Recently I've had a few questions from teen writers that go something like, "I really want to get my book published. What should I do?"
And I usually just kinda stare at the screen for awhile, trying to pick which response I should given them.
Do I talk about finding a publishing house that's a good fit? Because really, getting an editor practically requires a literary agent these days. So maybe that's how I should respond. Well, but that leads to query letters and writers conferences. And, gosh, before querying you should really make sure you have a good proposal put together with the right genre and target audience and such, or you're likely just wasting your time. Oh, and you should also have written the book ... is it insulting to start there?
And as fun as it is to fumble through a response every week when I receive that question - picture me rolling my eyes - I thought maybe I'd put together a somewhat comprehensive blog post on what a writer needs in order to get published.
Everybody wants to be published long before their skill level merits it. And there's no shame in that. Just like there's no shame in a pre-med student wanting to someday be a doctor. In fact it seems rather obvious, doesn't it? Of course they want to be a doctor, they're a pre-med student!
But while a pre-med student has a clearly trodden path to follow to becoming a doctor, the correct path for a newbie writer to grow into a novelist can be tougher to discern.
Every writer's path is different, but I've attempted to break down some general, tangible steps with brief explanations. I'll go into more detail on each of these later in the week:
1. Write a good, full-length book
This one surprises a lot of people, but until you're an established author, no literary agent or editor will sign you until they've seen a full manuscript. Having a great idea for a book and writing a great book are two different things - they want to be sure you can do both.
2. Educate yourself on the industry
Before your print off your 90 page manuscript and mail it to Random House like I did as a 17-year-old, take some time to learn about the industry. What houses are publishing new writers? What ideas are already on the market? What conferences are good? What kind of writing groups are in your area? What's the difference between self-publishing and traditional? What's the job description of a novelist, or an agent, or an acquisitions editor?
You don't have to know everything about the industry, of course, but it's good to be sure you actually want this job before you invest so much time pursuing it.
3. Work to identify your genre, target audience, and brand.
This is tough for creative types who don't like to box themselves in, but these are details agents and editors need before they'll take a risk on a new writer.
4. Grow your audience (also known as "build a platform.")
Again, I'm just giving a brief overview of all of these, but the more people who are energized about you and the book you're writing, the better. This is more true for those who write non-fiction, but it won't hurt you as a fiction writer either.
5. Use the above results to create a book proposal.
This is what an agent will be asking you for when evaluating if you're a writer they want to work with.
6. Acquire a good literary agent
7. Work hard to make connections and build your presence.
Even if you have an agent, you can't just sit back and let them score you a big deal. Though that is part of their job (my agent, I'm guessing, would also list "anxiety management" in her description of working with me...) you can make their lives easier by continuing to write books, grow your presence, and make industry contacts.
We're going to talk through all those steps over the next couple weeks. If you have a particular question (or if the published authors among us have a step they think should be added to the list) post it below and I'll be sure to address it!