Marks on the Path to Publication

Options abound for writers these days. In fact, the options can multiply like fruit flies on an old banana – but swatting the options away may not be the best choice. I laid out some plans for myself, steps to follow to hopefully end in publication of my debut novel.I thought of these marks a bit like mileage markers on a highway — they would help me see progress. I’m not there yet (meaning, my book is not yet published), but I’m getting closer, and, I’m increasingly confident with each step forward that my book will find its readers.

There has been some discussion on the Mount Holyoke Wordwrights group on LinkedIn about trying to create a list of MHC alumnae who are working as literary agents.I don’t know if the list will be developed or not. And, I have some angst for our alumnae agents who probably deal with hundreds of email queries on a regular basis. I would NOT want their jobs!

Certainly, seeking representation is an option. And, a well-informed writer knows that her odds of actually landing with an agent are quite high. (I find different numbers all over the place from one in five thousand to one in eleven thousand, and so on.)

So, I have not yet acquired an agent and therefore, you should feel free to make my advice with several grains of salt. But, here are the steps I chose to follow to work my way toward publication:

1. Writing, revising and seeking advice from established authors

I workshopped my novel — and paid for the opportunity — with authors at juried conferences. I did this twice — in 2010 at the Tin House conference with Antonya Nelson and in 2011 with Adam Braver at the New York State Summer Writers Institute. Both Nelson and Braver’s advice guided me to some key revisions that I am confident have made the novel much stronger and ready for publishing.

2. Establishing publication credits.

I realized that I could be taken more seriously by an agent if I already had some credits. I did not begin with submitting novel excerpts, but I have since had novel excerpts published. (For links to some of my work, check here.)

3. Developing online presence.

Again, I realized as the publishing world (traditional print especially) is being squeezed by economic and other pressures, authors are expected to promote their work — whether they have the good fortune of landing with a “big” house or not. I post and try to be an encouraging, motivating presence, both here, and on my personal blog — I’m active on Facebook , Goodreads and Twitter, a little less so on LinkedIn. According to some social media experts, I should consider Tumblr and Pinterest as well.

4. Write and then revise, revise, revise the query letter.

Yes, it’s a one page letter but plan on it taking much, much longer than the longest chapter in your novel. For some of us, it does. For others, who can crank them out quickly and well done, I don’t believe them. 🙂 If any of your contacts who are established in the publishing industry are approachable to review it, do it! A generous editor I met at Aspen Summer Words this summer offered to review my query letter and I was so grateful. (Yes, I followed up quickly, got the feedback and thanked her promptly.)

5. Develop contacts/networks to help with referrals to agents.

This is probably the toughest category for many of us. But, does it help if you can get a true referral to an agent? Yes!! No doubt about it. I am waiting to hear from an agent now, who has my manuscript, and I can thank another extremely generous editor I met at the Aspen Summer Words conference for the referral. Those referrals get you an email address that is not the general submissions email address – and, gets you the gold star or thumbs up from someone the agent already knows and respects.

These are the steps I’m taking to try to increase my chances of publishing my novel. I do understand though that it is still possible that all my hard work could end without me landing an agent. Do I have a back-up plan? You bet. There are many paths to publication – not just the traditional get-an-agent and hopefully get a publisher path. For a discussion of some of the different paths to publication, check out this article at Poets & Writers. And, if my back-up needs to get dusted off and put in place, it will. But, for now, I like the road I’m on. I like my odds. And giving up doesn’t agree with me.

What steps have you followed? Do you have any advice to someone just starting on the path to publication?

3 thoughts on “Marks on the Path to Publication

  1. Pingback: A Roundup of Writing Posts | Pam Writes

  2. Excellent counsel, Pam. I would also urge writers seeking to publish to take advantage of any encouragement they may receive even via rejection letters. I remember getting a rejection letter from a fairly prestigious literary magazine that said while they weren’t taking my story, they thought I wrote well and I should consider submitting something else. I thought they were just being polite, but later on I realized that handwritten comments as opposed to just a standard no thank you form is a big deal when editors get hundreds of submissions a month–i should have taken the editor up on her offer and tried to forge a more long-term relationship with her. Encouragement comes only occasionally, so accept it gratefully and use it to your advantage.

    • Absolutely right, Sandi. I got a similar note from The Foundling Review once, and immediately sent them another story, which they published. 🙂

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