A number of people read my article 10 Things No One Told Me About the Publishing Process this past weekend over at social media Jedi Kristen Lamb’s terrific site. Of course, that info is secondary to the primary step of getting published in the first place.
Since many people know that I have a book coming out, I’ve been asked two questions more than any:
- What’s your book about?
- How does someone with a book idea or working manuscript get published?
So I thought I would just take this space to help answer that second question about how to become a published author. Remember, I’m hardly an expert as I go through this process for the first time, but I did spend years writing and studying the business.
Also, I’m answering those who want to be published traditionally by a publisher that buys the book and prints it, so this list isn’t about how to self publish.
Here are 5 things to consider if you want to become a published author. (<<tweet that)
1. Know how the industry works
Sure, that’s why people ask the question in the first place, but publishing is a business first and foremost. There’s a structure in place with a hierarchy and set entry points. Exceptions to the rules are rare. Some helpful tools include:
- Writer’s Digest
- A current edition of Writer’s Market
- Blogs by established pros like Michael Hyatt, Chip MacGregor, or the aforementioned Kristen Lamb.
- You also might want to start with this great page from literary agent Rachelle Gardner.
Remember, how to get published is a different question than how to be a good writer, which brings us to…
2. Be a good investment
Unless your name is Snooki you have to be able to write. Many people figure they can write a book because anyone can put words in order on paper. Of course it doesn’t work that way with art, music or other creative areas. Writing is a craft and requires skills that need to be refined through hard work and experience. Take 10 seconds to read this succinct breakdown from Jeff Goins called What Everybody Ought to Know About Writing.
Then if we’re good enough publishers want to know if we’re able to sell or not. “What’s your platform or audience?” they’ll ask (especially with nonfiction). We have to position ourselves as people with something good to say and an audience ready to jump on it.
3. Invest into your potential success
Buy good books on writing to learn the craft. If you think you’re ready consider a trip to a writer’s conference. Beware of shady opportunists though by researching everything.
4. Timing is important
The publishing world is a land of turnover and change. Trends change quickly but the process moves slowly, so most of the time you have to be ahead of the curve. If you try to write whatever is hot at the moment you’re likely too late. Additionally, we never know how the world will turn or what cultural questions may overtake us at any moment. We just have to be ourselves and hope publishers find us relevant.
5. Success usually takes time
Steve Martin says that he spent 18 years as a stand up comic. The first ten years were spent learning, and the next four were spent refining his craft. The last four, he says, were filled with wild success. He became an overnight success after 14 years of near anonymity.
That’s how it can be for writers, at least it was in my case. My first published clips came before I ever thought about what I was going to do for a living. At 25 I was hired by a company as a full-time writer of a publication in which I could write almost anything I wanted. Then my contract ended and writing moved to the back burner for years. On the flipside, I really got serious about writing about three years ago, so many people can get there in a couple of years.
The reward can be awesome, but this path also comes at a cost. You will face opposition from people you love and strangers alike. It’s a grind, and even success means you’ll work harder than you ever thought you could at writing. The good news is that if you love the words then it won’t always feel like work.
Again, this is just my experience which is admittedly limited. Plenty of others move faster because they’re better, more prepared, or any number of other things. You never know until you try!
The main question is this: If you think you have what it takes, are you willing to do what it takes?
Have you ever dreamed of writing a book?
What steps have you taken toward that goal?
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