Tomi Adeyemi is a twenty-three year old author who is living every writer’s dream. Her debut novel is about to rock the world. She has a multi-book deal with a major publisher, a movie deal, and a seven-figure check in the bank. Give it a year. Everyone is going to know those books.
She’s proof that it can happen.
Now that you know that, know this.
That almost NEVER happens.
The road to success as an author tends to be a little bit more long and twisty for most of us.
The moment I signed my first publishing contract, the questions started pouring in. Well, not really questions. Just one question, usually.
“How do I get published?”
I’m happy to answer that, but it’s a rather long-winded answer so, if you really want to know, stick with me here. Also, please note that my experience is in being traditionally published, so if you’re self-publishing, only some of this will apply to you.
Step One - Write A Book
Seriously. You would be amazed to know the number of people who ask me about publishing because they “had this great idea once.”
The world is full of great ideas. No one cares. Make your idea a reality. Put it on paper. Once it’s on paper, you might be able to make someone care. Maybe a whole lot of someones.
How do you get it on paper?
Well, what works for me is a four-eight week word vomit. I spill a story out as fast as I can, from beginning to end. Zero editing is allowed during that process. If a character’s name changes or my setting shifts, so be it. I’ll fix it later.
When that’s done I usually have about 60,000-70,000 words that make no sense to anyone. Another two-four weeks goes into fixing it up. I check the timeline, read-through for consistency in voice and setting, clean up grammatical issues, etc.
After that, another week or two goes into line edits--making sure the spelling and punctuation is tidy.
At that point, I’ve got something I might be willing to share with a handful of trusted beta-readers. Family and friends don’t count. They’re too nice.
Once I get some quality input, I usually make adjustments because they’ve pointed out plot holes, confusing chapters, or boring spots.
All together it takes me about three to five months and four to six read-throughs to get a product I’m comfortable handing over to a publisher as a finished “first draft.” Then the editor pours red ink all over it and it goes through another two or three rounds of polishing.
That’s my process. It doesn’t have to be yours. Anne Rice will spend days writing a single perfect page of prose. When she types, “The End,” it is done except for maybe a single round of line editing.
My best friend is author Jennifer Friess. (Shameless plug for the bestie - read her Riley Sister’s books if you love a steamy small-town romance.) Her process involves stacks of handwritten notes that may or may not be in any particular order.
Find what works for you. Write the book!
Step Two - Research
If you want to be traditionally published you’re going to have to query publishing houses. If you want to be published by a major publishing house (Random House, Hatchette, MacMillan, etc) you’re going to have to query agents.
It is significantly easier to get a deal with a small press than it is to get a contract with a reputable agent. Small and large presses both have their advantages. Research that.
No matter what, you need to know how to write a query letter. It doesn’t matter how fantastic your book is. If your query letter stinks, you’re sunk.
The basic format is simple. There is all kinds of great advice out there. Research that, too.
Once you’ve written, contact someone who knows the industry (a published author or editor) and ask them to give you some feedback because, while the format is simple, the content… not so much. You need to convey all of the passion, voice, drama, and plot of an entire novel in about a hundred words.
When you’ve got your query done, find agents or editors who are looking for what you have. Don’t pitch your romance to a horror guy. Don’t pitch your adult fiction to a children’s book girl. Research is important here.
Learn what they’re looking for. How many words do they want? (Generally 75,000-100,000 for adult fiction, depending on your genre. No agent I’ve heard of will touch a book for adults that is under 70,000 words. Some small press editors might.) Do they want you to include pages with your query? Do they want you to email or fill out a form?
Agents and editors don’t hide that information. It’s usually right on their website. They put it there for a reason. Follow the guidelines!
A note here: If you are traditionally publishing, there should NEVER be a cost associated with it. No reading fee. No printing fee. The only thing you should ever pay for is copies of your finished book. If someone is asking you for money, run away.
Step Three - Be Rejected
Brace yourself. It’s coming. Everyone gets rejected.
Listen to me, now: EVERYONE GETS REJECTED.
Even Tomi Adeyemi.
If you’re not getting any rejection you aren’t putting your work into the world. It’s that simple. Your book might be the juiciest peach in the whole darn orchard, but some people just don’t like peaches.
Most rejection will come as a form letter. If you’re exceptionally lucky, some of your rejection will include an actual reason. “It’s too long. It contains too many adverbs. I can’t connect with your evil main character.”
That feedback is priceless. Don’t let it destroy you. Let it be the foundation upon which you build an ever-improving body of work!
I can give you my impressing-sounding bio. I’ve got three books under contract. My debut novel has been an Amazon best-seller. My short stories have been published internationally and won multiple awards. I’m a nationally syndicated columnist. The manuscript I am currently querying has been requested by four of the most respected literary agencies in North America.
Here’s the reality behind those fantastic achievements:
The first time I put a work of fiction out into the world in an attempt to be published was early 2014.
A week or so ago, my husband and I calculated that I have received somewhere in the neighborhood of six hundred rejections in the past three years.
SIX HUNDRED, folks.
Did I cry?
Did I quit?
I admit, I was ready to quit, about a year in. That’s when I read an article where the author said something along the lines of, “the publishing business is so subjective you haven’t given yourself a fair chance if you’ve submitted your work to less than a hundred people.”
I read that. I got drunk. I slept for two days. I sent more queries. By the time I got to one hundred I was published. At around 125, I had a book deal. Somewhere near 350 some seriously heavy-weight agents started taking notice of my work.
The querying process is painfully slow. It can take twelve weeks or more to get a response to your letter. If it’s positive and they ask for a partial or complete manuscript you’re looking at another two to six months before you have an answer. As my sister tells me every time I start pulling my hair out, “Patience, Grasshopper. Patience.”
I have read that the average time between finishing a draft and seeing the book on the shelf is two to five years.
It’s not about who writes the best book. It’s about who never, ever, EVER stops believing in themselves.
Step Four - Revise
In all that rejection, someone you respect a great deal is going to say, “I really enjoyed this work but I had some concerns with __(insert any number of things here)____. Please consider revising and resubmitting.”
Dude. You are SO CLOSE now!
Now you have to decide. Do you trust this person’s editorial instincts enough to revise? Or do you cling to your original vision and keep querying?
No one can figure that out for you.
I was once told to do a R&R that would make the book, “less overtly Christian.”
The fact that she asked for that told me that she didn’t understand anything about the book or its themes. She liked the voice, but she didn’t really get the story. I kept querying.
Aside from that, pretty much every piece of advice given to me by an industry professional has made my work better.
Be willing to take a stand for your work, but be humble enough to know that it isn’t perfect.
Step Five - Sign the Contract
You did it! You overcame fear and self-doubt. You powered through rejection and landed a contract. You are awesome! Toast your success as a published author!
Step Six - Marketing
Now you’ve got a book on the way. Start reading up on how to sell it because the publisher won’t do all the work for you. You probably have about a year from contract to publication, so that’s plenty of time to build a solid platform.
Step Seven - Write Another Book
If you’re wise, you’ll start this step immediately after step one. If you’re not working on the next thing the whole query/wait/reject/query/revise/wait/query again process is going to turn you into an alcoholic. Always be looking forward to the next thing. Not only will it save your sanity, it will boost your career. If you want to make a living as an author, you’re going to need more than one book every two to five years.
Is it daunting? Yup. But you can do it. Really, you can. The writing community is an amazing, caring, supportive group of people and those other writers will wrap you in love and cheer your success. Connect with that group and when you get weary, they will remind you that you are creating worlds and changing lives. That is a good and worthy work, not to be given up on!
And what’s the alternative? Are you going to let that story stay locked up inside you? A fire burning your bones? Are you going to let it decay and blow away into the wind?
I think not.
You’re going to write it and put it out into the world and it’s going to be awesome.
Resources I Love:
www.manuscriptwishlist.com - find out what agents and editors are looking for
#mswl - the twitter version of Manuscript Wish List
#tenqueries - a twitter hashtag used by agents to give examples of “do’s and don’t’s” in the querying process
www.querytracker.com - the most comprehensive list of agents I’ve found, but not as much individual details as Manuscript Wish List
www.queryshark.blogspot.com - The best advice I’ve found about how to write a great query letter.
www.bookendsliterary.com/category/blog/ - really helpful random bits of info about the publishing world.
www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialauthors/ - my favorite online writing community for finding marketing info
www.facebook.com/groups/roundtheworldwriters/ - hands-down the most supportive online writing community I’m a part of.
www.nanowrimo.org - the homepage for National Novel Writing Month. This is how I got motivated to write my first book. I will never be able to say enough good things about this organization. The main event is in November, but writing prompts, Twitter groups, “camps,” and webinars take place all year long.
www.wattpad.com - a website where you can share your work with readers and get some great exposure and feedback. It takes a while to find your niche on this site, but it’s great once you do.
www.scribophile.com - a great place to get really high-quality feedback, one chapter at a time.