The Road to Publication: One Writer’s Wild Ride
Here are some fun numbers. Four years, one agents, three publishing houses, four series, ten books contracted to publish in a two year period.
How did I make this happen? I’ll start from the beginning and offer some basic advice and tips and tricks I learned along the way.
My first five finished manuscripts are collecting dusts under my bed. They won’t EVER be published. Why? Because they are inherently flawed in some way. It’s not that they’re bad, or that they should never have been written, but it’s more that finishing each book was a learning experience. A bit like an artist doing various sketches before they get to the real painting. The first step in writing is to know when you’ve got a good book, or if a particular book needs to join its friends under the proverbial bed. You want a book that’s fully formed, edited and passed through a couple of trust worthy beta readers (readers and/or writers who know what they’re reading and can give you good feedback on whether you’re hitting the right spots with your book).
How do you know if your book is ready? That’s a matter of opinion of course, but you should do a fair amount of “study” on what other books out there are like. Check bestseller lists in the genre you’re writing. Learn the patterns, the word choices, the plot devices. You don’t want to copy them, but you need to understand what they are and why they sell well and why readers like them. It’s not the greatest job, this heavy research, but if you apply what you learn to your own stories, you’ll find the writing is easier and the end product is so much better.
I’ve seen too many writers that don’t read, or worse, they read, but what they read doesn’t seep into their writer side of the brain. They write what they want to write without a thought to whether it’s a good book or not. At the end of the day, making characters too unlikeable or too flawed, or doing plots or universe building that’s far too dense, will lose a reader. You don’t need an original idea to stand out and sell well, you just need to write a story that appeals to many people, and sometimes using a familiar story line works just as well. For example, in historical romances, the “marriage of convenience” is a common plot. Readers know what it is and they like to read it. The question becomes, can you create two characters that work well on the page who use this device to create a compelling story.
The next step is pitching. You want to pitch to agents and editors at every opportunity. If you know their names in advance, do research. For agents, what books do they like to see in their slush piles, what types of books have they sold? It won’t work to pitch a historical romance to agents or editors that say, only like to work on contemporaries. Another easy way is to look at the books on your shelves, figure out what agents represent authors you enjoy and what houses publish the books like yours. Again, market research here is key. Learning how to craft pitches and query letters is key. Don’t use cute or catchy openings. The chances that will get you noticed are slim. Don’t talk about yourself. The agents and editors want to know about your book, not you. All they care about is your background as to how it relates to you writing. One small paragraph of 3-4 sentences is all it should be, no more. Do online research on how to best draft a professional classy query letter and you’ll get more success and more requests for manuscripts.
Never miss an opportunity. I pitched at conferences, online pitch sessions and entered contests. Some of the books I published developed out of these opportunities. Even though I had an agent, I still took advantage of these chances, and when I got the offers, my agent stepped in to negotiate the best deals for me. Speaking of agents. If you want to take your career seriously as far as sub rights, film rights, audio rights, merchandise rights, these things need to be negotiated. Many houses will not change their contracts unless you bring an agent into the picture. They give you “street cred” and they know how to push the houses into changing contracts to better equalize the relationship between you and the house.
The last bit of advice I can give is to treat writing like a business. Set aside time for it. If it means a lot to you to get contracted and make a career of writing, you have to take it seriously. Just because you don’t get paid starting day one of when you first sit down to write a book that doesn’t meant the payoff won’t come later. Learn to write in new places, with new distractions and during times when you may feel busy. Your brain is like any other muscle in your body. It needs training. I learned to write in several odd places and can now pretty much write anywhere anytime at the drop of a hat and I always carry a notebook to catch those few minutes here and there to make the magic happen. And be ready to learn to do your own promotion. Houses can’t afford the time and money to do promotion like they used to. Many first time writers get upset when a house doesn’t drop everything and push their book when it comes out. As they say “you have to spend some money to make some money” but it helps to get your “visibility” out there for readers if you do blog tours, have a newsletter, make use of social media tools and work an active street team of loyal readers. It feels like a lot, but start before your release and work on a few hours of it each week.
Now I know you’re thinking, this can’t be done! That’s too much work! Well I’m here to tell you, you can do it. The four years I mentioned? That was three years of me being in two different law schools in two different countries (twice the teachers and classes) working two part time jobs and writing 6 novels, the last year was me studying for the bar and passing it then joining RWA and getting an agent.
If you love writing and it’s a dream you’re serious about, you can find a way!
To see the entire post about Forbidden (Her British Stepbrother #1) by Lauren Smith click here.