Unfortunately for creatives, the final, very un-creative aspect of being a writer holds a lot of power over how their work lands. We writers labour for months, years, sometimes even decades over our pieces of art and should we find ourselves conjuring up the nerve to share what is personal, we are rewarded with the crushing and leaden task of looking at our work as a product. The publishing process can be daunting for so many reasons, the least that we can do is prepare as much as possible to make our lives as easy as they can be.
Around the world, right now, a plethora of nervous artists will be sitting with their vice of choice, a cherished manuscript and a freshly ordered copy of this year’s Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook, hoping with blind faith that it holds the secret to driving their dreams into maturity. But the Yearbook, for all it’s worth, is both heavy enough to cause wrist damage and hops over some vital information that a first-time publishing writer needs. So, let’s take a stress-free stroll into the minefield of publishing.
1. Write your book. It may sound obvious, but some agents will list just a 10’000-word (or 3 chapters) submission and summary on their websites and this can be tempting for people who don’t want to waste their time writing something that may never be published. But how can you sell a book you haven’t finished? How can you even summarise a piece of work that might sweep you off into a different direction as you are writing it? The publishing process is incredibly unforgiving, and you need to give yourself the best chance you possibly can. The real waste of time is arriving at stage 2 without a fully polished manuscript that you both love and understand inside out. Write your book, edit your book, rewrite until you can rewrite no more and dream around the fringes of your book; most importantly of all: KNOW YOUR BOOK.
2. Decide whether you want to self-publish or use a publishing company. This isn’t a step to be rushed through and there isn’t a right answer or a wrong answer. Like people, different books have different needs and desires and finding the right process will enable your book to blossom and will involve a realistic view of what you expect from your project and who it is aimed at. Working out your audience is a big part of this.
3. Prepare for submission. If you have decided to use a publishing company, you will need to find an agent. Almost all publishing houses these days do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, so you will need to do your research and find an agent who suits your project. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is a numbers game. Flicking through listings and emailing every agent under the sun for the same submission, is not just a waste of time, but can be detrimental to your chances. Take your time. Read through the biographies, find out who is right for your project. Are they accepting first-time authors? Are they only interested in children’s books? What style of writing do they enjoy? Will you connect with this person in a professional capacity? When you have found 4 or 5 agents for whom you really understand what they are looking for, you can move forward more confidently.
4. Create your first submission. Pick the agent you wish to submit to first and spend time collating everything they ask for. (i.e. a summary, 10’000 words, info about you, cover letter etc.)
a. Cover Letter: Be sure to include the personal details about them and how you feel that they are right for your project. You are selling yourself and your work, but it has to be a mutually beneficial relationship, highlighting why you will work well for each other. It will give both o confidence that the relationship will work. Read, re-read, re-read, re-read re… and for God’s sake, remember to be professional and treat these people - read demi-Gods - with respect. Do not address your prospective agent the way you would a good friend and do not try to fool them into thinking that this is the best book they will ever have the honour of reading and do not lie. The good thing about staggering your submissions (stage 6) is that you can honestly tell each agent that you are not sending out many submissions, you do not need to lie. Be modest, be flexible, be honest and try to connect.
b. Book Summary: Most agents will ask you to include a plot summary if they aren’t asking for the full manuscript. It is incredibly tempting to look to skip some corners here and send the same summary to each agent, it might well be that that is what you end up doing, but really think about it first. Remember that each agent you have chosen from the previous step you have done so because they meld well with one specific aspect or tone of your book. Your book is multifaceted, and the way that you write a brief description is going to highlight, deliberately or not, a different facet of the book: so let’s make it deliberate. Write your summary with the things in mind that you and this agent have in common. This will help you learn more about your book too. For example, if you propose four different angles to four different agents, and one shows interest, perhaps this is the most interesting angle to your book, and you should consider exploring it further, or alternatively perhaps you realise you don't gel as well with this agency as much as previously thought.
5. Know the market. This is the kind of thing creatives really do hate. It can be heartbreaking to think of monetising your art but try to think of ‘knowing the market’ less as an indication of what makes money, and more of an indication of what the people now are thinking about. You are not writing timelessly; you live in a vibrant culture of movements and philosophies. Knowing the market will help you think of your book in the context of the art scene as a whole.
6. Send. When you are happy with what you are about to send, take the bold step of sending your first submission. Only send one, you will need some time to reflect on what could have gone better or the direction you want to go in for your next submission (because there will be one). Try and stagger all of your submissions like this.
7. Get rejected! Your first rejection is something to be celebrated, you have put yourself out there! This is a watershed moment in your creative life, and it will be the first of many, many rejections before you find where your work will fit. Every time you get rejected, revisit your submissions, revisit your summaries and the work itself and make it the best it can be. Congratulations, you are doing so well.