How to Get Published: Five Tips No One Ever Told You
Every year, thousands upon thousands of books are submitted to agents and publishers by writers who would give their eye teeth to call themselves authors. Every year, by some reports, less than 0.03 percent of all submitted manuscripts are selected for publication. That’s about three out of every 10,000
manuscripts. Of those lucky books to find publishers, big brick-and-mortar stores like Barnes and Noble only stock 1 out of every 10, relinquishing the rest to fight for readers in on-line markets.
In 2014, I conceptualized and wrote my first novel; I submitted it to agents and publishers with what I thought was a fairly targeted, concerted approach; I had my fair share of “thanks, but no thanks,” and then, the right publisher and I found one another. By October of that same year, my novel was published and in the hands of readers and, a month later, I learned my book was selected to be stocked on the shelves of brick-and-mortar giant Barnes and Noble. It has been a whirlwind year. My synopsis of the whirlwind here is not to brag. Not at all. In fact, my book is undoubtedly a statistical miracle. And I know that.
So, how does a first-time writer become a published author with a traditional publisher all in the same
year? Well, my friend Ronovan asked me to break down my experience into some lessons learned. His
question was basically, what advice do I have for aspiring authors given my experience? As I thought
about the answer, I recognized the brilliance in the question. You see, I don’t have traditional advice for
you. What I have to share here is the stuff no one tells you, the advice that worked for me and that I
found through trial and error, and the advice I’d never read anywhere else.
I promise not to duplicate anything you’ve read on any other blog or website offering tips for getting
published. I wouldn’t do that to you. I also don’t promise that following my advice will work for you,
unfortunately. But it will give you food for thought and it will set you apart from the sea of millions
attempting to get published every year.
Without further ado…
1. Trust Your Gut, Give Your Book the Care it Deserves:
I nearly fell into the trap of thinking, “It’s my first book, I don’t expect a lot in terms of publishing. I’ll take the first bite I get from a publisher no matter what the terms, or I’ll self-publish if I get antsy and tired of waiting 3-4 months for a publisher to reply.” The thing is, when you’re feeling like a newbie as an author, it’s easy to pacify your angst by setting low expectations for your book. And sure enough, I had a publisher bite on my book lure 24 hours after I submitted my query, and I read the fine print and had a sinking feeling in my gut that this publisher was a shark and would barely leave me any scraps. Not only that, this publisher wanted me to sign over all rights and opinions to my book’s cover design. I entertained the offer for a few days, letting myself get comfortable “settling” for something that was publishing, but not terms I liked. A small voice jolted me out of my “newbie” thinking; it was the voice of my main character, Jasper Penzey. He said, “Aren’t I worth more to you than someone who doesn’t care about my story, someone who doesn’t care about the cover art that will grace the front of my book?” Jasper was right. As a character, he meant more to me than a second-rate publisher who didn’t care about an awesome cover; he meant more to me than opting to self-publish rather than wait out the traditional publishing game. So, I declined the publisher and hunkered down for the long haul, ready to play the long game. What is the value of your book to you? Ask yourself this question and give your book the time, patience and care it deserves while you look for just the right publisher. Good things take time.
2. Believe In Your Book
An all-time, most-favorited tweet of mine (@MLaSarre): “1st requirement for a query letter: believe in your book. If you don’t, no one else will either. The rest is just semantics.” There are a million on-line resources instructing us on how to write a winning query letter. Read them to get the semantics, formatting and structure right. But then, red line your query letter an infinite number of times until it captures your heart, until it convinces a reader of how passionately you feel about your book. If you don’t believe in your story, if you don’t believe deeply that the world needs to read your book (be sure to answer the “why” of that in your query!), there will be no feeling conveyed in your query letter. Nothing about your query will stand out to any publisher or agent reading it. Infuse your query letter with the passion you feel for your story; add a generous dousing of positive energy and complete belief in your book to the words you write. The reader – an agent or publisher – will feel the difference.
3. Be Honest, Require Honesty
Sharing our pre-pubbed work is an exercise in nerve-wracking, jittery, edge-of-our-seats angst. It’s hard to share our work with others. What if they don’t like it? What if they say we really aren’t as good a writer as we think we are? What if they blow the lid off of our entire set of dreams and aspirations to be a great author? Stop. Tell those thoughts to go stand in the corner and stay there. Your pre-publication time is the best time to collect the feedback of beta readers. Before you submit to publishers, collect a handful of readers you know will be honest with you (your mother will not be honest – she thinks everything you do is awesome). Find readers who represent the audience you hope your book will attract. Ask the hard question: “Tell me what you like about my book and then also, tell me what I can improve on.” Swallow your pride and fear, collect those responses, use them to develop an even better manuscript, and use some of the positives in your query letters, like I did. From a query letter: “Beta readers concur, this is a ‘Dan Brown’ thriller for kids!” Even better, ask the opinion of someone in the publishing industry. Here’s a Fiverr gig I’ve used that has incredible value: https://www.fiverr.com/kbickford . The seller is a publisher, the owner of a publishing company. She will review your manuscript with the eyes of a publisher and give you feedback. This is astoundingly valuable feedback. Asking for and accepting feedback is hard. You must do it. You must do the hard thing. You do not want a publisher to be the first person to ever have read your manuscript.
4. Manage Expectations
Finding a publisher is going to take a lot of your time. Like, it’s nearly a full-time job for awhile. Don’t expect that it will be easy and don’t get frustrated. Keep the goal in view. I bought the current year’s version of the Writer’s Market, the exhaustive list of publishers open for business that year. Here’s what I worked on every day, for at least two months:
- Highlight every publisher who will accept manuscript queries, who publishes in a genre that relates to your work (if you don’t have an agent, exclude those publishers who only accept submissions via agents). The book is as big as the Bible. All that highlighting of fine print will keep you busy for at least two days.
- Make a spreadsheet of every publisher you highlighted. Include their name, genre, contact information, and why they stuck out to you as a good fit.
- Open the website of every publisher on that list and differentiate them using a spreadsheet column according to whether they accept submissions via email or only via snail mail. I was low-budget in my publishing search so I thought it prudent to contact the “email accepted” list first (FREE!), knowing I’d contact the snail mail publishers later if it came to that (despite the added expense of printing and shipping and gas to get to the post office).
- Every single day, tackle 4-5 publishers on that list. Follow their submissions requirements to the letter and be sure to customize each query according to what the publisher has already printed that makes you think your book is a good fit for them. No form letters. No generic letters.
I worked my list every day, for months. I kept notes of who I’d queried, who’d I heard back from, who I was still waiting to hear from and how long the publisher expected to take in returning a reply. I didn’t give up and I tenaciously tackled that dreaded list daily, all the time thinking, “How cool is this? Somewhere on this list is my publisher! I just have to find them!”
5. Be Grateful
I sent a query letter to a publisher I felt was so in sync with me as an author, a company that had ties to my life in more than one way, who valued the same aspects of good books as I did. I felt so positive about this publisher, that they were just the right one for me. And then they rejected me. I was crushed! I had envisioned a different outcome so clearly that my heart literally broke when I got the rejection letter. In fact, I stopped querying altogether after that. For weeks I stomped around and was furious at this publisher; I even waited for days thinking I’d receive another message from them saying, “On second thought…we actually really love your book!” It never came. And then, in another area of my life, I received a strong reminder that we must, must, must be grateful for all things, including the good and the bad. My first thought was how ugly my thoughts had been about this publisher. Sometimes, not being grateful stalls our success forward, literally keeping doors in front of us shut tight. I broke a cardinal rule of writing then. I emailed that publisher back (you aren’t supposed to reply to rejection letters, or so I’ve heard). I wrote back and said quite simply, “I just wanted to express my gratitude for the time you took to review my submission. I wish your publishing house all the best and every success.”
And I meant it! The next day, my publisher and I found one another, quite accidentally. And the rest is history.
I’ll end this blog by saying I hope you have every success in your writing career. I hope you will take the
time to be patient, to keep your heart wide open as you nurse your manuscript into the book format you
can finally share with the world. I hope you will be open to critique from beta readers and allow yourself
to humbly revise your manuscript as many times as needed for it to become what others will enjoy reading (remember, writing books is not just for your enjoyment and self-expression, it’s for others to enjoy reading!). And most of all, I hope you will make being grateful a part of your daily existence, so that the doors of the path you are meant to walk will stay wide open for you. Lastly, if I can be of any assistance as a cheerleader, beta reader, or helper in any way through the publishing journey, I hope
you’ll reach out to me.
About the Author: Monica LaSarre is a ghostwriter and the author of Jasper Penzey: International Boy
Detective, an 8-book mystery/detective chapter book series for 8-12 year olds. Read more about her on
her website, www.monicalasarre.com. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amazon Link: Jasper Penzey International Boy Detective: The Ruby Brooch of Atlantis.