This weekend I spent some time over at Flipped Pages Book Exchange in Winnipeg. It’s a quaint little bookstore in the north end of the city. While hanging out for the afternoon I got to meet a few people including a young 13 year old and her mom.
They came in asking me a slew of questions about publishing. You see, this 13 year old girl has written a YA book that’s 110,000 words! I thought that was awesome, and so naturally her mom wanted to know, how does one get published?
I tried to do the run down in person, but when I mentioned a literary agent the mom’s eyes went wide. She’d never heard of them before and the more I went on, the more the mom’s eyes resembled moon pies. I left them a bit overwhelmed with a lot of research to do but I thought, because it’s such a common question that young people want to know, I thought I’d take today to write down the steps it takes to get published.
Here’s my 12 Step Program to Getting Published.
1. Write a GREAT book.
Not just any book that you think is mildly good, but a really great book. Write a book you can’t stop thinking about, write a book you can’t put down, write a book that makes you laugh, cry, and shake with terror. Basically, write a book that you like more than anything else.
2. Get Beta Readers
These are the most important people on your journey. They take your unedited work, read it through and they tell you what works and what doesn’t. This has nothing to do with editing, this is all plot structure, character development, world building, beginning hook, satisfying ending and overall flow. This is what will make or break the book. If you don’t have one of these things right, you’re looking at rewriting whole chapters, adding chapters, deleting scenes or adding description, emotions, or information.
3. Edit the Book
You can find anyone to edit the book but it’s better if you do it yourself, then send it to a competent Beta Reader. Have them go over the grammar, spelling and other writing errors. You want the book to be as perfect as it can be before you take it on any of the other steps.
4. Write a Query Letter
So you’ve written 100,000 word novel. You need to sum it up in 100 words and make it sound salable. That means you need a slogan, a hook, plus a short synopsis. This of this like the back of the book blurb, but you give away all the details including the ending. This query letter won’t end up as your book blurb, but it’ll be the building blocks of it.
5. Research Literary Agents
Stalk them on twitter, go to their websites, go to publisher’s marketplace, friend them on facebook, etc. etc. See what kind of person they are, read their preferences, read their blogs. Get to know what they don’t like to see in query letters. Enter the contests they post, bid on the items they put up for auction. Stay in the loop, you never know when you’ll get somewhere with them the non traditional way.
6. Send Query Letters
I recommend sending to your top 5 agents, then your next top 5 and so and so forth until you’re through your list. You want to give that first top 5 about 6 weeks to get back to you before sending to the next 5, so on and so forth. What you’re hoping for is a response. They’ll request either a partial or a full and bam you’re on your way. You’ll get “the call” and they’ll talk about your book. They’ll offer representation. You think this is game over and you’re home free but you’re not, not quite yet.
Now, the path splits off into two!
7A: With an Agent: You work on the MS some more, make it the best thing it can be.
7B: Without an Agent: You work on the MS some more, make it the best thing it can be.
8A: With an Agent: You go on submission to editors at the big publishing houses.
8b: Without an Agent: You submit to mid sized publishing houses and small press that are accepting submissions. You will likely have to prepare a synopsis, cover letter and any other particulars their submission process asks for.
9A: With an Agent: Editors like you, either one picks you up and you get an advance for your book or many editors want your book and you end up going to auction and getting a big advance for your book. Alternatively, nobody wants your book and so you wait, do another round of edits, try another round of editors and wait, wait, wait.
9B: Without an Agent: You slog through being told no a few more times, by now you’re really used to hearing it. You hope for that one chance out there, someone will say yes eventually, they will.
10A: With an Agent: Your agent works out all the contract details, possibly signs you for a 2 o 3 book deal. You begin working with the editor and go through the MS again, polishing it up, changing it so they like it, etc. etc. You lose all say because they do cover art, formatting, marketing, promotions, etc. for you. You pray you don’t get mid listed, that they care enough about your book to give it a big push. You hope you’re not a tax write off. You hope you don’t flop in the market.
10B: Without an Agent: You get picked up by a small house! You work with their editors, cover artist, and make your book the best it can be with their team. You work side by side with the marketing and advertising, hoping for the best when your book hits the shelves. Some of these publishers will help get your books in stores, some will do a marketing push, others will do online only. It really depends on the publishing house you end up with and how they do business at this point.
11A: With an Agent: Your book comes out, and it’s in bookstores, it’s online, and it might even hit a bestseller list. You’re known in the book community, and you write more books.
11B: Your book comes out, it’s online, it might hit a bestseller list, but it’s less likely. You sell books to friends and family and hope it takes off. You’re known in the Indie communities, but not in widespread.
12A: With an Agent: You pitch another book to them and hope they like you. You hope your editor takes it. You hope that after the first 3 book deal that you get more deals. You hope to stay in the game. You hope for a lot of things because there’s still a lot of pressure.
12B: Without an Agent: You send your second book to your editor at your small publishing house. You hope they like it, you hope it’s a mild success. You hope it sells more than your last book. You hope for a lot of things, mostly because the pressure is still on, even more so because you’re the underdog and making it is a lot harder for you.
13: If nobody picked you up, if your agent dropped you, you go to Kindle or Createspace and self publish your book, and hope to be an overnight Indie Success. Of course this means you do the editing, formatting, cover design, marketing, advertising, and writing all by yourself. Tough road, but it can work!
And that my friends is basically it. Someone once made a flow chart. I loved it, but I can’t find it.
Anyway, if you’re an aspiring writer, this is your basic path to publishing.
I’m really proud of that 13 year old girl who wrote a book. I know she’ll be published one day, though I don’t know which road she’ll go down.