Publishing 101: A Beginner’s Guide

As the word spreads that I’m a writer, questions inevitably follow. Seedling writers, industry newbies, and seasoned journalists, essayist, and authors whose command over the English language is exemplary, all have asked me recently about the writing business.
I’m no expert. I still consider myself a rookie, even with a nonfiction book due out this year, but I’ve learned a lot in the last handful of years, making me fairly adept. I can’t tell you everything about the industry—I learn new things every day—but I can share my knowledge on the subject, and help by pointing you in the right direction.
So, here’s the lowdown; no propaganda or empty promises of enlightenment. Here is the real deal…
1. Writing can be hard.
2. Getting published is even harder.
3. You’re going to have to work for it.
4. You will make a lot of mistakes.
5. You will want to quit, but…
6. If you love writing, you won’t. Even if you never get published, you won’t stop.
That’s it.
That’s writing.

But, I’ll share more. Here is my basic list—the top ten things you can do right now (if you’re not already doing them) to start you on the best path. It isn’t the do-all-tell-all of the industry, but it’s a start, and more will follow.
Let’s make some magic!

1. Read. Read in your genre. Read outside of your genre. Read articles. Read short stories. Read bestsellers and indie authors. Read.

2. You can’t be a good writer unless you learn how to write. (“Duh,” you say? I know. That’s what I thought, too.) Learn to spell, learn to use proper grammar, learn syntax, learn what a trope is and how to avoid using common ones, learn how to structure a plot, find out how to show vs. tell, find out how to kill your darlings and avoid filtering. You’ll make mistakes; I still do—there will likely be one or two in this article—and that’s okay. But, do your best.

3. Take a class if you never have. Libraries often offer creative writing classes, so do community rec centers (I took one of those, and met several amazing people that I still talk to). Don’t have the money? Sell something. I sold a camera to attend such a class.

4. Join a community of writers. You may choose a small group, and that’s fine. I recommend a large one… Twitter! If you don’t use Twitter, you should. If you already do, use it for writing, or start a new one for writing only. Follow agents, editors, illustrators, writers, industry professionals and fresh starters. FOLLOW ME, I’m in the trenches! @MyraFiacco. You will find the following on Twitter:
– Fresh industry news from book releases to cover reveals.
– Agents and their manuscript wish lists or #MSWL.
– Writing contests.
– Twitter only writing contests.
– Other’s blogs.
– Topics of discussion (use those hashtags).
– Support, support, support (the writing community is amazing).
– Critique partners. (Try #CPMatch, hosted several times a year.) Which leads me to my next point…

5. Get a critique partner. Or 2, or even 3. Whatever you’re comfortable with and whatever you have time for. You may have that book written from the first word to the last. You may have edited it and had a well-intentioned friend or family member give their time and opinion (and hopefully ego stroke). You’re still not done. There WILL be things you missed. There are ALWAYS ways you can polish and rewrite. You need another set of eyes, and having those eyes belong to another writer is invaluable. Plus, reading their work will help you. Trust me. You need one. Or six. Just kidding, keep it to a few at the beginning.

6. Research the industry. Learn what an agent does and how to spot a bad one. Find out who is looking for the kind of work you have to offer. Research freelance editors. You don’t have to use one, but there are a plethora of fantastic freelance editors that can help. A cost will likely be involved, though prices vary; they’re investing their time and expertise in you, after all. Decide if the investment is worth it for your career.
7. Also, research small publication options and who the Big 5 are. Decide if you want to get a literary agent or foot it alone (don’t do both simultaneously).  Learn about self-publishing, even if it isn’t a route you want to take, you should know the basics. Learn everything you can so you can be prepared and armed with knowledge when you press forward with your publishing dreams. But also, imagine this; you gain the interest of an agent, and they want to talk. Yikes! What to say?! No, you’re not going to know everything, but it sure helps if you know what you’re talking about and what type of questions to ask.

8. Get your submission materials together. Figure out what a Query letter is, how to write (a good) one, and polish a riveting synopsis. As you begin to submit to Agents or Editors, some will ask for just a query, some for a whole package including a query, synopsis, and a writing sample. No one will ask your blood type; you’re safe keeping that a secret. But, have everything ready.

9. Attend a conference. This is the only one you can do at any time in your process. Be around other writers and industry professionals. Dip your toe in the publishing pool by just observing, or jump in with scheduled pitches to agents. (It helps to be prepared with all needed materials. At least have a card and/or the first five pages of your manuscript with you. If you stir the interest of an agent or editor, have something to give them if they ask. Find the nearest one, and attend.) Can’t afford one? Sell something. I sold my kayak.

10. Be professional:
– Organize your submissions. QueryTracker.com is a great tool for this, but an excel spreadsheet works just fine.
– Follow submission guidelines. Please don’t think you’re immune and can submit however you want. If an agent says no attachments, don’t attach something. If they say query only, just send a query. If they say they’re closed to submissions, wait until they re-open. Common sense, really. Check with each agency website, then read the agent’s website or blog, follow them on Twitter, and know what they want before you give it to them.
– Send only a handful of submissions at a time (shoot for 6 to 8, though opinions vary,) and personalize each of them. Double-check the spelling of the agent’s name. Don’t blast every agent at once and never CC! This way, if you send eight queries out (to appropriate agents who are looking for what you have), and none request to see your manuscript or a partial, then you need to revisit your query—it’s likely not working. Revise and send it to the next handful on your list.
– Take rejection in stride. If you want to be a professional, you need to respect the decisions of professionals. It is never okay to respond with anything other than, “Thank you for your time and consideration,” and since you should have said that in your query, it’s best not to respond at all. Cry it out in the shower, talk to your dog, and eat some chips, whatever works.
– You’ll see a LOT of form rejection letters. Agents read hundreds of queries a month, it’s efficient, get used to it. If you get golden feedback, consider it!
– Get used to waiting. You’re going to be doing a lot of it. But, while you’re waiting…

KEEP WRITING! Write something new, switch your approach, and keep learning. Whatever you do, continue writing. If it’s what you love, you’ll stick with it, regardless of whether you ever see your words in print. Write every day. Don’t give up.
There you have it, the basics! PHEW! You made it through my first article. Huzzah!
Check out all the links above and below, and find some of your own. Subscribe and stay posted for more instruction, opinions, and guidance. I promise always to be supportive, so if you need some encouragement, let me know in the comments, and I’ll do my best to respond.
Now, go write.

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