Friday, 16 March 2012

Seven steps to publication

The other day I did a one and a half hour event, during which I gave as much information as I think anyone possibly could on how to become published. At the end, the final question came from a gentleman who asked (after telling us that I'd given a really good talk and that he'd written a really good book), "How can I get my book published?"

So, for anyone else who simply doesn't hear the words I spend so much effort speaking, or who has missed all the info in this blog and my books, here are my Seven Steps to Publication.

1. Write the book. It must be a book that has a market. Write it as well as you can and then make it better.

2. Research publishers or agents (or both) who handle that sort of book. Make sure they know what they are doing, by checking to see that at least some of the books they handle are at least moderately successful, appearing in shops, receiving mainstream reviews, etc. Make sure they are proper publishers, not printers. Any "publisher" which says on its website, "For all your printing needs", is a printer, not a publisher.

3. Become informed about the process of submission and all the mistakes that can be made. How? Read this blog, read Write to be Published, read other blogs on my blogroll to the right of this page, read From Pitch to Publication by Carole Blake, become switched on to all the fabulous advice out there, which is often freely given. There is no excuse for ignorance of this process - the info is not hidden. Carole and I can both be a little bit crabbit about the fact that we've written these books, which have received fab feedback, and yet there are still some aspiring writers who haven't read them. I mean, really.

4. Prepare your submission carefully - bearing in mind that the covering letter will be slightly different for each approach to an individual agent / publisher and that their synopsis requirements may differ. Begin with getting your sample chapters right. If you don't know what "right" is, the info is in Write to be Published and many other places, including this blog post here.

5. Make sure your synopsis (or proposal, for non-fiction) suits the specific requirements of the agent / publisher. Other than this. Write a Great Synopsis will tell you ALL you need to know about the perfect synopsis. It will even make it seem easy!

6. Make your covering letter sing. The two important parts are the paragraph where you sell your book and the one where you sell yourself. There are MANY mistakes to be made in both. See here for some of them and read Write to be Published and From Pitch to Publication for many more and much positive guidance, too. (I'm writing a book on this, called Dear Agent, but the earliest this will be available is August.)

7. SEND IT! Yes, polish, polish, polish, but at some point stop polishing because you can't make it more shiny than shiny, so, let it go. Send it to 2-4 agencies or publishers at once, usually. And when 2-3 have come back as rejections, adjust / revise and send to more.

That's it. This blog, plus Write to be Published and Write a Great Synopsis really do contain what you need. Please read them before asking me, "How do I get my book published?" I have no more time to spend than I already do. *gently lets head collapse on desk*

Oh, and don't send toffees or naked photos or confetti, or anything. But you know that, don't you?


Alison said...

Common sense, succinctly put and all you need to know.

catdownunder said...

And, if you really and truly believe in it (and think it is really and truly the best you can do), persist?

Nicola Morgan said...

Cat - well, clearly, if you don't keep sending it out (persisting) it's not going to get published, but, as you know, persistence is not hepful on its own.

Ebony McKenna. said...

I think step one is vitally important, and yet I see beginner authors impatient to be at steps 3 and 4 all the time.

Write the book first.
Worry about all the other steps later.

JO said...

Sometimes I have to remind myself that, at the beginning of the writing journey, I asked stupid questions. But not in public - I googled them. Read books (including Carole Blake's). And I did go to a 'getting published' workshop and took notes.

Maybe what he was really asking was 'how will you help me break the rules and get my wonderful book published?'

Your patience is astonishing, Nicola - you deserve cake.

Jeanne said...

I really enjoy your common sense approach. No magic, no skipping past essential steps, just sound, practical, methodical advice. Thank you.

Buttons said...

Oh I truly love coming here. I always learn wonderful tips that I will use well I hope.
I love when your sense of humour came through at the end of a sounds like very long tiring day.
I would love to hear your lectures.
Thank you. B

Sally Zigmond said...

All absolutely true. I thought I'd done all that but still the rejections come rolling in...

Sometimes one has to face the facts that maybe one is just not good enough.

womagwriter said...

Sally - YOU are good enough and I have a book on my bookshelf which proves it. Cat said it - perserverance and a spot of self-belief wouldn't go amiss.

Thanks Nicola for good advice, well put. As always.

pdr lindsay said...

I think I join Sally here. Agents have told me their agencies receive 6-8,000 query submissions a year, and they only take on 1 or 2 new people a year. An agent is usually the gateway to the big traditional publishers. So just logical arithmetic seems to preclude a lot of well written books getting anywhere.

Granted there are far too many would-be writers seeking publication but I cannot agree now that the old idea 'If a book is good enough it will be published.' is correct. Even with persistence.

I tutor writers and have been teaching the 'If a book is good enough it will be published.'idea for a few years. I'm about to change. I am seriously suggesting that new writers with a well polished, carefully edited, carefully crit- read novel don't bother with the old agent route at all unless they have some special 'in' with an unusual topic or who they are!

E-publishing offers them so much more, except in mana (prestige) and the Small Presses appear to be more writer friendly.

Perhaps your male questioner had gone the route you suggested and got precisely nowhere.

Nicola Morgan said...

Pdr Lindsay - I've never said a book will be published if it's good enough. In fact I've blogged against the perseverance mantra. It's both more complicated and simpler than that. (Am in hotel on phone so can't explain fully.) on the subj of the numbers of submissions - faulty stats: most of those subs can be dismissed immediately for reasons of blatant unsuitability. The number of those available for proper consideration is much smaller.

Yes, it's frustrating - please remember that I struggled for 21 years, and it was very hard then, too, with fewer chances of help than now. It is and always was about writing a book that publishers believe they can sell, and presenting it properly. People don't take enough notice of the first part.

Excuse all typos - I can't scroll on phone to check.

pdr lindsay said...

'I've never said a book will be published if it's good enough. In fact I've blogged against the perseverance mantra.'

My apologies, I was led to believe that you did.

You mention that a book must be salable. That's another of my bugbears. What is salable in the mind of one agent/person/editor is not in another. I have come to be sceptical about agent/editors/publishers knowing what is salable. Just a look at what is selling well in ebooks at Amazon shows a wide divergence from the publisher 'experts' and their views. Readers' views seem to differ widely.

I am familiar with Sally Zigmund's writing, and have always wished I could write as well. Yet she cannot get a novel published?

I have a novel which has been short listed in three large competitions, was sent from an assessor straight to a large agency. It received an excellent crit. but I was warned that it would be a hard sell because I am old and live in New Zealand.

And what about the poor writers who get an agent, make it to a publisher, but then don't sell out their print run and are dumped by the publisher? Or are given a smaller print run for their second novel and told to sell them all or be dumped?

it's a sad joke on writers' boards that such a writer needs to adopt a new persona and a pen name in order to be published again!

So what does marketable mean to a traditional publisher? An author who is marketable? A topic which is marketable? (Perhaps add more sex and violence?) :) A book which will sell without much expensive PR promotion?

Wouldn't it be good to know?

I have enjoyed and found valuable your articles and comments re social networking and how to use it well. I just wondered if you saw e-publishing as the way ahead for new writers these days. A new step, if you must, where a writer proves they have a readership, a 'good' marketable novel, and can produce more than one book. Then if the world of agents and trad publishers does still exist in a few years' time and have power, a Small Press writing success can 'step up'. Is that the new world for new writers?

Nicola Morgan said...

pdr Lindsay - please excuse brevity - I'm just back from events and have very little time or energy. Yes, I've also blogged about the possibilities of self-publishing. Positively. And done it myself, so how could I dismiss that idea?

Writers must understand properly the markets for their books. They must.

You want to know about being dropped? I can tell you about this. I can tell you how it hurts. It happened to me. I fought on. I fought to understad the market, to stay sane, to keep writing, to stay published, even to stay positive when it seemed that there was no point in my writing anything, ever again. I didn't start getting negative and ranting at the state of the market, though it doesn't make me very happy, and, frankly, has kept me awake at night. But I got to grips with it and fought to make it work for me. Sometimes people talk to me as though I'm in some kind of ivory tower. My God, if only you knew. I know all the downsides, all the low points. And most of the time I hide it.

Your comment about high sales in ebooks contradicting publishers' belief that those books wouldn't sell - no, those publishers did not believe *they* could sell them. Let me say again what I keep saying: a publisher takes a book for one reason and one reason only (and what other reason can there be?): the publisher believes (believes, not knows, believes - why not?) that *that* publisher can sell enough copies of that book. "Enough" differing between publishers, books, genres. Different publishers sell different books and know different things. This is the whole point. Each publisher should know what he wants and what he can sell. That's how it works. Tell me how it could work in any other way.

I'm really sorry - i have to go. I'm utterly exhausted. I'm almost too tired to go on giving this advice on this blog.

pdr lindsay said...

I'm sorry you felt 'got at' and no, I'm not a troll.

Nor did I mean that you dismissed the idea of e-publishing.

And I do understand that: 'Each publisher should know what he wants and what he can sell.'

It's just that I'm beginning to feel that there is something more than market forces needed in the publishing world and wish I knew what!

Nicola Morgan said...

Gosh, no, I *know* you're not a troll! You're serious and sensible and were only expressing understandable frustration. I didn't fee; you were getting at me at all, honestly. My comment was the result of quite a bit of exhaustion and fedupedness of various sorts and feeling that I'm saying the same things over and over. I think writers want a magi wand - I know I do!

Anyway, I'm sorry if my comment was ranty. I know it was but it shouldn't have seemed directed at you. I'm v sorry.

pdr lindsay said...

Perfectly understandable. You've had a long hard day.