Saturday, December 5, 2015

So you want to be published (part one)?

Let's discuss part one of who knows how many parts of getting published.

There are  a lot of great books on writing and getting published. The top two I recommend are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and On Writing by Stephen King. If you haven’t read those, stop what you’re doing and get them immediately.

The next thing to consider is the route you want to take to get published. As I see it, there are three good options.

1. Self-publish. Amazon makes this really easy, or so I’ve heard. Self-publishing, I think, is a perfectly credible and acceptable route to go. However, I would only recommend this if you know what you’re doing and you have good connections with others who can help you. At the very least, you’ll need to hire a good editor (or two) and a cover designer. You’ll need to learn how to format, and you’ll need to learn how to market yourself and network with others so that you can actually sell books, if that’s your goal. I’d assume it is, or you could just self-publish your stories on a blog.

2. Find a publisher. These can be large or small, and there are hundreds of publishers out there. Like I said, I see nothing wrong with self-publishing, but if all that work on your own seems daunting, then find an author team. With an author team, you will learn all about good editors, graphic designers, marketing, and many little things within the business. Do you need an agent for a publisher? Only if you’re trying to get published in the big mass market houses like Random House

To get your foot in the door, improve as a writer, and learn the business, I’d recommend starting with an indie publisher.

Want to find one and pitch your story at the same time? Friday, December 18, 2015 is the #PitchMAS party on Twitter. It’s a great opportunity to tweet about your story, and maybe you’ll find the publisher that’s right for you. Learn all about that here.

3. Find an agent. This is hard. Really hard. I’m currently un-agented. I came really close to landing an agent, and I’m sure if I had more patience, I’d have one. Here’s how it worked for me: I sent out three rounds of queries. After each round, I revised Rabbit in Red, revised my query, and every single time it got better. During my third round, I actually had several agents request the full manuscript. One almost—no joke—offered me a TV deal, but in the end, it fell through. (Talk about a frustrating compliment!) If I’m being honest, my manuscript still needed work. So I went to an indie publisher—Distinguished Press—where I found the right people for me. My story became the tale I always knew it could become.

So which option is right for you? If you have patience and don't mind waiting years to see your book published, go for the agent. Spend six months or so working on query letters and revising your manuscript. If nothing else, I think that experience is humbling, and you’ll keep improving your story.

Then, if you find one, great! They may—no guarantee—may be able to find you a publisher. 

If you don’t find an agent, then you have to decide if you want to go to an indie publisher or self-publish. For me, the answer was simple. At that time, I didn’t know enough about the industry to be comfortable doing this on my own. I had much to learn. I started submitting to other publishers, many of whom I learned about through events like #pitchMAS.

Fast forward a bit, and I had a contract for a full series. I’ve had the good fortune to work with an amazing editor, have great cover art designed, have a marketing team, and so much more . . . none of which cost me a single cent!

Now, before you submit to any publisher, agent, or consider self-publishing, there are two additional things I would start doing and continue doing:

1. Have a trusted team of readers provide you with constructive criticism on your manuscript. A first draft is never perfect. Neither is a second or a third. If you don’t have the patience and determination to rewrite it a dozen times, you don’t have what it takes for this business.

2. Build your social reach. When it comes to publishing, agents and publishers want someone who can sell. If you were to self-publish and you want to sell, you better have a strong social reach. That means being active on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and more. It means not having a hundred followers but thousands. This side of the business can be exhausting. Writers just want to write, right? Yeah. But if you want to sell, you better work on your social reach. I’ll discuss this more in a future blog.

So I hope that was helpful. Share this if you think others could learn from it. Comment if you have questions, and I’ll be happy to address them!

And I sure hope you’ll be supportive and pick up a copy of my first published book, Rabbit in Red, today.

You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter, and I have pretty cool website with all sorts of Rabbit in Red stuff. Check that out at


  1. These are all good tips! I think the distinction between the 3 options for publishing is going to be helpful. I would add one that I think you were assuming, but you can't assume it: your manuscript must be complete. The only exception to this is if the publisher solicited the ms from you, rather than you pitching to them; otherwise, you have to have a "full" to send them if you're good enough to get a request.

    I say this as a former acquisitions editor at an indie press, and also as the author of at least a half a dozen incomplete, and therefore unsubmitted, manuscripts.

  2. All great advice, Joe. The only thing I'd add is that there are lots of folks on who will design a basic professional book cover (even a webpage) for very reasonable rates. I got both for $50.