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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting Published

Just got an email from a reader/aspiring writer asking some fundamental questions about this writing business. As she said, there is so much information on the internet, she doesn't know where to start. So let's cover a few of Cindey's questions:

What's the best thing to do in order to get published?

Write great stories. This is not facetious. Many people can think of a great story. But to write one, you have to learn the craft of writing: how to write dialogue, how to write great openings, how to vary your sentence structure, how to avoid common pitfalls like "telling" instead of revealing character and plot through action and dialogue. There's a long list. Reading good stories, reading articles or blogs about writing, going to workshops, getting together with other aspiring writers and learning together, and writing, writing, writing - those are all good ways to learn the craft (reading and writing being the most important!)

I read somewhere that getting an agent could help better than not having one.

This is an age-old argument. A first time author can sell novel length work without an agent, but it is hard, and in today's tightening publishing market, it's probably going to get harder. Yes, "selling" your work to an agent is just as hard as selling your work to a publisher, but you will probably want an agent to negotiate a contract offer for you anyway. And if you can't interest an agent in your work, you'll have difficulty interesting a publisher. Opinions do vary on this. I actually got an editor interested first and then submitted through an agent. I was glad I had her to help me through it. You don't need an agent for short stories, just a source of markets (see ralan.com for an example) and a lot of stamps, envelopes, and cover letters. (Learn how to write a professional cover letter.)

I also read that I could send in a proposal first & not have the book written just yet. Then if there was interest in the book, the publisher would then want the book written.

This can work for non-fiction. You can structure a book proposal by writing a chapter-by-chapter outline and a query letter, explaining your qualifications for writing the book. You would also need to write the first few chapters to include in your proposal. There are many good descriptions of non-fiction book proposals out there. Look at books like Writers' Market or How to Get Happily Published, or the websites of reputable writers and agents. (See Pub Rants link in the margin.)

For fiction and a first time writer, a book proposal is not going to fly. Editors want to see not only that you can write, but that you can finish a whole book. Ideas, sad to say, really are a dime a dozen. Once you've been published you may be able to sell books on proposal, but not (OK, never say never) as a first time writer.

Where do you start?

Write the book. Revise it. Revise it again, until it is the best it can be.

Once you think your book is ready (and this means you've had serious writers and readers - not just your friends - read it and give you feedback) start looking at Preditors and Editors, and Writer Beware to learn about the pitfalls waiting for naive writers. (I've got links in the margin here.) Read the articles in Writers' Market and do research at places like Agent Query (link in the margin, too.) Find some online communities for writers - Absolute Write, Making Light, and the sff.net forums. And I highly recommend agent Kristin Nelson's well-written blog Pub Rants. Read her archives about what agents look at, what makes them stop reading, how to write queries, and so forth.

Hope this helps, Cindey, and all of you!


Pen Pen said...

All ur info was helpful!! Thanks Thanks Thanks!!!

carolwriter said...

Glad to be of some help in sorting out the confusion.

Deb S said...

Just wondering where you stand on the "one or two spaces after the period" issue? What do you use and is there an industry preference? A pro's perspective would be helpful!

carolwriter said...

Deb, I can't say what the industry preference is - I've seen people say both things, too. I always put the two spaces because it makes the pages more readable for ME. (I can spot a single space after a period in a full page of text!) But then, I've always submitted in Times New Roman and italics, not Courier New and underlines as the "old rules" specified. My editor doesn't care.

I think the spacing and font rules are more important for short fiction markets rather than novel markets. The main thing is to always always follow a market's guidelines. If they don't mention period spacing, do what works for you. Maybe a short fiction author/editor can tell us more. Betsy D, are you out there?

Sara said...

So helpful! Thanks :)