I was asked in another forum an interesting question:
…I’m so naive about the publishing world. I don’t want to fall asshat back into a major mistake because I didn’t listen to the more experienced ones first…
When it comes to writing, as well as publishing, it all comes down to what you want out of it. As an example, I am bound and determined to become a published novelist. Therefore my path is bent towards maximizing my chances at being published. This represents one end of a spectrum; at the other end is the writer who does not ever want their words to see the light of day.
I will presume that the end that the questioner wants to achieve it to hold the physical book in their hands. The question really is, then, “How do I get there?” There are two paths: traditional publishing and self-publishing. I will not go into the pros and cons of these two paths. I will discuss my path, the steps I took along the way, and choices I made to advance to that point where I, too, will hold a book of mine in my hands.
I am, as of this writing, in my early 50s. The way I look at it, I really don’t have a whole lot of time left to write everything this noggin comes up with, so I would much rather concentrate on writing and outsource as much of the other aspects of authordom as possible. That means traditional publication is the road for me, and that’s what I’ll discuss here. The other assumption is that I have a completed manuscript.
If one is to be traditionally published, then one needs a publisher. If you look closely, the majority of TradPub houses don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts anymore. Which means representation is required. In other words, an agent. Again, I am not going to argue the pros and cons of using an agent. So, how does one maximize the chances of inducing an agent to represent you?
Long before I went about this with any sort of rigor, I went with my gut (“You have to, it masses more than you do”–The Snark): I needed some kind of street cred, and the fastest way to go about it would be to get published. Sounds like Catch-22, doesn’t it? In order to get published you need an agent; to attract an agent, you need to be published. But in this case, I am talking about two different kinds of publication. The first kind is ‘long form’, or novels, and the second is ‘short form’, or short stories.
To me, short stories are medium-tough. It seems that every idea I had started foaming up into a novel. It required a certain amount of ruthlessness to chop off the kudzu subplots and concentrate on developing the core of the story. The key feature of short stories, though, is that they are short. That means there is rapid turnaround on all aspects of the form, from writing them, to proofing them, to submitting them and receiving feedback.
In my early days of writing, all I knew was NaNoWriMo. The NaNo sites led me to 3 Day Novel. Ah! A market! A contest that, if I won, would publish my work. I resolved to gain at least Honorable Mention, figuring that it would be a good writing credential to hang on one of the various embryotic novels I had filling my hard drive. Well, I finished my third 3DN in September, and I have still not made it to HM. But along the way I discovered Duotrope.com*.
Duotrope is a collection of information on darn near every writing market out there. Everything from the Big Six to the fanzine that Junior cranks out in his mom’s basement, Duotrope has an enviable database of some 4500 markets. Best of all, they have a calendar that lists deadlined calls for submissions. At around the same time, 2010’s 3DN came back as zero. Fortunately, there was a submission call that was perfect for the work, with a little editing. And so forth and so on. With some perseverance, I was published, in two different contexts, in 2012. Finally! I had some credentials!
The next thing one can do to snag an agent is a personal referral from either an agent or the client of an agent. This one requires more finesse. It boils down to networking. For writers, that can be daunting–a lot of us are solitary by nature, and the thought of the glad-handing and schmoozing that epitomizes networking requires skills that we just may not have nor don’t care to develop. It’s another chicken-and-egg scenario: to snag an agent, you’d like to have a referral from another agent, but to get that, you need to grab the attention of that other agent, and so forth.
Fortunately, I lucked out again. NaNoWriMo had a link to The Book Doctors, who specialize in helping authors get published. They were holding a pitching contest they call ‘Pitchapalooza’, and it was right near me! I studied like mad to see how they wanted a pitch to look, crafted one for my latest project, and got to pitch. I made the top five, but most importantly, I stayed and chatted with them afterwards. I was amazed at the sheer number of people that a) didn’t take notes, and b) beat feet out of there. It was insane! How else can you get real live face time with an AGENT if you flee once the event is over?
I went to two other Pitchapaloozas when they were held near me. I only pitched once more, and that placed second. Afterwards, of course, I chatted with them. One of them looked me dead in the eye and said “I want to read that when you are done.” Talk about motivation! It took me another year to complete the work. I crafted the pitch, incorporating their suggestions, and sent it in to them. It turns out that they don’t work in the genre I was writing, but I gained that coveted agent referral. Best of all, it was a personal referral–one where I could use the first agent’s name in my query letter.
Folks, that’s like getting Wonka’s Golden Ticket. It won’t make the agent take a piece of drek, but it will induce them to read the query a little more closely. For the all-important query letter, I had some golden bookends–a personal referral from an agent, and some real, live, publishing credentials. In between these is the query. Working with The Book Doctors gave me the skill to get that polished to a high shine.
So, how do you find an agent? Wow–that’s a post all in itself. Here’s the short and sweet: Check out AgentQuery.com, QueryTracker.net, or PublishersMarketplace.com. Use the first to select the agent, the second one to track your queries (think of it as Duotrope for your query letters), and the third to check on agents and deals.
That’s where I am at this point. I am querying agents for my work. I’m still writing and submitting short stories, since writing creds will age. Plus, I have to have something ready at the end of this process, when the agent will inevitably ask, ‘What else is in the works?”
My path isn’t necessarily the best one or the only one. As I said at the beginning, there are many ways to get published. I am working this path hard, and I urge those of you who have ever wanted to write a novel to contact me if you have more questions. I may not know the answer, but I can sure point you in the right direction.
Good luck, be well, and if you ever see a book out there with my name on it, buy it up pronto!
*Duotrope.com, sadly, is heading into subscription status. You are going to have to pay, on at least a monthly basis, for the right to search their listings and maintain your submissions tracking. But if you are pursuing publication, it’s worth it.
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