All stories start with sparks of inspiration, whether it’s a news story or a particularly beguiling setting (e.g., haunted house, island) or a conversation with an agent. Where you take that inspiration is up to you. Maybe you sit on it for two years, quietly but steadfastly taking notes on things around you in the notebook that seems to be a part of your body. Maybe you feel the texture of the story and you sit in that for a while until the characters and plot start to take shape. Maybe you write an outline that feels like a movie script. Maybe you outline in color-coded obsessiveness. Maybe the story can’t begin to shape in your mind until you’ve crafted a way to access it, the entryway: the first paragraph. Then as you write, you deviate from the outline. Or you don’t. And for fun you write fan fic letters from one character to another–not for your book, just to get to know them. Or you don’t. At some point you feel like you can’t go on. The wall keeping you from completion is far too high to break through. So you trick yourself and go to the dog park with a clipboard. You’re not writing, you’re just sitting there…jotting. Or you write a scene that you’ve been excited about, that gives purpose to the build-up scenes you have yet to write.
Just because you hate the blank page of beginning or feel uber depressed upon receiving the dev edit letter or have hit the wall in the middle of writing (even if you’re only ten pages in) that feels like this book will never be a reality–don’t fret. It’s okay. You’re normal. Those feelings are normal. Look around at all the books on your shelves and remember that they started as piles of crap too.
So remember. Outline everything. No backstory in the first fifty pages. Take a notebook with you everywhere and write the inspiration that comes before it passes you by. Or not. Just do you. Figure out what is hardest for you about writing and acknowledge it, and then know it won’t last because there are parts of writing you love too.
I hope you’ve taken the time to think about your goals as an author before reading these tips, because starting now, knowing whether you want to publish with HarperCollins or an equivalent (aka a big publisher) or if you want to self-publish will make all the difference.
The post is divided into two parts: agents and publishers
If you are looking to publish with a publisher that only accepts submission from agents, want to make money from your book, want a professional’s advice during your publication journey, and/or just think it’s what you would feel more comfortable with, get an agent.
Agents are great because they are highly motivated to place your book with the best publisher possible. (Their payment is a percentage of the advance offered by the publisher when the book is accepted.) They have a finger on the pulse of the book market and know what will sell. They often make recommendations of how to change the book to make it more attractive to publishers.
Because agents are so great–they find a publisher for you!–it can be as hard to find an agent to represent you as to find a publisher to publish your book. Every agent is different, and there are thousands of them. Where do you start looking for one?
Step 1: Scour the web for published books that are similar to yours–maybe they take place in the same time period or have a similar conflict or have a young girl protagonist or have talking animals. I recommend subscribing to Publishers Marketplace, a $25/mo subscription to a website that records all book deals, including author, manuscript (MS) summary, agent, and publisher.
Search for books that are similar to yours and make a list of agents who repped those books. Then look up everything you can about those agents to see if they’d be a good fit for your book. What books they’ve repped that are similar to yours? What books do they like to rep? What format do they require for a query letter? What other material do they require in a submission (like a marketing plan or chapter summaries)? What publishers they’ve placed books with? Make a big list and put them in order of who you think will be most likely and start querying!
Get ready for rejections. Rejections suck. They are also necessary. You don’t want an agent to accept your book unless they’re passionate about representing it. And don’t give up until you’ve queried A HUNDRED agents!
If you are looking to publish with a smaller publisher that accepts submission from authors or a self-publisher, want to retain as much control over your book as possible, and/or don’t want to spend a year finding an agent, find a publisher.
There are respected small to medium sized publishers who don’t require authors to submit their manuscripts through an agent. (This blog post is out of date, but it gives you an idea of the presses out there that accept un-agented submissions.) Just like the agents, the more research you do up front, the better match you’ll find for your book. Use the same criteria to find a publisher as I listed to find an agent: research what books they have published that are similar to yours and what they require for a submission.
The Literary Marketplace is an old website that you can make a free account with that lists all publishers in the US. A little out of date, it’s a good place to find a bunch of publishers that you wouldn’t be able to find just through a Google search. Make a list and start querying!
A friend from college recently asked me “How realistic is it for someone like me to publish?”, and it echoed a discussion I had last weekend with a woman I edited a book for. With these two conversations in mind, I want to share what I’ve learned about the publishing process in the hopes of encouraging authors that every author has a path to publication.
I have three main tips I’d like to share–research agents/publishers, create a presence on the internet, hire an editor–the details of which I will include in three upcoming blogposts. But I want to start with some encouragement.
As a first-time author, you’ve written a book that you and maybe a few friends who’ve read it think is good. Maybe you’ve never heard of agents and have no idea how the publication process works. Maybe you’ve queried a few agents because you read that was the next step to publication, but they passed. Maybe you think you need an editor but aren’t really sure. You scour the web but everyone has their own ideas of how to get published.
Each author has his or her own path to publication often shaped by factors outside the author’s control–what’s hot right now in the book market, what books a publisher has already published that year, and other arbitrary, mysterious factors. Every author has a path to publication. You can do this.
At the end of the day, though, think about what you really want–what your goal is for you and your book. Do you want to be published by a big publisher? Are you willing to spend money (on an editor, a website, writing conferences where you can meet agents and publishers, etc.) to get published? Do you want to one day hold a physical copy of a book you’ve written in your hands? Do you want your story to be the best it can be? Do you want to make money from your book? Is writing a hobby you’d like to share with your family and friends? Thinking about where you want to end will help you a lot in deciding what you need to do now to get there.
What I’ll share in the next few posts are actions every author can take to meet their publishing goals.
Through some unusual circumstances, on Wednesday I found myself working for about five hours in the beautiful Rose Main Reading Room in the Andrew Schwarzman New York Public Library. Something about being in a place dedicated to reading–whether for research or pleasure or both–made me appreciate all over again what an amazing job I have.
Being surrounded by wooden shelves and brass fixtures and painted ceilings also reminded me of the impact my environment has on my mindset. My desk at home has become a junk repository more than a space to be productive, and I didn’t realize how much the clutter stymied my thoughts until I sat in this big, open, gorgeous space. I had room to think, to relax, and to meditate–space to do my best editing. It was wonderful.
Coming home from a brief day in NYC after two overnight bus rides to a messy house and no food and a LOT of work was hard. The first thing I did was take a five-hour nap. The second thing I did was straighten up. And then I could work.
Sometimes I require being pushed to an extreme before I concede a habit needs to change. In this case, the Rose room reminded me how much better life is when I work with space to think. I can’t guarantee my apartment will always be spotless, but I can acknowledge that my desk’s cleanliness is a priority.
Texting an editor can be stressful, am I right? I ate dinner at a friend’s house the other night. The first thing he asked me was “So, are you bothered when people text or email you with obvious grammatical errors?”
This question, more or less word for word, has been asked me by almost everyone I know (at least, that’s what it feels like) including my husband. (Another popular variation is to be called a grammar Nazi, which I will always refute with all my power.) I cringe when I hear it because I know people are really thinking “Are you judging the grammar of my texts and emails?” For them, contacting me is stressful.
I can understand the stress. It’s what I feel when I ask Brian (my husband with the engineering PhD) a math question–am I phrasing it right so I don’t sound like a total idiot? Or when I asked my dad (an emergency room doctor) what kind of doctor I needed to go to check out a cyst in my wrist–was it too obvious a question that anyone with half a brain would know?
Clearly some of my own insecurities are coming through by voicing those thoughts, but I think people texting or emailing me feel similarly–is that the right “your” and if not, will Olivia think I’m stupid?
Let me clear the water: it all depends on context. If you’re texting me about meeting up for dinner, I’m not going to care that you said “its at the corner of 5th and Bradford” instead of “it’s.” I likely won’t even notice. Same goes using “than” instead of “then” or spelling a word wrong or really anything else (unless the message is rendered unclear, in which case I will ask for clarification).
Unless I’m working and I’m getting paid to notice errors, or you’re a professional contacting me for a professional reason, I could care less about the grammaticality of what you text or email me. I care far more that you took the time to contact me than whether or not you used a comma right.
And my favorite grammar Nazi memes to finish us off because, the internet.
“The first thing I learned in New York was to respect old women’s flinty elbows.”
I’m not really going to share 2018 reasons I love editing, but I will share my number one reason: the authors.
I called Shelly Frome, author of cozy mysteries and emeritus drama professor, last Friday to talk about his latest book that I have the privilege of working with him to edit. We had corresponded a few times via email, and the gist I got from was that Shelly was done with editors. He had experienced a painful developmental editing process and was not looking forward to copy edits with me. He suggested we talk over the phone.
My initial reaction to phone conversations is, unfortunately, fear and trembling. I talk fast, especially when I’m nervous, and I don’t understand people over the phone as well as I do face to face, when I can see their body language. But I really wanted Shelly to know I was on his team, so I agreed to the call.
Thus ensued the most entertaining phone conversations, certainly of my editing career, and perhaps of my life in general. Shelly’s dry, quick wit in describing his experience living in the South (“Bless your heart”) as a writer and his culture shock at arriving in NYC as a starving actor (see the flinty elbows quote) had me relaxed, relieved, and laughing. The unique imagery I had seen in his writing shone in his speech as well–not to mention his accents for his Southern tour guide in England and the NYC old ladies were spot on.
Thank you to all my authors for being the part of my job that I love the most (and for helping me grow out of silly fears like talking on the phone *eye roll*).