So today I have a great guest post to share with all of you. I hope you all check it out and enjoy!
When I started writing, the internet and email as we know them didn’t exist. Everything was still done on paper and mailed through the postal service. In college, we were taught how to write query letters for agents and publishers, how to format submissions, how to chart where we had submitted what, and all kinds of useful tips and tricks for what were the standard norms of the publishing world. Today, virtually everything I learned about submission for publication is now obsolete. In my career, I’ve had to relearn just about every step of the process from scratch, and the purpose of this post is to share with new writers a little information about the process today.
First, let me say, I’m a small press author. The big six have never shown the slightest interest in my work, so when it comes to landing a deal with an imprint of one these major houses, I can’t help you because I’ve never had any success with them myself. If you want a deal with one of them, this article will not help you in the slightest. Also, even though I restarted my career by self-publishing, that landscape has changed so radically in the last nine years, I can’t really help you there either. If you want to self-publish to make a name for yourself, your best bet is to do a little research and find the best avenue for you. Finally, I only produce short fiction when I’m approached by an editor to do so. I haven’t produced a short story on spec in fifteen years, so I can offer no insight on how to get your work into those markets other than to say read plenty of short story publications and submit to those where your work seems to fit. At this point, you may be wondering what in the hell kind of advice piece this is. This guy doesn’t seem to know much of anything.
The sole focus of this article is how to find and publish a novel with a small press. Period.
The absolute most critical part of the publishing process is to sit down and write a completed manuscript. Some of you may be rolling your eyes and muttering “Duh” but you’d be surprised by how many young writers think they can sell an idea. Everyone and their cousin Bob has an idea for a great novel. Every writer, editor, and publisher I’ve ever known has at least one tale, usually several, of people who approach them at conventions or book signings with a great concept for a story. Publishers have no lack of ideas. In fact, they have no lack of completed works. There is more need in this world for a new way to clog arteries than there is a need for new story ideas. Publishers want completed, polished manuscripts. Not an abstract concept for one. So before you worry about anything else, sit your ass down and write the damn book. No excuses. No bullshit as to why you don’t have the time. I wrote my second novel while working two full-time jobs and caring for my toddler son. If you want to be a writer, then you damn well better get off Facebook, stop playing WoW every free moment, quit making excuses to yourself why you can’t, and write the damn book.
Back in the snail mail days, the next step was to run off copies and send out the first three chapter, or 50 pages roughly, to one publisher or agent at a time. Yeah, it was glacierly slow. Today, most small presses will accept electronic submissions, so what you need to do as an author is find a handful of small presses that are actively seeking submissions in your genre. Pay close attention to every detail in that sentence. Every editor I know has at least one tale, usually several, of writers who ignore their submission guidelines or open submission timeframe and send them manuscripts that don’t fit. These usually get deleted. Do yourself a favor and research before blindly firing out your work. It’s a small world and reputations travel quickly. More on that later. Personally, I still adhere to the old mantra that you only submit one book to one publisher at a time. Some may argue against that, but read my sentence about reputations again. It’s just bad form to try to sell the same book to multiple houses at once.
Now, if you submit your manuscript and get published, congratulations. You’re done. Work on promoting that book and start writing your next if you haven’t already. If you’re like most of us, and by most I mean pretty much all, then brace yourself for rejection. More than likely a form rejection with absolutely no explanation as to why. Congratulations, you’re now officially a real writer. Get used to rejection and plenty of it. If you don’t like rejection do something else with your time. Rejection will be a BIG part of your career, even if you’re brilliant. Rejection. I’ve said it six times in seven sentences. Suck it up, cupcake. It doesn’t mean you can’t write. It means you haven’t ironed out the major flaws in that manuscript yet. So get to work polishing. Don’t even think about shortcutting here. Don’t give in to that lazy desire to keep submitting the same flawed manuscript to more houses because your ego believes you are just an undiscovered genius. Fuck you, edit. Personally, I recommend finding one person you really trust to serve as your editor. Some people like writers group, but I don’t. To each his own. Whatever helps you find the flaws, that’s the right approach, but find them and fix them.
Now, here’s the cool part. More than likely, wherever you live, in the next 2-3 months you can drive 2-3 hours and find a convention that has a literary track with professional writers doing panels. Go to these. Go to as many as you can. Learn the writers’ names. Listen to their stories. Introduce yourself to them. The catchphrase for this used to be networking. I don’t know what the buzz word is today, so I’ll stick with networking. Even in this electronic age of social media and online trends, there is no substitute for interpersonal interaction. If you attend 2-3 conventions a year, you will meet at least one owner of a small press, one person who you can get to know on a personal basis. Listen to this person. Hear what they tell you they are looking for in a book. Listen to their editing suggestions. For Pete’s sake, listen. Once you’ve gotten to know them and you’ve polished your manuscript based on their insight, ask them if they’ll read it. In my experience, they’ll say yes unless you’ve been creepy or an asshole to them. Once they look at your work, even if it’s not right for them, I’ll be willing to bet that they can steer you towards the right small press. I’ve witnessed this exact process play out dozens of times in the last decade, so I know it works.
Remember what I said about reputations and a small world. Maybe you’ve heard of the theory of six degrees of separation, the idea that everyone in the world is only separated by six people. You know Jim; Jim knows Kate; Kate knows Natalia; Natalia knows Bao Dai. Hopefully, you get the point. Well, in publishing, it’s about two degrees of separation. I don’t know Terry Brooks, but I know about three authors who do, and I could get a message to him if I needed to. In publishing, we all run into each other and share stories and email each other. It’s a small community, and if you’re a cool person who shows respect to the craft, word will travel. If you’re an asshole, word will really travel. Protect your reputation and learn proper etiquette. You learn this by listening and observing, which if you’re any kind of writer at all should two of your top four skills.
Here’s the final and second most important point, behind only writing the completed manuscript in case you have no short-term memory. Recently, at a convention, the question was posed to a group of about ten writers, most of us fairly well-published and established as serious professionals, how long it took to get our first book published. The average was about five years. Five years. In the digital age. If you don’t have that kind of patience, this is probably the wrong profession to pursue. Even extremely successful authors such as J.K. Rowling languished in obscurity for years before finding success. In publishing, there are virtually no overnight sensations, so push that notion from your head and plan for the long-haul and work for the long-tail. And notice what I haven’t given you: a surefire formula for success. In this industry, especially today, there’s no such thing. Every single writer I’ve ever met who has had any degree of success shares one distinguishing characteristic: the willingness to put in the hard work. That’s the closest thing to a formula there is, but even hard work isn’t a guarantee. It also requires persistence and luck. So if you want to write, roll up your sleeves and go to work. There’s no better time than right now.
D. A. Adams was born in Florida but was raised in East Tennessee. He received a Master of Arts in Writing from the University of Memphis in 1999 and has taught college English for over a decade. His first novel, “The Brotherhood of Dwarves,” was released in 2005 and has been described as “a solid, honest work about camaraderie, bravery, and sacrifice” and “a very personal journey, more interested in the ways that a person is changed by life’s events than in epic battles and high magic.” In 2008, the sequel, “Red Sky at Dawn,” was released to the exaltation that “this novel thunders along, at times with dizzying speed. The action is visceral and imaginative without being gratuitous.” Currently, Adams is working on the third installment of the five book series. In terms of writing style, Adams exhibits an effortless narrative voice and a masterful balance between richly detailed descriptions and tightly worded minimalism. The pacing of his stories is breathtaking, with relentless action and captivating plot twists that keep readers riveted page after page. But his true talent as a writer lies in character development. Readers find themselves empathizing with, fearing for, and cheering on the characters as they overcome their personal shortcomings and grow as fully rendered individuals. Adams is also the father of two wonderful sons and, despite his professional accomplishments, maintains that they are his greatest achievement in life. He resides in East Tennessee with his fiance, Mari.
Thank you D.A. Adams, for guest posting on here today.