Writing Advice #24: The Path to Publication (Part 6)

If you’ve learned anything thus far in my description of the Path to Publication (and, God — I hope you’ve learned SOMETHING, otherwise I’ll feel like the world’s worst teacher…), I hope it’s this: Despite the tendency of people to invest the Path with pseudomystical properties, getting published is, in and of itself, a very simple series of very simple steps.

The toughest one is the first: Writing something that the world actually wants to spend money to read. After that, it’s not really that tough. (I realize this is the equivalent of saying, “Once you figure out how not to hit the ground, flying is simple!” It’s still true, though.) Aspiring writers, in my experience, overanalyze the Path and vastly overcomplicate it. Re-read the past few weeks to see what’s truly involved — great writing, tenacity, picking the right targets, a bit of luck. The weight of your paper does not matter. Whether you use your home address or a P.O. Box doesn’t matter. Your font doesn’t matter (unless you’re a complete idiot and you use something unreadable, in which case you deserve to be consigned to the ranks of the unpublished).

In short: Stop fretting over the little things. Focus on the work itself. The rest of it has a tendency to take care of itself once you’ve got something awesome. And if “the rest of it” ISN’T taking care of itself… Well, maybe that’s the universe’s way of telling you that you do not, in fact, have something awesome. No matter what your mom and your gut tell you.

OK, so to wrap things up, I’m going to hit a few final pieces of advice, presented in no particular order…

Start to check out writers’ forums online.
Check out groups that relate to what you write — poetry sites if you’re a poet, horror sites if you write horror, etc. Do your research. Don’t just jump on the first one that Google brings up! Lurk for a while. Make sure you’re a good fit for this group and that it is a good fit for YOU. You want a place where you can learn about the craft AND business of writing. You don’t have to participate – just reading articles and messageboard posts will help you. (Participating, of course, can lead to great networking opportunities, but follow your own comfort level.)

Be on the lookout for books that are like yours.
Yes, yes, I know — we’ve all written COMPLETELY ORIGINAL works, literature with no antecedent, wholly new fiction the likes of which the world has never oh for God’s sake shut up! Get over it. It’s not that there’s nothing new under the sun — there’s just damn little. Even if you’ve staked out fairly rare territory, you should be on the lookout for anything that seems even remotely akin to what you’ve written. Then find out everything you can about those books’ authors, agents, editors, publishers, etc. This will lead you to appropriate networks and help you find good people/groups to interact with through the other steps we’re discussing here.

Go to writers conferences.
I talked about this before, but I figured I’d bring it up again. Conferences were ENORMOUSLY helpful to me. Prepare to learn. Take the sessions and workshops and seminars. Some of it will be bullshit. Some of it will make you slap your forehead and say, “Why did I think of that? Why didn’t Barry tell me that?” (Answer to the second question: I don’t know everything.)

But you’re not just going to these conferences to take classes and meet agents. You’re going to MEET PEOPLE. Yes, you’re going to network. You’re going to meet your fellow wannabes. Some of them will be further along the path than you. Some will be behind you. Some will be right beside you. You want to make friends with people at your level or above. You want to have a group of people you like and trust and can count on for advice and ideas. These are the people who, someday, you’ll be bitching about your agent to, or asking for help on a tough passage that just doesn’t work. These are the people you’ll be asking to blurb your books someday.

At the time I sold my first book, I had four writer friends who were the most important to me, the four without whom I would not have made it to that point. Three of them I met at conferences.

Keep moving.
So. You’re revising the ms., fixing all those little things and tweaks that slip through the cracks. You’re asking for further opinions on it, considering them carefully and utilizing only the ones that make sense to you. And you’re beginning to network and educate yourself.

There’s one other thing you need to do.

Once you have your book in a position where you can look at it and honestly say that it is the best you are capable of, you need to move on to the NEXT book. Right away.

Because as I’ve said before, writing is about luck. I can’t tell you how many times, in years past, I had an agent or an editor say, “Wow, you’re a great writer. This project isn’t right for me, but what else do you have?”

To my frustration, the answer was always, “Nothing right now. I’m working on it.”

You need to have the second book ready. And the third. And the fourth. So that when someone asks you what’s next, you can say, “Oh, I’ve also got…”

This DOESN’T mean you grind them out like crappy sausages. It just means you don’t wait for one to sell before working on the next. (Personal example: My first contract was for two books. I started on my third one even though the deadline for the second one was still months away.) The fact of the matter is this: You will probably not sell your first book. Or your second. Or your third. Maybe your fourth, though. If you endlessly revise and tweak and massage that first one, you’ll never get to the second one. Which brings us to…

Be prepared to give up.
This is a tough one. It’s the harshest advice I can give you, and I wouldn’t say it if I hadn’t lived it myself: Be prepared to let go of your book.

The timing or the market or the culture or the whatever might not be right. You may need to accept that your first book will not get published in the near future. You will need to drop it and move on. (Alternately, six months from now you may look at it with fresh eyes and realize that you want to approach it from a wholly different angle. Hey, go for it.)

Write something else. Remember what we said back at the beginning: Every writer has a million bad words in him. Once you’ve gotten them out, you can do something worth doing. Accept that this may not be your first book published. It may not ever be published. I have four-and-a-half earlier novels in my figurative desk drawer and they might not ever get published. But that’s OK because I have just as many that DEFINITELY will get published, and writing those early ones taught me a hell of a lot.

Next week: Cover letters. Oh, yeah.

BTW: I try not to “sell” in these advice blogs, but my new book just came out this week. So if you like what I say here, consider picking up a copy of Goth Girl Rising. My accountant will thank you. 🙂

(And hey — as always, be sure to ask questions in the comments below!)

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