Four Steps to Successfully Get Your Book Published!
Getting a book published is quite possibly the most romantic idea, next to finding true love, isn't it? Getting traditionally published is also just as hard, if not harder, than finding true love. Statistics tell an ominous story--chances of finding true love is 1 in 562, and chances of getting published...one in 2000. Yikes!
And yet, here you are, with your dreams bursting at the seams, and with your hands clutching your prized manuscript, you're ready to show-and-tell to the world. You're ready to bloom into a published author. What does that say? That you, my friend, have grit.
The statistics don't scare you. The naysayers to you sound like cheerleaders, and every no, while at first feels like a punch to the gut, oddly makes you stand up taller--stronger than ever before. Way to go, you!
We've established the premise--you are awesome. Now, let's talk about grit and how to "grit it right", shall we? Let's dive in to look at the four "simple" ways you can turn your dream into a reality--go from being a writer to a published author of a book.
STEP ONE TO GETTING PUBLISHED:
Complete your manuscript: Now don't sprout hives as you read this, thinking, "Really? Seriously? You call this advice?!" YES. And here's what I mean when I say that.
When I first started out as a writer I was under the impression that a "complete manuscript" is basically your completed story, from chapter one to ten (or whatever that number might be in your case). WRONG. A complete manuscript is much more. It's a product you want to sell. It needs to be "sellable". It needs to be "market-worthy". It's like when my husband asks me if I'm ready to leave and I always respond, "Of course, I'm ready." But I'm not, am I? You're not ready if you don't have shoes on, or that last coat of lipstick, or made that final-final trip to the bathroom.
Your "completed manuscript" once typed up, needs to be as fully formatted, proofread, edited, cover-to-cover done and ready. If you begin sending your manuscript out to agents and editors when it's half-cooked, you're further reducing your chances in an already unlikely scenario. For tips on how to properly format, proofread, and edit your manuscript, read my blog post, "The Perfect Manuscript".
STEP TWO TO GETTING PUBLISHED:
Get feedback on your story: This is a vital step that should almost always occur prior to you sending your story out to a hundred different agents and editors. "Why, oh why?" you ask. Because you may have a perfectly formatted manuscript, with that perfect font size, and perfect margins, and next to no errors in spelling and punctuation, and yet your story may have structural flaws that only a fresh perspective can detect. You're the creator of your fabulous story. You've read and re-read your story a hundred times over.
What that essentially means is when you read your story, you're reading from memory, not from an editor's vantage point. It's the same as when you're looking for your keys, or your wallet and can't find it anywhere, and then your friend, or your spouse, or your dog walks right in and finds the thing sitting right under your nose. Structural flaws, inconsistencies in your story either relating to the plot or even your characters; scene development ideas, or even just an overarching perspective on whether the narrative works or how you can improve it are all things that a new pair of discerning eyes will provide. If you were going out somewhere to the most important outing of your life, wouldn't you instinctively ask the nearest person you trust "How do I look?" before you head out that door? You would. That's what this step is. So, takeaway? When your manuscript is ready to share, don't share it straight with an agent or editor. Share it with beta readers. These could even be your friends--friends you trust who you know have your back and will tell it to you like it is; it could be a writing group; it could be anyone you feel comfortable sharing your manuscript with who you trust will provide you with some honest, constructive feedback on your story.
STEP THREE TO GETTING PUBLISHED
Start querying agents! This is a hard first step to take. It was for me, when I first drafted an email to send to an agent, I couldn't bring myself to hit "Send". It's a daunting thing to do, and the fact is you may hear "no" more than "yes". But stay strong. Take comfort in the fact that all authors have been there at some point in their career. This step also has a few extra measures attached to it. Here they are:
a.) Shortlist agents: Shortlist your top ten agents based on the genre your book falls into, and what the agent represents. Make sure they match--your romance story should hit the desk of agents that represent romance. Not mystery. The healthier your agent list, the better your chances of your manuscript escaping the dreaded slush pile.
b.) Personalize your queries: Once you have your top ten agents, send them a personalized email. Do not copy past a template, because when you do, they can tell. Trust me. Templated emails sound templated. Agents get hundreds if not thousands of queries per month. If you want your query to stand out, you need to put something in it that doesn't sounds like every other query. "How the heck do I do that?" Here's one way--do some basic online research on the agent. Read their bio on the literary agency's website. Anything standout in their profile? If so, use it to catch their eye when you write your query? For example, if your agent likes to scuba-diving, and you do too, maybe find a fun way to highlight that in your query letter. Your letter should sound like a piece of you--your personality, and by extension, the personality of your writing.
c.) Check for errors and avoid email faux pas: Check for errors before hitting SEND.
A final and general tip is to ensure your query doesn't have any glaring errors relating to punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, spelling...you get the flow. Also, be sure to address the agent by their name specifically (either first or last, depending on what you're comfortable with).
Do not address them as "Dear Agent". Agents can't stand that, because...well, "Agent" is not their name. At least, not usually. Lately, don't try to be too cute in your query. Be yourself and let your personality shine through. But don't try to woo the agent with flattery. Also be sure to avoid sarcastic humor and slang which may lack proper context.
d.) Rethink at intervals: If you've sent out fifty queries and received fifty rejections in the form of a "no" or no response, stop and assess. Go back to your manuscript and review. Go back to your query and review. A "no" doesn't spell disaster. It doesn't mean your story isn't a good story. But a fleet of rejections may mean that you need to rethink either your strategy (your querying process) or your product (your story).
STEP FOUR TO GETTING PUBLISHED:
Pitch your book at conferences. I know this is not a cheap deal. Conferences can be expensive, not to mention nerve wracking. The thought of standing face-to-face with a literary agent or editor and chatting about your book is bound to leave even the most extroverted human being curled up in a fetal ball on the floor. But this is the best way to get in front of agents and editors. Consider this scenario--you have a solid literary query backed by a stellar story and you're sending it out to literary agents via email. Another writer has an equally solid story and is pitching it in-person to the same literary agent. Which do you think will have a greater impact on the agent? There's something about facetime, about an agent being able to see the palpable excitement in a writer's eyes, their body language when they talk about their story, the passion they show for their story and the way they talk about their book that has a much greater impact than an email query. I personally feel this is a great way for writers to get their books noticed by an agent or editor--pitching at literary conferences.
As part of this final fourth step, I urge you to scout out local conferences in your state. Start slow, with maybe one conference a year. Get your feel wet, and eventually, you will find yourself across the shore on the published side.
You will make it, if you believe you can. Good luck!