books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How To Get a Book Published: A Step-by-Step Guide with Links to FREE Information for the New Author


The Interwebz can provide a wealth of information for new writers. In fact you can find pretty much everything you need to know to become a professional, publishing writer here on the Web, absolutely free.

But you'll also find a bunch of time-wasting bad advice that can lead you astray. When you’re a beginner, it’s hard to know who to listen to.

We decided we'd devote a page on the blog to some info for the writer looking to know the basics about how to get published. Thanks much to Janice Konstantinidis, the webmaster of the SLO Nightwriters for the suggestion!

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list: just a jumping-off place.

A new writer has a whole lot of options–and more are springing up daily. Nobody can say which publishing path is right for you. But we can steer you toward some blogs and websites that might help you decide and suggest some posts from our archives you might find useful

We’d love for readers to add their own recommendations to this list in the comments. We’ll incorporate your suggestions into a permanent page on this site.

OK: How do you get a book published?

Follow these steps and click through the links:

1) Learn about the publishing business

First, remember there is nothing wrong with writing as a hobbyist. You do NOT have to get a book published to call yourself a writer. (Do you have to join the PGA tour to call yourself a golfer?)

But if you do decide to publish, you need to be aware you are entering an industry. Whether you self-publish or traditionally publish, it's important to know how the business works.

We recommend reading Galley Cat, the publishing news round-up site.  It reports both traditional and indie news, and posts a self-publishers bestseller list.

Publisher’s Lunch, the newsletter for Publishers Marketplace, is the place for up-to-the minute news on what’s going on in traditional publishing. You can subscribe here. It’s free (Publishers Marketplace is not.) No matter how you publish, it helps to know what is selling right now, and who the players are.

We also are avid readers of the Passive Voice, which gives a round-up of some of the most important publishing stories of the day (and occasionally runs excerpts from this blog—thanks Passive Guy!) But be aware the comments tend to be weighted toward indie publishing.

2) Get short pieces published first 

Think outside the (full-length) book.  If you don’t have any stories, poems, reviews or essays in the archives, start writing them. It’s very, very hard to sell one book when you have no track record, no matter what publishing path you choose.

Then when you're working on your opus—or you’re editing it—you can also be sending stories, poems and essays to journals, local newspapers, blogs, anthologies, contests and websites in order to build your reputation as a professional writer. Again, this is important whether you self-publish or go the traditional route.

A great place to find vetted journals, anthologies and contests is C. Hope Clark’s Funds for Writers. Poets and Writers magazine also has an excellent list of contests, grants and awards.

But do check to make sure you’re not being taken in by bogus contests and fake anthologies. Always check them out at the Writer Beware blog. Bookmark that one. It's a must-read for all writers.

For more info about why you should be writing short pieces, check our archives:

Why You Should Be Writing Short Fiction
Short is the New Long

3) Finish your book 

Don't waste time worrying about publishing until you've got something to publish. Preferably several things.

Beginning authors are urged by some marketing people to start marketing long before they’re ready. Some seem to think authors should start “building platform” in the womb.

We think this is dumb. Learn to write, read informative blogs where you can network with other authors, and let yourself build up a body of work before you start trying to market yourself.

When you're starting out, it's better to read blogs than to write frantically on your own. Commenting on high-profile blogs is one of the best ways to get your name known.

Unfortunately, social media is writer’s block’s best friend. Not only is it endlessly distracting, but all the information on writing can also turn you into a perfectionist who keeps rewriting chapter one and never gets on with the story.

There are more great blogs on craft than we have room to mention here. It will depend on your book, genre and writing style which ones will resonate. One of my favorites is Janice Hardy's The Other Side of the Story. 

Some of our more popular posts on craft are:

10 Things Your Opening Chapter Should Do: A Checklist
12 Signs Your Novel isn't Ready to Publish

If you’re blocked and having trouble finishing and it’s anywhere near November, try barreling through during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo.) You can get lots of support from these folks. They help you let go of your perfectionism and get that book onto the page. There are now NaNos in the summertime, too.

4) Get your work critiqued 

And polished.  And critiqued some more. Then have it proofread. If you can exchange proofing with other writers, that can save you a lot of money.

A real-life critique group is great, because authors tend to be solitary and we need some human contact, but there are excellent critique groups online. We recommend  CritiqueCircle.com,  SheWrites or networking through My WANA, QueryTracker.net, AgentQuery.com, or Nathan Bransford’s forums.

But take care of yourself as you’re being critiqued. Realize there’s a little bit of the “blind leading the blind” going on with peer critiquing.

Also, your first critiques can feel like going through a meat grinder. For some self-protection techniques you might want to read these in our archives:

Bad Advice to Ignore From Your Critique Group
Should you eliminate “Was” from Your Writing? Why Sometimes “the Rules” are Wrong

5) Visit lots of blogs, online groups and forums to explore your options.

But avoid groups or forums where everybody tells you you’re a moron if you self-publish/Big 5-publish/small press-publish or whatever. People who believe in one-size-fits all are, um, morons.

You need to choose the right path for yourself and your work, and that’s going to be different for every writer.

Start with this post by Jane Friedman on how to get published. Jane is the former publisher of Writers Digest books and one of the most savvy people in the business.  This was pretty comprehensive when she wrote it in 2011, and most of the info still stands. Jane doesn’t post as much as she used to, but her blog is still one of the best. I love reading the insider publishing scoop from CNN's Porter Anderson there every Thursday in his Writing on the Ether.

A great blog for writers leaning toward the trad route but wanting to keep options open is agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog

Former agent Nathan Bransford's blog is one of the friendliest and most helpful place for newbies, and his archives are gold.

If you’re pretty sure you don’t want to go with mainstream corporate publishing, you’ll want to read Joe Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide to Publishing and David Gaughran.

If you’re leaning indie, the Writers Guide to Epublishing  (WG2E) is friendly and helpful with nuts and bolts issues, and welcomes trad-pubbed authors as well. (And Ruth Harris posts there once a month.)

A free site that's great for Romance writers is RomanceUniversity.

A great place to find blogposts that answer your specific questions is the Writers Knowledge Base, compiled by mystery author  Elizabeth Spann Craig. And if you're on Twitter, follow @ElizabethSCraig for the best links to writerly blogs on the Web.

If you’re pretty sure you want to go for that Big Publishing contract, Agent Janet Reid’s blog is great. Ditto Kristen Nelson’s Pub Rants. Also, the archives of Miss Snark are full of valuable information. And if you're looking for an agent, Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog is a must-read.

For YA and children's writers, you can read comprehensive agent profiles from Casey and Natalie at Literary Rambles and you'll also get lots of great info at Adventures in YA and Children's Publishing.

The Savvy Author's Newsletter also has excellent advice and it's free. They have a nice, friendly community as well.

6) Get yourself on social media...slowly

My personal recommendation: start a blog first. But don’t go nuts posting. Once a week or even once a month is OK to start, but the sooner you start one, the better. Search engines take a while to find you and you want Google to know who you are by the time you finish that opus.

A new writer's blog shouldn't be about marketing something you haven't published yet. It should be for networking and making friends. For information on what to blog about you might want to check my post on What Should You Blog About? 

For all social media advice, I highly recommend Kristen Lamb's Blog  (She also has great info on craft, presented in a fun, humorous way.) Plenty of bestselling authors owe their success to Kristen.

I also love Molly Greene’s blog for social networking tips.

In our archives: How Not to Blog (and the rest of my How to Blog series)
And Twitter for Shy Persons

7) Network with other writers

The writers you meet on your way up are probably also on their way up.  This is a business where who you know matters.

A person in your critique group today may be an agent or a bestselling author a year from now. I know many, many successful authors who got their agents through online networking. I know even more who found their designers, publishers, and most avid readers through social media.

You can network on blogs, forums and the many, many booky websites like RedRoom.com, LibraryThing.com, Goodreads.com, Shelfari.com, Reddit.com, Kindleboards.com, etc. and writers groups on LinkedIn and Facebook, plus the hundreds of writing forums.

BUT: Beware any group where you see snark or groupthink. There is horrific bullying going on in some of these sites. The nastiest seem to be the oldest. See my post on Gangs of New Media.

Absolute Write, some LinkedIn and Goodreads groups, and the Amazon forums are NOT recommended for that reason. I especially warn against the Amazon forums. They are rabidly anti-writer. The self-appointed enforcers will punish you for breaking their murky rules of conduct with all the self-righteous sadism of the Taliban slaughtering a schoolgirl. Don't go there.

The Amazon forums are not to be confused with the Kindleboards, where writers are welcome as long as they don't do any promotions.

The most friendly and safe forums are the personally moderated ones like Nathan Bransford’s forumsSheWrites (for women writers) and Kristen Lamb’s WANAtribe

Do NOT join more than two or three forums or groups. If you don’t find simpatico folks, move on. This is for making friends, NOT selling books.

Remember you are looking for friendship, moral support and an exchange of useful information.

8) Cultivate a patient attitude

This is a marathon, not a sprint.  I know you’re dying to get published, but believe me, it takes time to learn to be a writer. Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours to learn to do something well, and that sounds about right.

And I’m not just talking craft. You need to learn to take criticism with grace and never let them see you sweat.

If you think your critique group is bad, wait until the Amazon Forum Taliban hits you with 2 dozen one-stars because one of them knows your stalker ex-girlfriend who says you ditched her a week before the prom.

And you DO NOT WANT TO PUBLISH TOO SOON. It's the number one mistake new writers make.

That includes putting your book on your blog. Blogging is publishing. Lots of impatient newbies decide to blog their rough drafts. You don’t want to do that if you have any aspirations to being a traditionally published writer. Here’s Rachelle Gardner with a great post on the subject.

9) Learn to write a great query, synopsis and hook

Anybody wanting to traditionally publish needs to learn to write a query and a synopsis.

And sorry, self-pubbers, you do too. You’re going to be querying reviewers, bloggers, bookstore owners, etc throughout your professional life.  You have to be able to tell people about your book in three sentences or less.

Learn this now.

Best place to learn how to query: Janet Reid’s Query Shark blog.

Another is Nathan Bransford’s archives. Here's his great post on How to Write a Query Letter.

For an overview of Hooks, Loglines, Pitches check in our archives.

10) Decide what publishing road you want to take and start your career.

If you want an overview of your choices, check out my post on "Who are the Big 6? Answers to the not-so-dumb questions you were afraid to ask"

Then you can take one of any of a number of paths:

* Send out queries to agents if you want to try for a Big 5 contract. Find the right agent to query through AgentQuery.com and QueryTracker.net. And always, always, always visit the agent's own website to read the guidelines before you query.
or
* Query editors at small and independent digital presses if you want a publisher but prefer not to go corporate. You can find a list of literary small presses at Poets and Writers. I'd love to have a list of small and indie digital presses for genre fiction but they pop in and out of business so often it's hard to keep up. If anybody knows of a good list, please let us know!
or
* Submit to digital imprints of the Big 5 that do not require an agent (but before you sign a digital press contract, read Writer Beware on the new digital imprints and their contracts.) 
or
* Hire an editor and get your book polished up to self-publish. For nuts and bolts info on how to do that, read the archives of David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital. For a list of vetted editors try the Editorial Freelancers Association.

If you’re not tech-savvy and need help in self-publishing, we’ve heard good things about BookBaby.com and Draft2Digital.

Smashwords is also a great way to get on a number of platforms. And CEO Mark Coker has lots of great info on his blog. He's super-savvy and 100% pro-author. And people tell me Mark Coker's FREE book on formatting is a must read for every self-publisher.

11) Learn that rejection is part of the process

Scathing critiques, agent and editor rejections, terrible reviews: every single author who's ever lived has had to endure them.

Right now, go to the Amazon bestseller list. How many books do you see that you really, really want to read right now? Be honest.

Not that many, right?

Does that mean the other books aren’t good?

No. It means you personally didn’t feel like reading them today.

That’s what an agent does every time she looks through her queries. She has to choose what she personally likes. You could be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald, but if she’s in the mood for vampire erotica, you're getting a rejection.

From her. There’s always somebody else.

For some great insider info on what rejection really means, check in our archives:

11 Reasons Why Writers Get Rejected—And Why Only 3 of them Matter by Ruth Harris
Rejection: Why it Doesn’t mean What You Think it Means by Catherine Ryan Hyde

If you want more info on the care and feeding of the writers’ soul, as well as lots of in-depth information about the publishing process, you might want to spring for a copy of How to be a Writer in the E-Age by Catherine Ryan Hyde and yours truly. Not free. But a bargain at $2.99 for the ebook.

And don’t forget to have fun. Publishing is a journey. It’s important to enjoy yourself along the way.

Oh, and what can you do right now, this minute? You can write your author bio. It will make you feel like a professional and you can have it ready and waiting the first time one of those stories gets accepted.

Here's our post on How to Write an Author Bio Even if You Don't Feel Like an Author...Yet.

OK, Scriveners: What can you add to our list? Any must-read blogs that helped you on your road to publication? Any forums where you found BFFs? We welcome all your suggestions. 

BOOK DEAL OF THE WEEK

Food of Love--a comic thriller about dieting, chocolate, and a small nuclear bomb

Usually $2.99, now only 99c on Amazon , Amazon UK and NOOK 



"This hilarious page-turner packs a profound satirical bite. It's a Hollywood romp that provides romance, mystery, and an honest confrontation with the human condition. Food of Love is a funny and powerfully healing book." ...Lucia Capacchione, PhD, bestselling self-help author, Recovery of Your Inner Child

OPPORTUNITY ALERTS

1) Quirk Books "Looking for Love" contest.  They offer a $10,000 prize for the best quirky love story of 50,000 words or more. Visit the Quirk Books website to download the entry form or for further information. Quirk Books was founded in 2002 and publishes around 25 books each year. Their bestselling titles include Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Entries close October 1, 2013

2) A site for KOBO READERS: TrindieBooks.com This Canadian site is the KindleNationDaily for Kobo. Really nice folks, affordable rates, and their ads are FREE if your book is free for Kobo. Reach some of those voracious Canadian readers. Kobo is the most popular ereader in Canada.  Submit your book here. 

3) Escargot Books is expanding its catalogue and are now accepting submissions. Crime fiction (dark thrillers to cozies), women’s fiction, wealth and fitness, children’s, sci-fi and dystopian. All books will be published in digital format. Some books will be chosen for print and/or audio as well. Escargot Books does not offer an advance, but they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers, especially for direct sales from our website, as well as editing, formatting, promotion, and the company of bestselling authors. They have some big name authors and a good track record. Here’s their online submission form

4)  A Room of Her Own contest for women writers. Entry Fee: $15. Four prizes of $1,000 each and publication in Los Angeles Review. Submit a poem of no more than 36 lines, a short short story of up to 500 words, a story of up to 1,500 words, or an essay of up to 1,500 words. Visit the website for complete guidelines. Deadline: July 31, 2013

5) Advertise to British readers with EbookBargainsUK. Listings will be half-price through July and August and anyone listing then will get a credit for a free listing for September onwards (excluding the Holiday period December 20 – January 10). ALSO: They will be launching Ebook Bargains AustraliaEbook Bargains New ZealandEbook Bargains Canada and Ebook Bargains India soon, offering authors a chance to target their ebooks at readers through local stores in those countries. Inclusion in these international email newsletters will not cost you anything extra! The one small listing fee will get your ebooks in all five newsletters, reaching five of the biggest English-speaking markets outside the USA.

If you're in any of those countries, do sign up for their newsletter. It brings links to free and bargain ebooks—at the bookstore of your choice—in your inbox every morning. You can subscribe here.

We love your comments! If you can't get through Blogger's hoop-jumping, send me an email at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and I'll post it manually.

17 comments:

  1. In regards to Smashwords, if you do choose to self-pub (which I plan on doing with a short story trilogy), they have an excellent guide on how to properly format your manuscript for their website, and it's available in all possible formats.

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  2. Fantastic list, Anne - Ruth. I wish it had been around when I first started writing.

    I think the biggest thing a newbie writer has to do is properly learn how to format a manuscript. Not just for agents/publishers, but critique partners and beta readers as well. Nothing screams newbie like double spacing, 2 spaces after a period, and tabs for indenting. I don't know if there is such a thing, but I wish there was a book -- Formatting for Dummies because either in Word or on a Mac, your computer drop down list is your best friend.

    It just makes life for everyone so much easier. And once you get the hang of that, formatting for publication is a cake walk.

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  3. G.B--Yes, Mark Coker has great advice on how to format for the self-publisher. He has lots of excellent advice--I'm a big fan, even though I don't self publish --which is why I put the link to his blog above.

    This post is not just for self-publishers. I want new writers to get an overview so they can decide what path they want to take. It sounds as if you've made a good decision with a short story collection, which is a hard sell to agents--but readers love them.

    Anne--Formatting is a whole other topic. I'm going to ask Ruth if she'd like to do a post for us devoted to formatting for the self-publisher. I put links to Konrath's and Gaughran's blogs since those are very helpful for people going the self-publishing route.

    With this post, I wanted to give an overview for ALL new writers who are thinking of publishing a book, not just indies. Formatting for submission to agents is still always double-spaced. (But no double spaces after a period and tabs should be done in the "paragraph" function in Word.)

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  4. Anne, a great resource for all newbie writers. I look forward to how this list will evolve in the next few months. Thanks for a great post :)

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  5. This is the usual excellent stuff I've seen since I started following. And that's true even though most of this subject depresses me. Still growing rhino hide I suppose- but it's also true that the dilettante like myself is unlikely to exploit half these rules.
    However I can add a ringing endorsement to what G.B. said above about Smashwords- that guide not only formats without a flaw for their platform, I've then been able to turn it around for Amazon, B&N and elsewhere with a half-dozen clicks. My strongest advice to any self-pub author, start there.
    I will ponder these other points too, Anne, soon as I muster the courage!

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  6. Wow, that's a really comprehensive list! Wish I'd known half of that when I began.
    The only other site I can think of is Elizabeth Spann Craig's Mystery Writing is Murder and her Writer's Knowledge Database.

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  7. Fois--Thanks much. If you have anything to add, let me know.

    Trekelny--I don't self pub, so I didn't realize how important that Smashwords guide is. I'll make that more prominent on the final page. Thanks.

    I didn't mean to make the process seem daunting. Sometimes breaking things down into smaller bits makes them seem easier. And by making a comment here, you're putting in your social networking time. :-)

    Alex--Elizabeth Spann Craig!! How could I forget her? She's one of the best resources around--and so is her Writers Database. Thanks so much!! That's why I need reader input.

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  8. Thanks for all of the wonderful information. For sharing your hours of research and years of experience with your humble blog followers. I am full on in query world right now with my first YA novel. Gawd…I really hate it. Who doesn’t? Right? I do find Querytraker to be a very helpful site.

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  9. Excellent post; I just bookmarked a bunch of the sites you mentioned (already had some of the others). Thanks a bunch :)

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  10. Christine--Good luck with your querying! Do try Agent Query as well as QueryTracker. They have a searchable database so you can pinpoint agents by genre and subgenre. Also for YA writers, Adventures in Children's publishing and Literary Rambles have great agent info.

    ms--Thanks. I'm glad I've added some good links to your bookmarks.

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  11. Anne, thank you so much for mentioning my blog and for all your generous advice! Sadly, everything I write about has been learned through trial and error experience. My blog would be silent now if I'd found you two years ago. Thank you!

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  12. Hi Anne,

    I recently finished the first draft of my first novel. It was so exciting! After toasting my milestone, my husband asked, "Ok, so what's the next step?" Taking a sip of my bubbly, I averted my eyes, raised my glass, and said, "Uh, cheers to finishing my first novel!" I'd been so busy writing, I didn't bother learning about the next steps.

    About a week later, I attended my first Writer's Retreat. I loved it! I met a fabulous group of people, but didn't find out much more about the publishing process.

    This morning I resolved to find out what I need to know moving forward.

    Sitting down at my desk, I glanced at my page-a-day tear-off calendar. Its affirmation read: "Today I accept assistance from my many seen and unseen friends, and thus, my way is made smooth and easy." When my internet browser opened up, I was faced with message from an unseen friend--you! "How to Get a Book Published: A Step-by-Step Guide..." What a wonderful jumping off point.

    Many thanks for sharing what you know. Getting started can be overwhelming and a little guidance is so appreciated when it comes around.

    Best-
    Natalie Munroe

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  13. Molly, thanks for all your tweets. You have such a great blog! Lots of solid info.

    Natalie--Congratulations!! Woo-hoo. Finishing your first novel is such a major accomplishment. When we look at all the next things we have to do, we tend to forget what an incredible moment of success that is. Millions of people want to write novels. But I've heard only about 4% finish them. I'm so glad I was there as an "unseen friend" to help you with the next steps. I love moments of serendipity like that!

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  14. Good Heavens! Thanks you SO much for compiling this amazing list of must-know things for writers. I just spent a half-hour bookmarking, reading, re-reading...
    How very kind of you to spend your time doing this. (I love writers. They are nice people.)
    Now, I'm off to do everything I read about!
    Yoiks!
    ~Just Jill

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  15. Jill--I'm so glad you find this post helpful. I hope I'll be able to make this a permanent page on the blog, so you won't have to bookmark everything. You can come back any time and click through to the pages you need. I realize that it can seem pretty overwhelming at first, but realize it's a journey, not something you need to do all at once.

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  16. Hi Anne! Thank you, this is an amazing blogpost, chockful of great information it will take me the rest of the summer to sift through. Much, much appreciated :)

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  17. Elisabeth--I'm so glad you find the post useful! I've copied it into a permanent page you can access any time--look in the "pages" section in the upper sidebar--so you don't have to search for it.

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We LOVE comments, but we can't allow anonymous ones because of spammer problems (like hundreds a day). If you have trouble commenting, email your comment to Anne at annerallen dot allen at gmail dot com and she'll post it for you.