Publishing Advice

Below is an edited copy of a letter I wrote to a new writer looking for advice. I thought I would post it here in case someone else needed this advice, and I wasn’t readily available to offer it one on one. Please know, I can only encourage a road similar to the one I took because it has led to me having a 20-year career. But first, here’s a little bit of my story that I have told a gazillion times…

Back in 1998, I decided I wanted to attempt to get my first book published seriously.  It was all written and then typed (I wrote by hand back then.) I was living in a small town in SC at the time.  There weren’t any networking possibilities in my immediate area, and I already understood that “knowledge is power”.  I didn’t dare ask one of my favorite writers, like Francis Ray or Donna Hill, to pull me into the industry.  I knew I had to learn–just like they did–what to do to get my work seen.

Without a lot of internet access–back then, I had to catch rides to my local library–I made it my business to find out more about this world of which I wanted to be a part.  In small-town America, I wrote letters to publishers requesting submissions guidelines. I researched the books I liked that were similar to mine and what publishers were interested in them. I discovered who accepted materials with and without an agent (I had none at the time).  I researched agents and got info on what it took to submit (again via SNAIL MAIL). I plotted out how I was going to get published.

I must stress again. I was living in a town with a population of less than 1,000 and a writing community connected to the New York publishing industry of zero (0).

And guess what?  The more I researched, the more I learned things of which  I was utterly clueless. Things I needed to know–and had to be able to do–to get on—like a synopsis, a proposal, a query letter, a hook, etc.  I enrolled myself in Publishing 101–and I am still taking classes–and still in the game 20 years later. Hello and Goodnight.

So what I am offering is info and some homework because of knowledge being power.

Now on to the letter…

Hello (redacted),

Congratulations on finishing your first book. That was the hard part. Now you have to work to get it published. I don’t know enough about your book to suggest publishers. Is it fiction or nonfiction? What genre is it? Is this the only book you plan to write? (Most publishers are interested in establishing a career with an author.) Is it similar to other books? How do you plan to market it?  Also, most publishers require an agent.

Now you could self-publish, but I would suggest hiring an editor to make sure your book is ready for the public. I would be unable to publish your book for you. It’s not what I do. I write. That’s all. That’s it. I stay in my lane.

Here’s some general advice from me.  Hope it helps some:

  1. the first task is learning these publishing terms and how to complete them because you need to have these things prepared to submit to a publisher or agent:
    • query letter
    • proposal
    • synopsis
    • genre
    • tropes or themes
    • solicited and unsolicited materials
    • submission guidelines
    • proper manuscript format
  2. learn more about the publishing industry and its professionals.  
    • who are the major publishers
    • who are the larger independent publishers
    • traditional publishing vs. self-publishing
    • hybrid authors
    • publisher
    • editors
    • freelance editors/copyeditors
    • literary agents
    • advances
    • royalties
    • return reserves
    • sell-through
    • publicists
  3. decide the genre of your book. (Generally, romance is easier to get into because publishers will accept submissions without an agent.)
  4. contact various publishers via a letter with a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) or visit their website to find out their submission guidelines (which could be via email) and then follow their instructions
  5. write simply for the love of it
  6. be prepared to keep your day job–advances are rarely six figures at first, but they increase with each new deal
  7. stay determined– like with anything new you take on in life
  8. don’t let rejection knock you down BUT also be open to any legitimate or worthwhile criticism–don’t just say “they” are trying to hold you down and squash your dreams.  It may be real advice on how to improve and make your skill in writing match your love 

In my opinion, there is no shortcut. (And y’all have info available at your fingertips via the internet.) Other authors may have a different backstory and better advice or offer to submit the work of a total stranger to their editor or agent. But this is all I got. Why? I want you to succeed and have longevity.  

Every publishing house has different submission guidelines. Some may require a query letter and 10 pages sent in the body of an email or others do not accept email submissions at all. A well-written story and the guidelines are the the way into the industry because publishers and agents want writers to know them, to respect them, and to use them. 

I will never forget a woman on a talk show over twenty years ago who wrote a book and sent the entire manuscript to a gazillion publishers with no success.  Her story might have been just as great as she thought it was, but none of the editors read her manuscript because she had no respect and/or knowledge of their submission guidelines. Simple. What did she lack outside of her creative spirit? Knowledge.  That’s what was stopping her from getting her book read.

And it may very well stop you as well…