Attention NaNoWriMo Winners: Everything You Need to Know About Publishing
I've noticed quite a few other National Novel Writing Month participants here in the medical blogosphere, of whom several (like myself) managed to become winners. At least one (cough -- Kim -- cough) made mention of getting their manuscripts off to publishers in the near future, which prompted me to offer the following unasked-for advice. (Occupational hazard for Family Physicians: "You're here for poison ivy? Ok, but you should still stop smoking.")
I have actually been writing novels -- not just during NaNoWriMo -- for several years now, and it turns out the path to publication isn't quite as straightforward as it seems. Here is what is usually suggested (and which I haven't always done, which is how I learned the hard way what a good idea it is) upon finishing a novel:
Put the manuscript away and don't look at it for at least a month. (Start a new novel while you wait.) Then -- and only then -- go back to start your editing and polishing and stuff. This is a process that, unlike NaNo-style writing, should NOT be rushed. I know you want to get to it right away, but this "sit time" makes more of a difference than you can possibly imagine.
After it's been revised, rewritten, polished and proofread to within an inch of its life, let a few people read it. Preferably people who are not related to you, these "beta" readers' job is to provide feedback. Much has been written about the role of beta readers; it turns out it's better if they are writers rather than readers, as writers are going to be more able to tell you why things work or not (vs. a reader saying, "This doesn't work for me, but I don't know why.")
Finally, when it's truly perfect, you're ready to go. Here's where to go:
In a nutshell, you can't send your book straight to a publisher, because by and large they won't look at it. You need to find a literary agent (Miss Snark or one of her ilk) who is willing to represent you, submit your stuff to editors they know, negotiate the sale, and take care of a thousand other esoteric details that can royally screw you if not attended to properly. Finding an agent is also a very difficult task, because they are swamped with submissions, (the "slush pile") most of which are not only unpublishable but often unreadable.
The process is as follows:
- Send out queries to agents. Usually consists of a cover letter, a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE; never to be omitted) and a SHORT writing sample (5-10 pages max) but VARIES INCREDIBLY. Need to research agents and their preferences. The whole "Query" thing is an art form in and of itself.
- Agents who like your query and writing will ask you to send a bigger chunk of your book; anywhere from 50-100 pages, first three chapters; again, very individual. This is called a "partial" and having one requested is a good thing.
- If they like the first part, they'll ask for the full manuscript (called a "full", of all things.) This is very good.
- If you've gotten to this point, you're much farther along than me. Go and study the Snarkives.
- (Actually #1.5 on the list) Regarding rejections: Most of your queries will result in rejections. These can range from generic form letters, to small slips of paper, to lovely personalized letters, to "No thanks" scrawled on your own query and mailed back to you. Do not take it personally. Do not try to find out why. Do not try to read between the lines for hidden meanings about your chances; you don't have any. No means no. Most of the time if you're not getting any requests for partials or fulls it means the writing needs work. But it can also mean the agents you're querying don't represent the genre you're writing, (your fault: researching agents to query includes making sure they rep your genre) their list of authors is full, they like your stuff but don't think they can sell it, or they're just pissed because they didn't get lucky the night before. Rejection rules #1, #2, #3 and #4: It's not personal.
Money flows to the author.There is an amazing and dismaying array of folks out there eager to part unwary authors from their money using a variety of scams. Here is the anti-scam Mecca:
Ann, Victoria and Dave are the Holy Trinity of anti-scammers. They're also excellent writers and really cool people. Each of the sites mentioned above goes into far greater detail about the nuts and bolts of publishing -- both the legit and the scams. If you have any questions left after devouring all of the above material, they are available for answers.
"Self-publishing" is frowned on by all of the above sources for a variety of very good reasons. It's much more applicable to non-fiction than to fiction, although I confess I have gotten into it myself. Which is how I found the bible of self-publishing:
Please understand that for me to say, "This is everything you need to know about publishing" is like a college kid who's taken an intro bio course telling you everything you need to know about the human body, but I'd like to think it's enough to at least point out that it's not nearly as easy as it seems.
But congratulations on winning NaNo!