If you thought writing your book was tough, wait until you try to get published!
The truth is publishers and agents are very risk averse. They get hundreds of submissions, and their first priority is to look for reasons to reject a manuscript . They have plenty to choose from, so as soon as they can find anything to bounce your ms. off their desk and into the hopper they will reject it. You may get a form rejection letter from them , or, more likely, you will never hear from them at all. And, more it may very well have had nothing to do with your writing ability.
It could be as simple as you didn’t use the standard 12 pt. font (either Times New Roman or Courier), or you didn’t follow their submission guidelines, or they read a couple of pages and you had made first-time author boo-boos.
I can’t guarantee you’ll get published, but having been a publisher, editor and writer myself for over 40 years, I do know some things you absolutely must do if you want to get published, even if you are going to self-publish. Following are 7 steps I feel are critical to get your manuscript’s foot in the door.
1. READ, READ , READ This is common and good advice for any writer. The more you read, especially in your own genre, the more you as a writer will start analyzing and realizing what makes a book work or not. Also, read books on writing. There are a lot of excellent ones available. The bible for fiction writers is Stephen King’s On Writing. You must read that, but there are many other great books, or even blog articles online that will help you develop the craft of writing.
2. POV One of the biggest red flags in a manuscript is point of view handling. 90% of new writers’ work that I see doesn’t properly handle point of view. You should stick to one character’s point of view per section. If your main character is John and he is “seeing Jane through his eyes, feeling his heart pounding and a squishy feeling in his stomach”, you can’t say, “And Jane was feeling the same sensations, only with a sense of trepidation…” You have 2 characters’ inner feelings being acknowledged, but you started out in John’s point of view. He can’t describe what Jane is feeling, so neither should you. As soon as someone considering your manuscript sees that you don’t get POV, they will go no further in looking at your material.
3. JOIN A CRITIQUE GROUP Either join or start your own critique group with people who will be totally honest and supportive. Ideally, you should have at least one member who has been through the publishing process. Having your friends or family read your work is not very helpful, since they either don’t know what to look for, or will be hesitant to criticize your work. The feedback you can get from others who understand writing will be immensely helpful.
4. READ YOUR WORK OUT LOUD. If you are in a critique group or just by yourself, hearing the words that are on the page rather than just reading them will help you identify a myriad of problems in flow, dialogue and grammatical errors.
5. CAREFULLY EDIT The best thing to do is hire a good editor to go over your manuscript before you submit it. A professional editor can quickly find things that you might have missed or even be unaware of. Paying someone to edit your work can be expensive, but even if you only have a professional edit the first three chapters, you will likely get your money’s worth in suggestions that you can use when self-editing the rest of your work.
6. FORMAT YOUR MANUSCRIPT PROPERLY There are plenty of instructions online on how to present and format your manuscript, what fonts and margins to use, what the headers and cover page should look like, have you double-spaced, etc. The easiest thing an editor or agent can do is look at your cover page and see if you know what you are doing. If you haven’t followed standard formatting rules, you’re wasting everybody’s time. Into the hopper.
7. BRAND YOURSELF BEFORE YOUR BOOK In today’s world, more than ever, promoting one’s book falls primarily on the author, whether you are publishing with one of the big traditional houses or you are self-publishing your book. If you want your book to sell, you need to set the groundwork for that just as the Hollywood studios do before a new movie is released. Months before it’s out, they start promoting a film so viewers will be chomping at the bit to see it by the time it is released. They don’t wait until after the movie is in the theatres. Start branding yourself today. Start a blog now and join online discussions in groups that might be interested in your genre. Start blogging with some of your writing and interesting comments; writing things that people and search engines might want to look at. I’m not talking about a blog where you say you went shopping today and bought the cutest sweater at Macy’s, I’m talking about posting some of your creative writing, maybe chapters from your work in progress, maybe pertinent observations. The more people get to know you before your book is published, the more likely you are to get some good sales when you finally launch your book months from now. If your posts and discussion comments are intriguing, you just might get a publisher interested in you before you even submit your work. Wouldn’t that be nice?
There are, of course, no guarantees or magic formulas for getting published , but you will stand a much better chance of becoming successful if you pay attention to these 7 guidelines.
Good luck, and remember, as author Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”