I was having a chat with someone recently about getting published – mainly regarding how bewildering it all is, and how hard it is to know where to get started. With that in mind, I thought I’d share a bit of insight into how I got published, and the hard lessons I learnt along the way.
Before getting started, it’s probably worth sharing my own journey to publication – a fairly arduous journey, I should emphasise, but that’s probably not unusual.
I first started writing seriously at the age of 19. Back then, I was naïve enough to believe that, as long as I wrote a decent enough story, it’d eventually get picked up by someone. Thankfully, I had the common sense to realise that what I’d written wasn’t great, so I went ahead and wrote another novel. Then a third. Then a fourth.
It wasn’t until several years later that I started sending out to literary agents and publishers – without any clue of how to approach these people, or what sort of material they were actually looking for. Not a sensible way to do it, folks! Finally, by the time I wrote the first Doctor Ribero book, I’d twigged that I’d been making a lot of errors, and I focused hard on the submission process.
How long did it take me, from first starting to take writing seriously, to finally getting published? About fifteen years, give or take. Yep, it’s a long journey for most writers, and it’s important to be aware of this.
Some Tips About Getting a Publisher
- Don’t rush the editing process. It’s so tempting to rattle through the editing process. After all, you’ve spent all that time creating the first draft, you’re naturally feeling excited about it all, so why spend ages reworking it, eh? The thing is, if your writing doesn’t shine, you won’t be given the time of day. Don’t waste all your hard work by sending something off that isn’t ready.
- Analyse the opening pages. Those are the pages you’ll be judged on. If you haven’t bagged the literary agent’s / publisher’s attention by the end of page one, they’ll probably give up reading. That doesn’t mean your first page has to be all about explosions, murders or high-flung, high-octane adventures. It just means it has to be compelling, right from the start.
- Make sure the whole thing reads well. Most agents will ask you to send them the first three chapters. However, that’s not an excuse to ignore the remainder of the book. When they request a full manuscript, that means they expect the rest to be equally fabulous!
- Do your homework. I was so guilty of not doing this, back in the day (namely because I was completely clueless). Read up on agents and publishers. Find out what they’re looking for and who they currently represent. And above all else, read their submission guidelines. If they only ask for the first ten pages, don’t send them more, just because you’re convinced that they’ll love it. Abide by what they request.
- Be prepared to wait (and wait). Getting published is a lengthy process. You might be one of the lucky ones who gets picked up by an agent or publisher really quickly, but in most cases, it takes a while. Agent response times vary considerably. Some get back within a matter of days (hours, sometimes – apparently!); others may take months. A few might not reply at all. Be prepared for this eventuality, and develop a plan of action accordingly. I believe it’s generally thought that if you haven’t heard anything by 3 months max, they’re probably not interested.
- Don’t send to too few (or too many). The vast majority of agents are totally fine with you sending your manuscript to other agents; and their only request is that you let them know if another agent shows an interest / represents you. However, my personal opinion is that it’s not a wise idea to send out to loads of agents all at once. I tend to send out to five or six, then wait for responses before sending out to more. This gives me the chance to refine my submission if I only receive rejections.
- Be prepared for the sting. Only a handful of authors get a publishing deal without encountering a single rejection. Rejection hurts, but it’s a big part of the process. It’s 99.99% likely that you’ll get a couple of rejections, if not more, so mentally prepare yourself. And don’t take it as a sign that you’re a bad writer! It merely means that you weren’t what the agent or publisher was looking for. If, however, you get over twenty rejections or more, I’d recommend re-examining your submissions package; as perhaps your manuscript or synopsis needs some work.