Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The budding writer

I know that every single published author has been asked at least once – and probably much more than that – the following question: How do I get published? Heck, I’ll bet most of us asked the same question of a published author (agent, editor or publisher) at one time or another. It certainly is not a new question, but it certainly is the most basic question for writers ready to make the next step forward.

There are many people who want to write books. There are some who even should be encouraged to write books. It is is the rare writer who doesn’t care whether or not they get published. Eventually, nearly everyone wants to hold that bit of paper, ink and glue in their hands, so that they can say out loud (or at least think), “I did this.”

There are also those who want to get published in the hope that they can make money, generally a whole pile of money. I will stick my hand up to say that I have thought about that along the way. The exact thought passed through my brain this morning, as it does most work days, when I sat at my computer to work on a large design project. Yes, it would be very nice to be able to make my living entirely by creating crime fiction novels.

Thing is, like most of the arts, there are superstars and then there’s the rest of us. It’s something to be faced.

When someone asks me the question: How do I get published?, I like to be able to always give them the straight goods, tell them the truth about publishing. If it’s at a social function or a book signing, that’s just not possible. I generally invite these people to get in touch with me, though, because they’re asking the most important question of all. To answer it is not a matter of nuts and bolts. They can get that from any number of books and magazine or online articles. What they often won’t get is the truth.

What I really want to pass on here is exactly what it means to get published, and what the act of getting published will ask of a writer.

I should preface the following remarks by saying that you just might get lucky, win the lottery, write such a goddam great work that publishers fall all over themselves from the get-go. If that happens to you, great! But it likely won’t.

So here’s my list and the things I tell anyone who asks me how to go about getting published. It’s the un-gilded truth. It’s blunt, but at the end, if you still want to move ahead on this idea, then welcome to the club. Perhaps you should be an author.

  • You will be required to wait, sometimes for years, to get any answer out of a publisher, editor or agent. You have to be prepared to bug these people if they don’t reply after a reasonable period of time has elapsed, but you also have to learn extreme patience.
  • You have to be prepared for someone to tell you your work is crap. A few will be nice. Many will be very blunt. If you can’t take that, then don’t show your work to anyone.
  • Even if you do get a positive response and an offer of publication, you will almost certainly not be offered much money. (If the person asks you for money, then just walk away. They’re scamming you.)
  • You have to educate yourself about the publishing game. This involves a lot of arcane terms, how the pipeline works (and how slowly!), and what your place is in it (think bottom rung hanging on by one finger). You have to know the terms that will be thrown your way.
  • You have to be prepared to compromise. It could mean your ms being torn apart and reassembled in a way you might not like. Can you accept that?
  • You will be expected to promote yourself – and do a good job at it. This goes for even the superstars (and many are superstars partly because of their promotional skills). You cannot hide in a garret. You have to be effective out in public. That’s a skill, and it can be learned. Be prepared to learn. If that doesn’t interest you, then stop right where you are.
  • You have to be ready to promote yourself at any opportunity. Learn to love and use social media. Be ready to create and maintain a website. (You don’t have to necessarily do this yourself.)
  • You will probably not make much money. Have I said that enough yet?
  • Your publisher may drop you at any time. And that hurts…a lot.
  • Critics may shred your work – and do it very publicly. Readers will trash your books on Amazon, Goodreads, any number of places. Suck it up, buttercup.
  • You probably won’t see someone on a subway or bus reading your book. You probably won’t see it in airport book racks. You probably won’t meet strangers who tell you, “Oh you're that author. I really enjoy your books. (I once met a woman who told me, “I believe I read one of your books. I didn’t like it very much. You’re not a very good writer.” It was said at a party and several people heard the comment.) Get ready to possibly be the best kept secret of all time.
  • You must find at least one person with the appropriate knowledge to read your ms and give you their honest, unvarnished opinion as to whether you should proceed with the next step (or whether you should be writing at all) – and then accept that opinion and act on it. Family and loved ones can generally not be relied on to provide this critical service.

Have I forgotten anything?


Hannah Dennison said...

No ... I think you've summed it up pretty well. In fact, I'm going to use this to send out to all those people who keep asking me how to get published!
Thanks Rick.

Charlotte Hinger said...

I tell everyone the first step is--don't give anyone any money. But there might be books, websites, etc. They won't do you a bit of good if you don't read or access them. Do your homework budding writer. I did!

Rick Blechta said...

Rob's Rule #1 (the Rob being Robert Sawyer, amazing SF writer and creator of FlashForward) is "Money always flows to the author, never away."

I have that tattooed on my forehead backwards so that I see it every time I brush my teeth.