Often I am approached by aspiring young writers who would like “the secret” to getting a book published. The formula is actually very simple:
Write a book.
Make it as good as it can possibly be.
Send it in.
Too simple, you say? Okay, I’ll add a few more details.
1. Make sure the beginning rocks.
I mean, really it’s-breathtakingly-awesome, I-can’t-put-it-down, rocks. Polish every sentence until it sings and make sure that right up front you give the reader a reason they want to find out what is happening in your story. Because if you don’t do that up front, you may not get a chance. Editors are busy people who can’t spend hours reading through text that looks unpromising; if your first few pages don’t grab them, they’ll probably put them down in favor of something that does. If on the other hand you grab their interest right out, they may be willing to work with you on fixing problems they find later in the manuscript.
2. Buy The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White.
Tiny book. Single most important writing handbook you will ever buy. Captures all the rules
of Style that you thought no one ever wrote down, and shows you how to make your writing truly powerful. All in less than 80 pages, too. Get it, read it, and edit your manuscript accordingly.
3. Buy the Writer’s Market.
Do what it says.
Writer’s Market is a set of big thick books published every year, that lists every publisher available in every field, and what they require for submission. They tell you outright such things as: which publishers accept unsolicited or unagented manuscripts, what kind of material they are looking for, who to send it to, and most important, how to send it.
I’d recommend a complete read-through of your genre’s offerings just to get the lay of the land. There are things that specific editors are looking for from new authors, and they’ll tell you outright what they are. There are also themes editors are so tired of they just don’t want to see them any more, and this book will warn you which ones they are. Most important of all, it will tell you *how* to submit your manuscript — in total, three chapters and a summary, query letter first, whatever. Whatever they ask for, that’s how you do it. Don’t write your favorite author asking if you should send in a novel you have 90% finished, if that’s not on the list of options. If the entry says that a publisher “accepts unsolicited manuscripts”, you can send him one. If it says he doesn’t, save yourself the postage.
4. Copyedit your manuscript
In an era of spellcheckers, grammar checkers, and dancing paperclips to give you advice, there’s no excuse for a sloppy manuscript. Yet editors tell me they get these all the time: bad spelling, misapplied punctuation, and just plain down-to-earth typos. They’re looking for more than a plot and a few good characters when they read your stuff, they’re looking to see if you are a WRITER….and that means having command of the tools of the trade. Not to mention having enough respect for their time to send them something clean.
If your first page is messy, has run-on sentences, or obviously was not run through a basic spellchecker, you can be guaranteed they will not be reading to the second page, no matter how good your story is.
5. No internet grammar!
In an age of quick-and-dirty emails, online journals, and chatrooms, we have become painfully accustomed to various grammatical shorthands, and criminally tolerant of typos and quirky abbreviations. Don’t. The fact that whole sentences are often strung together with commas in email doesn’t make it good English, it gets really annoying, the editor gets the idea you don’t know what a comma is used for and maybe he will stop reading your work altogether, he will never know what a good idea u really had or that u are really a good writer deep inside, he needs to work with u and he will c that.
That goes 4 cutesy internet abbreviations too.
I know editors so vehement about this that one single example anywhere in the cover letter will cause the whole package to be thrown into the trash.
6. Above all else, love writing.
Here we are back to the first advice I gave you. When people come up to me and ask how they can get their book published, the first thing I ask is “have you written it yet?” It’s amazing how many people answer no. Many haven’t even started.
It’s not enough to want to be a writer. You have to want to WRITE. It’s damned hard work, and its more about editing and rewrites than it is about pouring out your heart onto a page. You have to be able to look at something you worked on all week (or month, or even year), and have the objectivity to say “wow, that sucks”, and start over again. You have to *want* that to be part of the process, like a jeweler wants to polish his gemstones so their colors gleam.
If you love it enough, if you want it enough, if you practice it enough, if you turn out a finished product that gleams and send it to the right places…then the odds it will see print are as good as they get.