Thursday, November 6, 2008

Kiersten's Guide to Trying to Get Published

*Editor's Note: This Is Not An Announcement. I don't have a book deal--this is just because most people don't understand how getting published happens. Most of it is hypothetical.

For the uninitiated, the idea of getting published seems simple. You write a book, make a few phone calls, and voila! You're the next Stephenie Meyer! Alas, it's not quite that easy. I'll break down how it actually works.

Step One: Write a Book

There are millions of people out there who think, "Hey, I could write an awesome book." And then they never do. Which is great, I hate competition.

Then there are millions of people who try but never finish. I also like these people.

Then there are those people, which now number in the hundreds of thousands, who say, "I'm going to write a book." And then they do. I actually love these people, because man, that's great. It's not easy--go you!

Step Two: Congratulate Yourself and Daydream about Book Signings

So you've got your fancy, shiny new manuscript you finished last night. STOP. Do not research agents, do not send it out to Random House with a big heart sticker on the envelope, do not start booking library tours. Edit it. Trust me.

Don't edit it so much that you never do anything else, but really, make sure it's in the best possible condition. I highly, HIGHLY recommend a writing group (such as my dear and fabulous MoMos). Preferably people who are writers, but definitely people who will be honest with you. Your mom? Probably not going to be honest with you, as she'll be too busy bursting with pride that her darling wrote a book.

Step Three: Figure Out What You're Supposed to Do Next

Promise you edited it? Okay then. You probably started this whole process thinking you could print off your baby, send it to a huge publishing house, and get an offer within days.


Well, I mean, maybe you can, but here's what the rest of us have to do. You sit down and write a query letter, which is basically a one page description of your book. It's hard. Maybe harder than writing a whole book. After you've written it, you have your friends look at it, then send it over to Evil Editor to let him make fun of it and give you good advice.

You'll also want to include a short bio in your query letter. For mine, I simply stated that I had a story published in a journal this year and work as a freelance writer. It's brief, but to the point--someone has seen something in my writing worth publishing. However, if your only publishing cred is the poem you wrote in first grade and decorated with sparkles that your teacher displayed on the chalkboard, well, you're probably better off leaving it out.

So, now you've got your query letter all polished and pretty.

Step Four: Send Your Tender Heart Out into the World to Get Trampled

You really can't send your manuscript to most editors or publishers anymore. They get so much stuff, they simply don't read it. This is where literary agents come in. They act as a filter--if they think your book is good enough to represent it, an editor is willing to give it a chance. Agents are awesome.

You'll want to do some extensive research. I recommend Agent Query. Put together a list of potential agents, then google them, check their blogs if they have one, check out their website. Most agents want slightly different things, and all agents like queries to be personalized.

Then, after putting together your charming, well-written, and error-free email or letter to the agent, you send it out.

And then you wait. Sometimes you wait twenty minutes for a "No thanks." Sometimes you wait two months for a "No thanks."

And trust me, you'll get a LOT of "No thanks." A lot. Really? A lot. And it's not easy. Sometimes it's downright heartbreaking.

But, sprinkled in with all of those "No thanks," you'll probably get some "Yes, please." And those are awesome. Agents will request either a partial, with a specified number of pages, or a full, meaning they want to look at the whole manuscript.

And then you REALLY get to wait. Nervously. Nail-bitingingly agonizingly. Checking your email every five freaking minutes because maybe maybe there's a response (there isn't).

And if you thought getting a no on your query was sad, wait until you get a no on a partial or, worse yet, a full. Because then they aren't just rejecting the idea of your book--they're actually rejecting your book. It's rather crushing.

(I recommend Dr Pepper and M&Ms for self-medicating. Some people like ice cream. Comfort eating is a must during this stage.)

But here's where you set yourself apart--you don't give up after that first generic partial rejection. You send out a new query for every rejection. If you aren't getting any requests, you reevaluate your query. You find new agents to contact. And you DON'T GIVE UP. I think the best example of this is my darling friend Cindy. She sent out well over a hundred queries. And you know what happened? She got an agent and a three book deal. If your book is good, someone, somewhere out there is going to realize it.

Step Five: Hit the Jackpot

Maybe on your fifth query, or your fiftieth, or your one-hundred and fiftieth, you just might luck out and find that agent out there--your dream agent--the one you've been waiting for who it just so happens has been waiting for you. You freak out.

Then you get to work. Your agent will work with you and submit your manuscript to publishing houses and editors.

Know what that means? Yup. MORE WAITING. And probably more rejection. Awesome.

Step Six: Hit the Next Jackpot

Your awesome agent, after perservering and being all around wonderful, gets you a book deal. Seriously! Sure, there's tons more work ahead, edits like you wouldn't believe, etc, but hey, you are going to be published!

Man, I wish I were you.

So there you have it. My long, long guide to how this stuff actually works. If you read it all, you deserve a cookie.


Rychelle said...

i like chocolate chip.
shall i send you my address?


Kiersten said...

Sure, but I'm not sure how well they'd stand up to the USPS.

And also, umm, what am I being congratulated for? Writing an awesome post?

Natalie said...

Ha, why am I doing this again? I now remember how much work this is...

cindy said...

i loved this post! esp the part about people who never finish a novel--less competition for us!

*MARY* said...

I'm so going to write a book now. I always thought that it was a lot of work, but if you're telling the truth this is going to be a cinch.

I always wanted to name my kid You. Then he would always feel so loved (I love you) and apparently become a published author.

Kiersten said...

Ha, thanks, Cindy. I thought you were going to say especially the part about how amazing you are ; )

Mary, please do name your next child You. You and You can be published together!

Kayleigh said...

Is it just me, or am I getting the feeling you might be super excited for your 200th post? Because I don't know about you, but I'm waiting on baited breath for when that three-digit number pops up next to "2008" in your blog archive. :) (and I promise that's not sarcasm...I really am excited)

Kiersten said...

As am I, Kayleigh ; )

Stephanie and Co. said...

Hi Kiersten. I have been lurking for awhile. Thanks for the guide to writing a book. I'll be sure to start mine tomorrow.
Okay, that was saracastic, but I really am thankful for the guide. Because someday, someday, yes someday I'm going to write a book.

Robert V. Sobczak said...

Blogging may be an impediment to writing a book ... or is it a breeding ground for ideas? One thing is for sure: the blogosphere is ripe with non-edited prose. We have to be our own editors ... not to mention other hats we wear.

Renee Collins said...

Everytime people find out that I've written books, the first thing they say, without fail, is "You'll be the next Stephenie Meyer!"

From here on out, I am going to give them the link to this post. :)

Kiersten said...

Stephanie (but not Co--I'm just responding to you, Co can stay out of it! Just kidding, I love Co, too), thanks for delurking! You should totally write a book. Or at least be sure you can do it, and whenever you read a new book kinda smirk down your nose and smile and think, "I could totally write a better book than that." That's plenty for now.

But in all honesty, you really should write a book. It's wildly entertaining!

Robert--I'm very proud to say that you are my first official hydrologist commenter! Man, that's really, really cool. I love Florida.

As to your comment, I used to worry that I was blogging instead of being creative, until I realized it takes five minutes to write a blog post. And sure, it's a great procrastination tool, but when I'm in the middle of writing something I really love, nothing will deter me.

Except chocolate.

Other than that...of course, your comment did make me a little paranoid. Was this post poorly edited? Goodness, was he trying to tell me something? So now I've got to go read through it for the fourth or fifth time.

Renee--Please, please do.

But really--YOU are going to be the next Stephenie Meyer!

Kasie West said...

I am in a constant back and forth battle between steps 4 and 2. I think I'm done with my editing, I've put together my "fav five" from my list of agents, I send out my queries, then ... I digress and rip my books to shreds for the millionth edit while waiting with my tub of ice cream and my nervous twitch. Ah, if I weren't addicted to writing I might try something much easier.

Kiersten said...

Ha! Like two ships passing in the night...I just commented on your blog, Kasie ; )

Querying only works if you keep at it, though...

Or so I've heard, right? ; )

writtenwyrdd said...

Step one is highly overrated by anyone who thinks they "ought to write". I mean, even my genius brother read a short story I sent him and said, "I've got this great idea I should write." Then he proceeded to spell out the gist of the story and say, "It's pretty good, and ought to be enough to get some interest." As if you query before writing a story and that's okay.

That's probably the #1 misconception of the non-writer, second only to "I've got this great idea. Tell you what, you write it and we'll split the dough!"

Third seems to be *shifty eyes* "Don't tell anyone your ideas...they might *steal* them."

Hmmm. I think I'll use this as a post myself...

Another great post, Ms. K!

Kiersten said...

He he, thanks, WW. Looking forward to your post!

Megs said...

ok, I think I'll help myself. More ginger snaps please!

Valerie Geary said...

I loved this post! I stumbled across your website courtesy of Nathan Bransford's site. Anyway. I'm in the final editing stages of my first novel and will be sending out queries within the month (I don't write YA, so don't worry... no competition!) But anyway... I loved the part you wrote about having Dr. Pepper and M&M's ready to soothe the ache of rejections. Guess I better get that ready... at least the M&M's part! Anyway... long comment short... congratulations on your agent success and thank you for your funny and oh so apt post about writing!

Kiersten said...

Thanks, Valerie! Good luck with submissions!