Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Keys to Successful Submissions

Where To Begin

You've come far, Writer. You've overcome that initial fear of beginning. You've sailed past the euphoria of those first chapters, overcome the solid wall of uninspired drivel that tried to impede your progress through the central climax of your novel, you've agonized, sweated and slaved over the shocking finale. In short, you've written a book.

Now what? Now, dear Writer, the revisions can begin. The re-reading, the editing, the sharing with a critique group (You DO have a critique group, don't you? If not, here's an Article from Harold Underdown's site, The Purple Crayon that can help.) The re-reading until you're certain every single word, every phrase, every scrap of dialogue and poignant look between your characters has earned its place, is worthy of inclusion in your epic narrative.

You’ve revised, you say? You’ve polished until your manuscript shines with life and freshness? You’ve banished the stray apostrophes and whipped your passive verbs into frantic activity? You’re certain that this… THIS is the story you wish to send out into the world, to submit to an editor’s critical eye? You’re certain you’re offering your absolute best work, and you’re ready to take the publishing world by storm?

Congratulations, Writer! It’s time to submit your work.

But where? And how? And to whom? How can you be certain your manuscript will land on the desk of the editor who will take your baby lovingly into her arms and lead it as it grows into your first blockbuster?

Marketing Secret: Conferences

Hopefully if you’re dedicated enough to have completed a novel, you’ve already begun attending writer’s conferences. Conferences are amazing places for networking, for meeting the people who will become friends and allies as you travel through your writing career. Remember that not all allies will become friends, nor will all friends become allies, but it’s important to have both in this often-lonely industry.

The first, and perhaps most important place to seek out markets for your work is through personal contacts. As a new writer, you have a far greater chance of selling your first book to an editor who has met you and invited you to submit work to his or her publishing house. Common sense dictates that it’s harder to say “no” to someone you’ve met than to a total stranger.

I must, however, disclaim the above advice with one warning: Do not presume too much. If your book is not polished within millimeters of its life, if it is not your absolute best work, or worse, if it is not a novel the editor in question’s house is in the market for, don’t submit.

A writer essentially has a two-part job. First, you must write the book. Second, and of equal importance, is the marketing of your book. Send your gothic vampire romance to an editor or agent who’s publicly proclaimed she’s not in the market for gothic romances and is sick and tired of the myriad of vampire novels landing on her desk, and you’re marking yourself as a rank amateur.

A tip: Search the editor's name. Does she have a personal blog? A search revealed one agent's dislike for prologues: Elaine English's comments on prologues.

Market research is essential if you intend to find success as a writer. Submitting without first studying your intended market is like firing a shotgun at a moving target with the faint hope that one of the tiny pellets might connect. Chances are, your shot will go far wide of the mark unless you take careful aim and plan your shot.

Research leads me to the next potential source for markets:

Writer’s Guides

The most common and well known is, of course, The Writer’s Market, produced annually by Writer’s Digest Books. For those who prefer a search-able online database to paging through endless listings on paper, there is WritersMarket.com. For about $6 a month, you can subscribe to the online database, or if you’re unwilling to give up the comforting weight of an actual book, consider purchasing the Deluxe addition of Writer’s Market. It comes with a free 1-year subscription to the online database.

Once you’ve found your potential markets, study the guidelines carefully. Some publishing houses are region-specific. For example, Thistledown Press is open only to Canadian writers. Writers residing elsewhere in the world would do well to save themselves the postage.

The Internet has streamlined the writer’s once-arduous task of market research. Almost all publishing houses now have websites, and Amazon.com and others offer summaries and cover-copy of the books the house has published, all available within a few clicks. Study the books the house has published in the past. Sample a few pages (Amazon offers the opportunity to browse the insides of most new books in their listings.) Will your book line up on the shelves with the novels the house currently offers, or would it be out of step, out of place, out of tune? It’s important that you understand how your book fits in with the publisher’s other titles. Otherwise, you’re wasting their, and your, time submitting.

Let’s Review

In conclusion, dear Writer, the steps to publishing are simple:

1) Write the book.
2) Revise
3) Revise
4) Revise again
5) Consider having a professional edit your work. Be sure you’re offering your absolute best to the reader.
6) Begin collecting names of potential publishers
7) Study the markets
8) Once you’re certain you’ve found the place, the perfect home for your book, you’ve studied the market, you’re familiar with their list, perhaps you’ve met the editor at a conference…
9) Submit
10) And, dear Writer, when you receive the first of what are sure to be many rejection letters, return to Step One and begin the process again.

Because the final, and most important step to publication success is:

11) Persist.

Happy writing!

Rejoicing in the day,