Monday, July 1, 2013

No, Really. I'm Serious. How DO You Get Published?

The past month I've had a grand old time interviewing writers about the stories behind their book deals. If you were able to read even a handful of these interviews, you probably noticed, like I did, that there are a variety of publication pathways.

Also, there's so much WORK involved going from a finished manuscript to a published book.

Here are a few nuggets of wisdom that jumped out at me (and that I learned over the years on my own journey to publication):

*Publishing a book is HARD. But it is not an impossible dream either.

 Many of the writers I interviewed experienced setbacks along the way. Everyone gets rejections. It's hard to catch the attention of an agent. And honestly, sometimes the process takes a freaking long time. My book Thin Space was "finished" in 2009. It was on submission for two full years before a publishing house expressed serious interest in it.

Something that surprised me was how difficult it was just to get anyone to read it--I'm talking agents and editors. I only got four or five rejections. The majority of the people I sent the manuscript to either rejected the query or never responded one way or another. To say this part of the process was extremely frustrating and depressing is a gross understatement.

*There is a difference between working with a big publishing house and with smaller regional houses and with self-publishing. None of these paths are necessarily better than any other, but a writer needs to understand how the deals can differ.

A big house is potentially going to have bigger distribution and name recognition and promotional reach. But they may not give you the personal attention that a smaller house can.

I didn't realize for a while that I had lucked into a very cool situation with my smaller imprint within a larger house deal. Beyond Words is a small publishing house and they have never published a Young Adult novel before. They've taken a chance with Thin Space and want it to do well, so I've been getting lots of personal attention and perks that I know I would not have gotten with a bigger house. BUT I've got the bigger house behind my book too with Simon & Schuster. 

My agent told me when I signed the contract that I was getting the best of both worlds, and she was right.

*Something beginning writers don't know about self-publishing is how many hats they're going to have to wear if they go that route. In addition to writing, you have to learn about formatting and cover design and marketing (or you will have to hire people to help you with these things). There's money involved upfront that is not involved when you sign with a traditional publisher. Also, there are limits to distribution. Many brick and mortar bookstores will not carry self-published books. You probably won't be able to do a signing at a bookstore or attend a book festival with a self-published book.

But so many books are being bought for e-readers now and many writers--especially those writing romance/erotica and science fiction, are having lots of success with self-publishing. As one of my interviewees pointed out, yes, you may have to pay some money up front if you go this route, but you can keep all of the profits.

*Many of the writers I interviewed mentioned how much research they did when they were starting out. Whether your dream is to sign with a big NYC publishing house or throw your book up on Amazon, you're going to have to do your homework.

There are a ton of online and other resources out there for aspiring writers. A few good ones to get you started:

SCBWI The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators--the professional organization for those of us who write for children.

Highlights Foundation offers a variety of classes and retreats on the craft of writing and illustrating.

Institute of Children's Literature--well-respected online writing course.

Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market It's updated yearly and includes everything you need to know about submitting your work to publishing companies, magazines, and agents.

Harold Underdown's The Purple Crayon--excellent online resource on children's writing and publishing.

Some of my interviewees praised the Rutgers One on One Plus program, where writers can pitch their books to agents.

(And of course, if you do not write for children, there are many resources and organizations out there for your particular genre or area of expertise.)

When you are down in the doldrums and wondering if you can press on in the face of rejections (or if you are realizing that you still have more to learn about craft) here are some helpful books on writing and creativity:

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
On Writing by Stephen King
War of Art by Steven Pressfield
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler

*Last but not least, once you sign that book deal, you will figure out quickly that the journey is just beginning. You'll have to navigate contracts and tackle revisions and learn how to promote your books--no matter which publishing route you choose.

I'll be doing more of these interviews in the future--I've already lined up an illustrator (because I realized I hadn't included the publication journey from an artist's point of view) and a picture book author and an author who's written over 30 books for the educational non-fiction market, and I'll be posting these over the next few months.

Thanks for sticking around with me on my journey, and I hope I have helped you as you embark on yours. I know, BELIEVE ME! I KNOW! how daunting all of this sounds when you are just starting out. The reward, though--having people READ this book of yours someday--makes it all worth it.

(Let me give a shout out here to the very cool banner above--designed by my awesome neighbor and aspiring teen artist Courtney Berger.)

Oh, and if you are a writer or illustrator with a journey to publication that you'd like to share, drop me a line. I'd love to hear your story.


  1. Your usual awesome post, Jody! I'd like to add the Authors Guild to your list of helpful organizations; as soon as you have a contract from an agent or a publishing company, they'll give it a thorough review, including excellent advice, at no additional fee. That's just one of their many services. And two books on writing that I love are Wired for Story (Lisa Cron) and Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose).

    1. Thanks, Tracy. I am surprised none of my interviewees mentioned Author's Guild. Link:

      Also, thanks for the other recs. I've heard good things about Wired for Story. Must look into it!