How to Get Published

 

 

Many people have come in to our library and asked, “How do you publish a book?” Well, once you’ve gone through the painstaking process of writing it, editing it, editing it again, revising it, and editing it some more, then you begin the next painstaking process:  finding a publisher.

 

            I am going to focus on three different kinds of publishing. First there is vanity publishing. Vanity publishing is great when you have something you want to hand out to fifty of your closest friends. For instance, before my great grandmother passed on, she chronicled her life and printed copies for each household. She had six children who went and had children, who went and had children, who are now just getting around to having children. Her concise biography is a coil-bound paper back. I’ve also seen that kind of printing become popular with hometown cookbooks, the kind where everyone in the community contributes a recipe or two. I had to contribute to one for a grade in middle school and it still sits on my mother’s kitchen hutch. You cannot find vanity published books here at the library or on Amazon. You have to buy them directly from the publisher and more often than not in large volumes. Lulu.com falls somewhere between self-publishing and vanity publishing but it is what I recommend for projects like cookbooks, family history books, and anything you want to share with your friends.

 

            Now self-publishing is not what it was seven years ago when I started trying to publish my first book! When I began, it was more like vanity publishing but more costly. I have not self-published so I only know what my friends have told me. With self-publishing, I find the bigger the company the better. I have heard nothing but good things about publishing with Create-a-space dot com! It is owned by Amazon and can offer you paperback books as well as eBooks. There is also Kindle Direct Publishing, which is publishing for free, but only Kindle eBooks. Self-publishing is great if your niche market is very small. For instance, you write for hairless cat owners who run hair salons! I can almost guarantee there’s one out there. Stop looking at me like I’m crazy! I can also almost guarantee there are very few publishers who know hairless cat owners who run hair salons and they will look at you like you are crazy. Maybe you own a hair salon and a hairless cat and have found others like you! Maybe you know people who run salons and a group of people who own hairless cats. Either way, when you’re self-published, it’s up to you to find you niche market and sell to them.

 

            I do not recommend using self-publishing to put your book out on the market faster. That being said, I had a friend who was ill and self-published her book in the space of a few months. The main problem I have with self-publishing is that the manuscripts released into the market are often unpolished. Even if your manuscript is polished gold, it’s going to be set up for sale next to a book that is decidedly not polished gold. (Think post-apocalyptic angel-vampires and the wrong there/their/they’re.) I know many avid readers who won’t pick up a book because it’s wearing the label “self-published.” When I started, again, seven years ago, I was told self-publishing is not how you begin a long career. I have seen that theory proven wrong more than once! (Go look up The Princess Saves Herself in This One.) I was told that a traditional publisher will not pick you up once they see that you have self-published in the past. I have also seen that theory disproven!

 

            All in all, I highly recommend traditional publishing with small publishing houses. That is what I did, thus it is the right way! (Note the hint of sarcasm.) I chose to traditionally publish my book because I have every intention of having a long and fruitful career. Is my book perfect? Not by a long shot! When you traditionally publish you have less control over your book, which is not necessarily a bad thing! I could be wrong, but it’s unlikely you’ve been studying cover-art market trends for years, have perfect spelling, grammar, and know people all across the country who have booths at book fairs, conventions, and comicons. When you traditionally publish you have a whole team of people to work with. As with any team you have to give and take. You may not wind up with the cover art you wanted, but you’re more likely to end up with the cover art you need.

 

One of the easiest ways to tell if you’re speaking to a legitimate traditional publisher is whether or not they ask for money up front. There are scams to the umpteenth out there meant to trick writers out of their hard-earned cash! A real publishing house will not ask you to “invest” $1,000, give or take, to publish your book. A real publishing house will take your manuscript, publish it, and then make you pay for the copies of your own book you buy. All in all, make sure to read your contract carefully before you sign it and send it in.

 

Another thing you should do to protect yourself and your work is copyright it as soon as you have the funds to do so. Every publisher is different. Some will ask for a summary of your work, some will ask for the whole thing, some will ask just for your query. Either way, the best thing to do is carefully read their submission guidelines and follow them to the best of your abilities.

 

The best place to find small publishers is to find a list of small publishers! The one I like the best is Poets & Writer's list of small pressesWithin the past year, Submittable, a third party site you will be using to submit your work to publishers anyway, has made it possible for you to search through publishers that are looking for books like yours. I have yet to explore it in depth, but it is worth a shot.

 

            Someone asked me “what is the most lucrative form of publishing?” Find a different job. Never ever, ever go into writing thinking this is how you’re going to become a millionaire. You’re not. Vanity publishers are how you make Christmas presents, self-publishers often offer higher royalties (50%-100%) but that’s because they don’t expect you to earn back your $1,000 “investment,” and traditional publisher royalties swing anywhere from 10%-15%. That’s 10%-100% of $15.

 

            All in all, the most important thing is to do your research and figure out what’s right for you and your book. You’re reading this article, so you’ve started somewhere! Good job! Do your research on your publisher, polish your manuscript until you hate it, have someone adept with legal things review your contracts, and understand that publishing a book is a sort of journey. You must play both the roles of artist and businessman. If there is an easy way I have yet to find it! Stay patient yet determined.

 

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On Writing Every Day

           Hey, go easy on yourself. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out! Some days you find yourself trapped behind the wheel of a large automobile for about ten hours. You simply don’t have time or energy to sit down and write a thousand words on those days! That’s okay!

            However, I’m not here to coddle you and tell you you’ll become a better writer by “saving your strength”. There’s not a craft, a talent, or muscle in your body that improves from not being used daily!

            What’s been working for me for about six months now is promising myself “I will write one sentence every day.” And I usually do! Somedays I write my one sentence and fall into bed. Other days I wind up writing three pages or better!

            I’m old fashioned and I like to use a paper journal and a pen. Every day I like to use a different colored pen to track my progress with my Work In Progress (WIP). It keeps me motivated knowing how much I can do even when I don’t have time to do it all. Sometimes it’s just my one sentence and bed. (Sometimes it’s no sentence and bed! Because I’m a bad kid.) But I love to write so I often write over my lunch break and knock out an entire scene while being a stereotype in a café.

            The essential thing is that you try to write every day and work hard to improve your craft. Even God-given talent can be built upon! Setting small goals helps you achieve bigger ones later. Keeping those writing “muscles” in motion keeps them functioning. It doesn’t have to be a thousand words daily (although you’ll finish your book faster) it just has to be something!

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I Swear I Don't Work For Goodreads

            It makes me feel like a product of my generation but having an online presence as an author is paramount. Even if you’re running around doing book signings people want to be able to Google you before you get there. The biggest problem with indie books (an all-encompassing term for self-published books and books from small presses) is that they never reach the hands of people who would read them because those people don’t know they exist.

            Now there is an easy way to combat this. You don’t have to be super computer savvy or a tech guru. (Trust me, it’s taken me years of hard work to get this far.) Goodreads. I highly encourage you to go look into creating an author account on Goodreads dot com. When you sign up you will be able to set your own author page up with a photo of you, a small bio, a list of your published works, and more! If you get really brave you can post blog updates, short stories, and list your favorite books to share with your fan base. Really, a page like that gives the librarians who are making posters for your upcoming book signing enough information to make an informative flyer. *COUGH*

            If you’re a self-published author or a small press owner you definitely want to make sure the information on all of your books is on Goodreads. People like me like to brag about how smart we are and how much we read (I’m kidding). There is a feature on the site that allows Goodreads users to update their reading progress as they go. I often update my Twitter following with every page turn so the books I love can gain more visibility. At the very least, if you’re a published author you need to go make sure your book’s information is true and correct, which you can do as soon as you finish creating your author profile.

            No matter what you do in this day and age, being visible on the World Wide Web as an entertainer is important. Goodreads is a great way to get your feet wet if you’re iffy on the whole computer thing. I swear, I don’t work for Goodreads! It’s just helped my career, and helped me help other authors. That is why I recommend it so highly.

 

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Write From Your Own Voice

            I’m all for giving the “go sit on a tack” to “write what you know”. You think I know what it’s like to be royalty in a monarchial society? What it’s like to use a sword on another human being? My work in progress involves a sassy, pregnant, woman, with shorn hair, who’s in charge of leading a nomadic tribe, and their prisoners, through a wide expanse of forest. I happen to be sassy but that’s about the only thing this main character (MC) and I have in common.

            I also enjoy reading Amy Tan’s work. It occurred to me the other evening while reading The Joy Luck Club that I will never be able to pattern my work after hers. I think all fresh creators have a master they wish they could be like. But I will never be able to write what it’s like to be part of a Chinese-American family living in San Francisco. If you haven’t read Amy Tan’s auto-biography I highly recommend it. She and I have had completely different life experiences and that’s not something to despair over. It’s something to celebrate. She can’t write like me, either.

            I don’t mean to send you mixed signals, but what I’m trying to say is that not every novel you write has to be a thinly veiled portrayal of your own life, nor does it have to be something completely disaligned from your perception of reality. I often find that the books written to please crowds of people and [hopefully] top best seller’s lists are dry things that feel like they were pasted together with the whims of an entire nation. I don’t like them. As a reader, I want to hear your voice shine through your work. I don’t need to know how good you are at using a thesaurus. I find the most well written books read like having a conversation with someone. Write like you talk! Be yourself when you write.

            That being said, although I write fantasy I can confirm I’m not delusional enough to believe I live in a fantasy world. (Ask me about the lengths my fantasy writer friends and I go through to make sure we’re not mocking things like physics.) No matter how fantastical I get there’s always one thing at the heart of every story that makes it mine. My voice.

            Don’t feel obligated to write what you know. Do write like you. Write from your own voice. Do not write like the writer you admire.

 

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The Best Advice I Ever Got Was Never Take Advice

           Before giving me any advice my mentor, June Wilson Read, would lead with “Take it with a grain of salt”. As in “Take it with a grain of salt, but I, the reader, find chapter 7 to be full of useless information. I feel the entire novel could benefit from deleting it entirely.” My version of this is reminding my mentees (or anyone else who cares to hear me blather on) that “The best advice I ever got was never take advice.”

            I cannot stress that enough. Always think for yourself. “Never take advice” doesn’t just apply to your life as a writer. I’ve been writing these advice articles to writers but I feel the need to remind the audience that I only have the knowledge of one person.

            It’s not really a secret I don’t hold self-publishing companies in high regards. But I’ve known plenty of authors who found the right fit for them and their manuscripts with self-publishing companies. I admire them and I’ve enjoyed their books. I’ve read plenty of authors who will blow through every cliché and played out story line, yet have absolutely dazzled me with their brilliant storytelling. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars makes me angry because the author admits outright that although he did massive amounts of research, he ignored every bit of it and made up a type of cancer that didn’t exist for Augustus. His book is so wildly popular it was adapted into a film.

            There is not a person alive that knows everything there is to know about the writing world. When you submit work to a traditional publisher they’re taking an educated guess on how it’s going to do on the market and in front of their readers. Always trust your instincts but remember to keep your ego in your back pocket. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy. Don’t forget that whoever is giving you advice cares enough about you and your cause enough to give it. Sometimes it doesn’t always ring out in a pleasant manner. All in all, just be choosy as to which advice you follow and weigh it in your mind before putting it to use.

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Your Book Isn’t For Everyone

            It’s a simple yet painful truth. Your book isn’t for everyone. And that’s okay. You’re not pizza. You can’t please everyone.

            If you’ve decided to give the traditional publishing route a go, like I have, you’ll have gotten some rejections. Going through my submission list I’ve reviewed it and found myself asking “Whyyyyy did you do thaaaat?” I’ll admit it. Sometimes I pitch my works to the wrong market. Like, why would I submit War and Chess to a publisher whose niche is horror? (Because I was 15 years old and still learning, thankyaverymuch!). Now, more commonly I’ll pitch my vividly raw poetry to a press or magazine that likes poetry with a lot of allusion. Then, of course I get the polite “This is good but not what we’re looking for.” bit.

            Now the really painful part for me is when it’s published. Not all of my friends read fantasy. Most just don’t! But I have some amazing people in my life and they always try to be supportive of me and my dreams. Although I love honesty it stings a little when I hear “I’m sorry Helen, it just wasn’t for me.” And that’s still okay! It’s important to have a diverse group of friends with different interests.

            And truth be told, having a diverse group of friends I don’t like every book they’re into! “Oh Helen! You simply must read this romance novel!” I can’t help but wrinkle my nose… Romance isn’t inherently a bad genre. It’s just that Princess Bride is the only “kissing book” I’ll fess up to enjoying. That, and maybe Racheal Leone Gibson’s Highland Peace. I’m patiently waiting for her second book.

            So, the moral of the story is you can’t please everyone. You don’t write for everyone. Truthfully, I write for myself and then I edit for my audience. Not every review is going to be a five star review. (Not every review should be a five star review. I get suspicious of books with five five star reviews because it usually means the author begged their friends and family for dishonest ratings). Not every publishing house will like your book, not every friend will like your book, not every reader will like your book! And that’s exactly how it should be.

Edit: My friend Olivia Adams is the one who coined the term "Your book isn't for everyone." She gave me some good advice when I was having a rough day.

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The Importance of Finding the Right Editor

          I recently had a friend of mine ask me to edit his manuscript. Although I know him well enough I’m not sure what genre he likes to write. Being both a librarian and an author I do like to read. But, like every other human being I have types of books I like and others that just aren’t for me. As an author I do try to branch out and read things outside of my comfort zone. (Westerns, romance novels, mainstream fiction.) But I’d rather dislike something that’s about to be adapted into a movie than be the first person to read a good but rough manuscript and say it was “Eh.”

            Editors are like you and I. They have specific genres they like to read and they do a better job at editing books they’re geared to like than to tell you to completely change your manuscript to better suit their needs. It would be like me saying “Yeah, the plot’s good but all the kissing junk is really distracting from the main flow of the book.”
            “Helen. It’s a romance novel.”

            I once had a friend write a children’s book about a unicorn and turn it into her editor. Chiefly this author friend wrote westerns, and chiefly her editor who had worked with her for many years read westerns. “I don’t like it.” The editor declared.

            “Well why?”
            “I just don’t!”
            “But why?!”
            “…I just don’t like unicorns, okay!”

            The editor, who had been reading and enjoying this authors western novels for years upon years simply didn’t like children’s books, especially children’s books about unicorns, and as a result, my author friend never pushed to have her children’s book published. It’s not the end of the world, but if my author friend were to find another editor who liked children’s books, particularly ones about unicorns, that editor might have said something like “This story has good bones but we need a different illustrator.” Or “The language is too lofty. Please remember most of your audience is under five.” Or “What if instead of Sparkle Mountain we call it Sprinkle Mountain? That way the chocolate river makes sense. Because the mountains in this story are actually made of ice cream, right?”

            An editor can make or break a book. They’re the first line of defense from not only type-os but also obscure blunders like “Yeah, that law in Canada changed back in 2012 so here’s an updated statute of limitations. I only spent an hour trying to find that. No biggie.” Or worse. They keep you from breaking your own laws like “You said your vampires couldn’t go out in the sunlight. Yet Damaris gets overly excited when he meets Michelle’s dog and he runs outside without his umbrella. Yet, he comes back to the porch unscathed… Hurt him.” Editors are hugely important. But not every editor is going to like your book just like not every reader is going to like your book once it hits the market. You have to find one that’s going to see your manuscript for the diamond in the rough that it is and then help you polish it until it sparkles.

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NaNoWriMo Is Ending but Your Writing Doesn’t Have to

            No really. You don’t have to only write during National Novel Writing Month. All of your followers on social media are invested in the story you’re trying to tell! Every person you’ve been excitedly telling about your book wants to see you finish your book! So finish it!

            As much as I hate to admit it I thrive off of attention. I just came to terms with that this November. Actually tracking my daily word count has really helped me write more. When I can I try to beat my record! It’s been a lot of fun! And it’s even more fun for the people who are really invested in War and Chess to follow along as write the third in the series. (Book two is currently being edited at the publishing house.) Book three has been my NaNoWriMo project for two, maybe three years now. The working title is Emerald, First Queen of Gishlan but that title could very well change! This is by far the longest book I have ever written in my life and someday soon I’d like to see it finished!

            Because I was deep in despair over December 1st coming way too early, and all third party accountability ending I checked up on NaNoWriMo’s website and… You can make little word goals for yourself all year long! Here is the link to that. Don’t forget to sign in! I have set the impossible goal of 1,000 words per day (30,000 words spanning from December 1st through December 31st) and I am excited to fail miserably trying my best!

            Your friends want you to finish your book. Your readers want you to finish your book. [And if you’re like me] your Instagram followers want you to finish your book! So finish it! And if you have, edit it! The world wants your book! And I find, since writing is just show business for shy people, the more people you can get invested in your work the more you yourself will want to write! You don’t have to quit writing just because NaNoWriMo is over!

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The Root of Your Writer’s Block May Be Insecurity

            In this blog post we’re going to talk about feelings. Run while you still can.

             In recent years around this time I get a serious case of the Christmas blues. I have lost a lot of close friends throughout the years, and not so much as sending them a Christmas card reminds me of their absence. Because those close relationships had to end I begin examining myself, asking myself what part of my behavior led to the breakdown of our friendship. Because I try to place the blame on myself I become insecure. When I feel like something within me doesn’t meet the measure I suddenly find myself unable to write.

            Sometimes you need to stop looking for what your characters are doing next and look inside yourself to see what’s holding you back. It’s not what you want to hear but sometimes it’s best to shove through, write some short stories (because giving up isn’t an option), ride out life’s storm’s, and write. Write even if your main character just happens to be intensely studying the wood grain of a table! You can always edit it out later!

            Sometimes it’s not the pen and page you need to look it. It’s the hand that’s holding it.

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Perfect Characters are Boring Characters

            Make them suffer. Embarrass them, let them trip in front of their crush, stutter while public speaking, fall and scrape their knees, say the wrong thing to their friend who’s grieving a loss. Make your main character suffer.

            Why? Because perfect characters are boring characters. Have you ever read a book where the main character knows exactly what to say, exactly what to do, and exactly when to do it? Even a supporting character! They’re boring!

            I spoke with an artist once. He told me people like to connect with art so he liked to paint his surroundings. People want to connect with books too. That’s why the entertainment industry is all abuzz with talk of representation in the media. It’s not only demographic matters people connect to. They want to find people going through the same struggles as them too. Take Smile for example! It’s a graphic novel of a young girl between the ages of 11 and 13 who knocks out her front teeth, has to have massive amounts of oral surgery, starts middle school, gets bullied, finds her first crush, fights with her siblings. Really, normal stuff. Kids about in middle school and about to start middle school really connect with that particular book in our library’s collection. And a perfect main character wouldn’t have her little sister running circles around her singing “All’s I want for Christmas is my two front teeth!”

            What drives a plot line is conflict. You need your beloved fictional friends to experience friction to keep them driven and keep them moving. There’s no such thing as perfect people. Imperfect people don’t want to read about perfect characters. Make them human (even if they’re technically elves, or dogs, or werewolves, or what have you!) and make them make mistakes.

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