Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kiersten's Updated Guide to Getting Published

The invaluable Nathan Bransford published a guide to the process the other day. I thought I'd share my (slightly less) helpful one as well.

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, JK Rowling, Stephen King, Agatha Christie]! 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, now numbering in the hundreds of thousands, who say, "I'm going to write a book." And then they do. I love these people. 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.

A good writing group will not only tell you what is best about your book, they'll help you figure out what isn't working. And they'll help you figure out how to make it work. I can't tell you how much I improved by working with my critiquers--they are truly invaluable.

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. And really, spend a lot of time going through Nathan Bransford's basics he has on his blog. He has very detailed, specific information that I don't provide because I am lazy.

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 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. The bio = not actually very important if you're a newbie.

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 can't send your manuscript directly 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. My agent is the most awesome of all awesome agents. Just sayin'.

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. Don't waste your time and agents' time by querying them for things they don't represent.

Then, after putting together your charming, well-written, and error-free email or letter to the agent, you send it out. But don't email every agent you've ever found. I recommend having ten queries out at a time on a rotating basis. That way, if you get nothing but no, you haven't ruined your shot with everyone on a bad query. If you don't get any requests at all, pull back, take another look at your query, and fix it.

After sending out your letter, 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.

However, 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. And whether you are querying for an agent or on submission, you MUST have supportive writer friends who actually understand what it is like. Normal people don't get it. Crazy writers are the only ones who will. Also, please, for the love of all that is good and sane in the world, DO NOT query or go on submission while you are trying to get pregnant. Trust me. That's just asking for a world of hurt.)

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 again. 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. It might not happen with your first book. But if you keep writing, and 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. You take your awesome agent's advice on any edits that need to be done before submission. You talk strategy. My agent has me write the cover letters; some agents do that for you. Some agents will want to do an edit or two before they officially sign you. Every agent does things differently, and this is why it's so important that you sign with an agent a) you like and b) you trust.

After you've got everything set to go, your agent calmly and gently takes your baby and sends it out into the world, aka the desks of editors. Know what that means? Yup. MORE WAITING. And probably more rejection. Awesome.

Every agent goes about the submission process a little differently. I know some that offer it to just a couple of editors with a strict deadline for response. Some send it out to more at a time hoping to generate some competition. Regardless, make sure your agent follows up regularly, since, as we learn from Moonie, a lot of the time that's the only way to make something happen.

This is where I think Agent Michelle is fabulous. I felt like I got so much more time and attention than I might have with a bigger agency (and I'm not saying bigger agencies don't do this as well, this is just my experience). Michelle only takes projects that she's really, truly passionate about, because she spends a lot of time on them. And it shows. Even when we were out with Flash and nothing happened, I never doubted that she was invested not just in my books, but in me as a writer.

Step Six: Hit the Next Jackpot

Your awesome agent, after persevering and being all around wonderful, gets you a book deal. Seriously! This can happen any number of ways--auction, pre-empt, a great offer from your dream editor, etc. (Can I just say how much my agent rocked my deal? You should have heard her, it was so sad. She had a horrible sinus infection and could barely talk, but was on the phone ALL. DAY. For two days straight. For me. See what I said about finding an agent who is invested? I honestly feel like I could not have gotten a better deal, and it was all thanks to Michelle.)

This doesn't always happen the first time around. No one wanted poor, third-person Flash. But, once again, I had an agent who was invested in my career, so we reevaluated, went out with something else, and, well, if you're reading this you know what happened.

And what happens now? Besides lots of euphoria and blissful disbelief? I'm just waiting to get my edits, at which point I'll get back to work. And the work doesn't stop there. I'm making marketing plans, budgeting for publicity, and plotting out the next two books. My dream came true, and now I've got three years of very hard work (and lots of waiting) ahead of me. I'm just so glad I'm doing it with Agent Michelle and Editor Erica.

I couldn't be happier.

So there you have it. My long, long guide to how this stuff actually works. If you read it all, you deserve a cookie. And a book deal. But you should probably go for the cookie, first, because in my experience those are a little less work to get your hands on.


Mariah Irvin said...

Great advice! I especially love that we both love other people that want to write a book and never actually do it.

DebraLSchubert said...

I read it all. Where's my cookie? Seriously, Kiersten, this is an awesomely rocking post. I'm so happy for you. There's nothing better than seeing a writer you believe in get the success they deserve. Ride the wave, baby - you most certainly deserve it.;-)

Natalie said...

Reading this makes me question why I jumped into the pool in the first place. Sigh. I need a nap now.

Valerie said...

This is an awesome post (thank you!) except for all the parts about waiting.

I hate waiting.

storyqueen said...

Great post! But you know, I kind of think everyone has to go through querying too early to understand it completely......

(No, I did NOT put stickers on the backs of my submission envelopes. I didn't.)


Kiersten said...

Shelley, if I can save even one person from querying too early, I'll consider my job done.

I totally queried too early with my first book : )

And Valerie, I know--what is up with taking creative, impatient people, and putting them in an industry FILLED with waiting?

Andrea Cremer said...

Fantastic post, Kiersten. I'm linking it to my blog!

Jessie Oliveros said...

It's funny how before I started writing and researching I thought writing a book and getting it published was that simple. And most people really don't get it and don't realize how special it is if you a) write a book in the first place b) get an agent! c) get published! You are right about having those writer friends-people who really understand the angst and shear sweat of the path you have chosen for yourself. Thanks for posting this!

Marsha Sigman said...

I knew the heart stickers were too much....

Kiersten, you may have said this in a past post but how long ago was it that you wrote your first book? It was the middle grade one, right? Just curious how long its been since you wrote that first manuscript until now.

Great post as always!

T. Anne said...

The trampling doesn't last long does it? Because honestly, it's becoming quite painful. :)

Yellow Trash Diaries said...

Okay, you are really making it hard to dislike you. (Why would I dislike you? Because you are becoming fabulously successful doing what you love and I am a twisted, jealous soul.) You are just so damn nice. Also, you are one of the few people I would tower over. (I am 5 feet tall.)

Renee Collins said...

You make it sound so easy! What on earth have I been stressing about?


CKHB said...

New writers should also compare step six with step four. That 2-month wait to hear back on your query/partial/full? It's hopefully because your future agent is rocking the world for her clients by being on the phone for 2 days straight (which means NOT reading queries). And when you finally get your agent, s/he'll rock the world for you.

Congrats again, Kiersten!

ElanaJ said...

I love the title of step number four. Priceless. :)

Regina Milton said...

Thank you for the post. I want to link to it from my blog next week if that's okay.

I am always secretly grateful for those who want to write a great book and never do (it feels so good to admit that). I'm also openly appreciative of those who want to write a great book and actually do. Great work inspires me. Competition motivates me too.

Your guide was very came from a different angle than Nathan's and is very useful to those of us who haven't even completed step one.

candicekennington said...

I want my cookie!! Unfortunately, I'm on a no sugar diet right now. I'm definitely in the over-editing phase right now. I'm still writing (thank goodness all my hopes and dreams don't revolve around my first book), but even as I near the completion of my second book, I can't seem to stop editing the first one. Any thoughts, oh wise one? Because I don't want to make the other mistake you pointed out which is querying too soon.

Nadine said...

Thanks for the cookie!

Loved reading this post!! And Michelle is definitely at the top of my list when I ready to query again!

Peggy said...

That was awesome!

I think it's probably the most readable and entertaining, yet still incredibly helpful, post I've read on the subject.

kaitlinpaigeallen said...

This is great and very encouraging. It's nice to hear someone say it's worth it to hang in there.

CMOM Productions said...

Loved the post & I do love cookies! :)

Kiersten said...

Marsha--I started my first book about five years ago. It took me two years to finish. And then another two years to give up on, he he.

Anne--I know it hurts. I'm sorry : (

YTD--My dastardly plan is working, then...bwa ha ha ha ha.

Regina--Feel free to link, thanks!

Candice--You can only make it as good as you can make it. If you feel like you can send it out without cringing, then send it!

Everyone else--Thanks! I worried it was too long. Glad it was entertaining : )

Tara said...

Great post. I do love Dr Pepper and add peanut M&Ms and I think I might be good to go. :]

Ebony McKenna. said...

Most excellent post there :-)

Many people think there is some magic shortcut that we're keeping to ourselves. Some kind of secret writer society with all the answers.

But all the while the answer is . . . . HARD WORK!

cindy said...

thanks for the shout out, kiersten! you were always inspiring to me, too!

Adam Heine said...

I'm on Step 2 for the second time (Step 4 didn't go so well the last time around: 70 letters, 0 requests). I need one of those Nutter Butters my mother-in-law brought over.

Weronika said...

Thanks for this -- starred and saved into my archives for future reference. :)

The one thing that I always wished I knew was that it doesn't stop at 15 queries. Usually you need to send out more...

Thanks again!

Sarah Laurenson said...

A cookie sounds great. Two cookies sounds even better. A package of cookies is hitting the spot.

Great post!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

fantastic blog and great advice! I'm so happy it worked for you. I skipped the agent step and went with a small press. I didn't have the confidence to do it the hard way!

Kiersten said...

Tamara--Hey, it's the book and the writing that matters, right?

Rick Daley said...

Congratulations, and thanks for the funny and insightful post. It's easy to see why someone chose to publish your writing!

Daisy Whitney said...

Great story and congrats on the deal. Your books sounds great!

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

Like you, Tamara, I went with a small press. But confidence wasn't the problem. I knew the press's other books, loved them, and felt that the editor would appreciate the story I wanted to write. He did, and the novel went on to get great reviews. However, there seems to be a glass ceiling in terms of recognition a small press published book is going to receive, no matter how good it is, so I'm going with the process described above to get an agent and a major publisher next time.

Lauren said...

Excellent post! I inspired me to keep trying :)

Jessica Lawlor said...

I love this! Thanks for letting us in on how it's done.

Erin Edwards said...

So, so true. The (almost) scary part is that you didn't have to exaggerate at *all* to make it funny!

(p.s. I found your blog through "Give a Girl a Pen" and I love it!)

crow productions said...

I am such a wimp. I think I have a total of five rejections. You've got me pumped up. I've written the kind of novel that I would read. People that have read it actually liked it, I do have to include my mom. My mother has always been short on compliments but when I saw her read it and not be able to put it down, I felt I was getting a compliment. We are talking a woman who reads all the time. When she finished it she said only,"It's good. You should get it published."
I promise that starting this week, I will send out queries. Great blog!

Kiersten White said...

Thanks so much for your enthusiasm, guys!

And YES--GO, query more! Do I need to get out my pom-poms?

Terresa said...

Nathan's link/post on this sent me over. Glad I stopped by. I'm taking notes. Rockin' post!

mymargee said...

Wait, you mean there is no secret shortcut that you authors are keeping from us newbies??? Well aw Hell!!! Here I was thinking it was like magicians keeping the trade secrets!

All kidding aside I found this not only to be very informative but entertaining as well! I will definitely pick up your book as soon as it is out!

Tanvi said...

Wow, thanks Kiersten, this was an amazingly well written and informave post... I'm starting on Step Three *crosses fingers* :D

Brittani said...

I sent queries way too soon, wishing I hadn't done that. Maybe they'll all have short term memory loss . . .
Thanks Kiersten for taking the time to help all of us dreamers out there!!!

Amie B said...

ok i know i am MONTHS late responding to this post...but i just found you!

i'm in the process of the first round of WAITING...with about a dozen or so agents.

in the meantime, i've had an agent request an MS that was nothing more than an idea! YIKES! so pressure is on to get that project completed!

hopefully, VERY SOON, i'll be doing the next round of waiting....the one with the editors!!

Zane said...

Hi Kiersten! Thanks for the post! I never knew that getting a book published was that complicated and FILLED with waiting. But I'm working on a book with a good friend right now and we have a really good writing project between us going on. And I'm hoping that we WILL find an agent and get it published after we're done writing it. *Fingers crossed!*

-E- said...

I'm sorry this is really late after your origanal posting, but I found a link to this in your FAQ and I was wondering if you could tell me how you found a critique group?