For years as I was going through my Do-I-want-to-be-a-writer? stage, I repeatedly heard advice about how to get published. And it was bunk--at least, I thought so at the time. I can't tell you how frustrated I used to get hearing these gems over and over and over again:
"Don't worry about what the publishers want, just write the book of your heart." And, "You have to have an agent who believes in you." And, my personal favorite: "Rejection is good. It means you're growing."
Well, listen up, published authors of tomorrow: Turns out, it isn't bunk after all. Those things are actually true. You do need to write the book of your heart. And you do need an editor/agent who will fight and struggle and support you all the way. And rejection is...Okay, wait. Rejection is rejection, and it pretty much sucks no matter how you slice it.
But the bottom line is while there are a few stories out there that make good dinner conversation about how So-and-So got an editor to read their mother's diary and it turned into bestselling memoirs and a blockbuster movie, those stories are about as common as finding out the old toy in your attic belonged to King Henry VIII and is now worth six jillion dollars. It's my feeling that if more writers would simply accept the fact that the silver bullet to getting published is actually just a set of commonplace rules to follow, there would be a lot fewer tears before that magic day the agent calls and says, "We've got an offer!"
So, here, in my humble experience and estimation, are the steps. Any effort to skip one or short-cut one is bound to send you back to that thing I said about rejection: It sucks.
- Finish the book. (Regardless of what you've heard, an editor probably won't be so WOWed by the first three chapters that they offer you a contract and cheerlead you through the next several months/years of writing just because it was so good he/she has to know how it ends...)
- Read many books of many authors in your genre. (Regardless of what you've heard, you do have time to read. You will write more quickly when reading.)
- Write another book--it will be better than the last. (Regardless of what you've heard, most authors don't sell their first book. Or second.)
- Write some more. (See #1) Read some more. (See #2)
- Conduct research to locate the proper agent for your manuscript. (Regardless of what you've heard, there's only some degree of truth to the idea that an agent is looking for "any great book." Often, they are looking specifically for a great romance, or suspense, or sci-fi. You do yourself no favors by sending yourmedical thriller to an agent seeking erotica.)
- Shore up your thick skin and query those agents according to the agency's regulations.(Regardless of what you've heard, sliding a manuscript under the stall door in a restroom or cornering a harried agent in the elevator at a conference are NOT good ways to get noticed.)
- Get rejected. (Okay, you've heard that one.)
- Repeat steps 1-7 as many times as needed.
Seriously, there is a vicious cycle involved in getting on an editor's desk: An editor won't read you unless you're noticed and won't notice you unless you're read. There are stories, of course, about authors who happen to sit next to an agent on an airplane and break into the business that way. And there are stories about authors who pleaded and hounded an editor until they got somewhere. If you want to push for a break like that, go ahead. But your odds are a lot better if you simply read, write, research, and query -- in that order.