I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tips for Getting Published

Since starting Little Nuances, I've received several e-mails from people who are interested in writing for publication. Truth be told, writers can take different paths to publication, but no matter which path you may take, it will probably be difficult. To quote the character played by Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own when one of his baseball players said she was quitting because the game was too hard, "Of course it's hard. It's supposed to be hard. Hard is what makes it great. If it was easy, everybody would do it."

According to a September 28, 2002 column by Joseph Epstein in the New York Times: "…81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them—and that they should write it." If we have 297 million people in America, and if roughly 195,000 books are published each year, the vast majority of those who believe they have a book in them and that they should write it never actually follow through. They either don't know what to do, or realize that it's harder than they realized, or they get discouraged and give up.

I don't say any of this to discourage you. I say it so you'll realize that the road to publication is a journey that requires a ton of hard work. If you are looking for easy answers or quick sales right out of the gate, you're in the wrong business. But if you are willing to invest time, energy, and money to understand the industry, the markets, and the elements of good writing, then you have a shot.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Read the material that is already published in the genre in which you wish to publish. You need to know what is being published in the market you want to write for so you can tell editors why your product is better or different. I consider reading to be part of my writing time. Every day, I read for at least one hour. I evaluate while I read. I study the author's techniques, tone, use of the five senses, dialogue and a lot more. If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write.

Purchase market guides. Writers Digest publishes a market guide every year. And they also publish several specialty market guides. You need a market guide. Without it, you won't know where to send your work, how long the article/book should be, what tone to use, whether to send a query, book proposal, or full manuscript, etc. Market guides have topical indexes that make it easy to target markets that publish the types of material you write. Sally Stuart also publishes a fantastic market guide for the Christian market. I purchase Sally's guide every year when it becomes available and I purchase the Writers Digest guide at least every other year.

Obtain and study writer's guidelines. Writer's guidelines are more detailed and more specific than market guides (which tend to give you one paragraph of information). So, it's best to start with a market guide, and then once you've pinpointed specific markets, then obtain and study the writer's guidelines for those markets. Every publication that accepts freelance writing has writer's guidelines. They tell you everything you need to know if you wish to send them your work. Thankfully, most publications and publishing houses have their writer's guidelines available on their website. You can also pick up guidelines at writer's conference (we'll get to those in a minute).

If you don't know what a query letter or book proposals is, you need to find out. Once you've studied the market guides and the corresponding writer's guidelines, you'll be asked to submit query letters, book proposals, and once in a great while, complete manuscripts.

Many, if not most, magazine editors expect to receive query letters from writers—not complete articles. If you send a complete article when the market guide and the writers guidelines clearly say that you need to query first, then you have no shot at being published in that publication. If you need to figure out how to write a query letter, then Terry Whalin (an editor with Howard Publishing and multi-published author) has an excellent website you need to check out. Here's a link to his page that describes how to write a query letter.

Nonfiction books are sold with book proposals (before the book is ever written). If you send a publisher a complete manuscript without first sending a proposal, then you've just told the editor that you have no idea how the industry works and your manuscript will not even be read. If you don't know how to write a book proposal, then you need to invest in Terry Whalin's book called "Book Proposals That Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success." Terry not only has a ton of great information about proposals in that book, but he also has a couple of sample book proposals you can use as you write your own.

Novels are also sold on proposal, but for first time novelists, you also must have the complete manuscript finished before editors will consider giving you a contract. You would still send a proposal first, and if an editor shows an interest and asks for the complete manuscript, then you would send it. Again, purchase Terry's book if you don't know how to write a book proposal.

Immerse yourself in the industry. Join writing e-mail groups and learn from professional writers and editors. If you go to the Yahoo! Groups website and search for "writing" you'll find more than 13,000 groups you can join. You can narrow your search by looking for more specific groups such as "novelists," "journalists," etc. Don't join too many of these groups—they'll take up too much of your time. Instead, try to find groups that include industry experts and are focused on writing instead of idle chit-chat.

Go to writer's conferences. This is how I got started in the industry. I invested the time and money to attend conferences in which editors and freelance writers taught classes and took appointments with conferees. I learned the industry lingo, the do's and don'ts, and I made face to face contact with people who could publish my work. I attended conferences for two years before actually seeing my work in print, but I established relationships that continue to this day. Here's a link to a great website that lists many conferences around the country.

Attend industry retail shows. The industry I write for, the Christian Booksellers Association, has two trade shows per year. I attended their big show this past July in Denver called the International Christian Retail Show. Some of these shows are by invitation only, but if you are a member of certain groups within the industry you can often get passes. Just walking the isles of an industry retail show will give you a perspective you've never had before. You'll get to meet authors, maybe an editor or two, agents, publishers, and retailers.

Get involved in local writer's groups. If you go to your local bookstore and library, you can usually get information about groups that meet in your area on a regular basis. Many of these groups contain published writers who are willing to help you write that query letter or book proposal. And many of these groups will give you the chance to have your manuscripts critiqued by writers who are members of the group. Finally, you'll get much needed emotional support from people who understand you.

Use paid critique services. Yes, it'll cost you a little, but it's worth it. Why not pay a little up front to discover how you can make your work as marketable as possible? You'll learn a ton and once you catch on, you'll to fly on your own. I'm on staff with a service called the Christian Communicator and we have a reputation for helping writers get published. Many other great critique services exist as well. Take advantage of them.

Buy books about writing. If you are looking to get published, then take advantage of writing books written by people who have already published books in the genre(s) in which you wish to write. I've been a member of the Writer's Digest Book Club for years and I still order books from them. You can also go to your local bookstore and browse an entire section of books devoted to helping you get published. Buy the writing books that interest you, read them, study them, mark them up, and implement what you've learned.

Take advantage of magazines for writers as well. Writers Digest and The Writer are both excellent publications filled with great insight every month. If you can't afford to subscribe to them, your local library carries them. And both of them have websites that contain a lot of free information as well as free e-zines you can subscribe to that will provide you with tips for getting published.

And don't forget the blogosphere. Many professional writers have blogs and are providing meaty content to help you succeed. Here are a few:

The Writing Life
Forensics & Faith
Faith in Fiction
Write Thinking

I've given you a lot of information here—and all if it demands hard work on your part. But if you are willing to invest the time, energy, and money, you'll be further down the road to publication than most people ever travel. And you'll put yourself in a position to see your work in print.


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