Recently, I’ve been listening to a few writer podcasts and each time they have a guest on they always end the conversation with, “what advice do you have for writers trying to make it in the business?” And each time, the response is some version of just do it or don’t listen to naysayers. While this is not bad advice, by any means, it’s just very generic and not really helpful. This then made me think, what would I say? What advice would I give if I were a published author being asked this question? Here’s what I came up with:
Learn everything you can about the industry and then follow the rules.
One of my biggest pet peeves with aspiring writers are those that refuse to put in the time to actually lean how this industry works. You cannot, and will not, succeed if you do not play by the rules. Frankly, ain’t nobody got time for dat. Agents, editors, beta readers, marketing managers, etc, do not have the time nor the patience to work with you if you have no idea what you’re doing. I know this sounds harsh, but I’m trying to help you, I swear.
Listen, publishing professionals are busy people and when they feel like you are wasting their time they will move on to the next person in line. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there trying to get published and unless you have a golden manuscript guaranteed to make them millions they will bypass you for someone they deem professional. So how, when you are a newbie, do you make yourself come off as professional and knowledgeable? I’m glad you asked.
DO YOUR RESEARCH! We live in an age where there is so much accessible knowledge out there that all you need to do is turn on your computer to find it. Published resources on the publishing industry are also a great way to go. The very first thing I did when I started looking into publishing my book was go out and buy a book on publishing. Knowing the how-to is essential. There are standard rules of etiquette that you must follow or your manuscript will end up in the trash. Find out what they are and give yourself your best chance to succeed.
Attend reputable writer workshops. These gatherings are FULL of advice on how to help you get published and it’s a networking opportunity for you to meet some great writers in your area. Win-win. Usually, there is a fee to attend the big events but often, if you live near a big city, there are lots of free workshops or lectures you can go to. Check the guestlist beforehand and read up on the key speakers/authors that are attending. You’ll be grateful you did.
Take author advice with a grain of salt. Even big name authors give bad advice on how to get published so instead seek out what the actual publishers and/or agents are saying. These are the people you need to get in good with. I feel a big mistake is that writers look to big name authors and say, “I’m going to do what they did.” Well, what worked for them may not work for you, so do yourself a favor and take the advice of the actual gatekeepers. Most agents will post what they are looking for on their agency websites and/or social media and if your manuscript is what they are looking for then great, if not, do not send it. I’ll repeat that last part, if your manuscript does not fit the criteria of what an agent is looking for DO NOT SEND IT. Instead, find an agent that is looking for what you’re selling.
There are lots and lots of agents out there actively seeking good manuscripts and there are literally encyclopedia sized books released every year listing them all. One example is ‘Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents: Who They Are! what They Want! and how to Win Them Over!’ I actually met him at a writers conference once and the guy knows what he’s talking about. If you’re ready to query that’s a great place to start.
Finally, know your own genre. I’ve had writers reach out to me and ask me to beta read, which is so sweet, but then they tell me that they write romance or thriller or something that is not YA fantasy and I’m like….no. Here’s the thing, I am happy to beta read for serious writers that are looking for peer advice but ya gotta have a story that’s in the genre that I write/read otherwise my feedback will be worthless to you. Pick beta’s that write in your genre. If you are lacking in writer friends and need to choose from the reader pile than pick someone who reads almost exclusively in your genre.
Also, if you’re writing a book in a certain genre READ THAT GENRE. If you have not read at least twenty books in that genre, and I’ll add, all twenty need to have been published in the last 2-3 years, you have no right writing in that genre. A thorough understanding of the story structure of the genre you are trying to break into is a must. You are wasting your time otherwise.
So, there you have it, free advice you can take to the bank. As I grow and learn I will keep adding to this blog series in the attempt to relay solid direction to this crazy and mind-boggling industry. So, until next time, here’s an inspirational quote to get you through:
“Publication is a marathon, not a sprint. Writing the book is only the start.”
― Jo Linsdell