. The only difference is, YOU are in control of what you change. Not a team of strangers. At the same time, this can also be a bad thing. I've seen so many self-published books that look like they were written by high school students or worse. But I'll get into all of this in my next post: Part 2 - Self-Publishing and My Choices. I will discuss what you need to do to prepare for self-publishing and go into my choice of using CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.
I hope these tips help you out! Don't give up! Happy writing!