Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Secrets to Getting Published

by Marcus Sakey

I frequently teach a workshop course entitled "Secrets to Getting Published"; I'm actually slated to teach it this July at the Midwest Writers Workshop, along with fellow Outfiteer Sean Chercover. If you're an aspiring writer, we'd certainly love to see you.

Anyway, though the title is obviously calculated for appeal, I have found that a lot of the things I present actually do seem like secrets to people. Sometimes that's because there's a dearth of information on the subject; sometimes it's because the existing information is out-dated or misleading.

So in that spirit, here are a couple of tips to bear in mind if you're trying to get published.

First, finish the book. I mean really finish it, which means getting feedback from a bunch of people, tearing it apart, putting it back together, repeating that as necessary, then revising, and then editing, and then polishing. It's not done until it shines.

But once it does, the next step is to look for an agent. You're not looking for an editor--they don't read unsolicited work these days--and I don't recommend self-publishing. While there are of course a handful of exceptions to every rule, for the most part self-publishing is disdained by the industry, and is also a really tough way to make a buck.

To find an agent, you first need to figure out who to approach. Go to your local library or bookstore and start checking the acknowledgments in books similar to your own. The best way to find an agent who will do well with your work is to find agents who are already doing well with work like yours.

Next, write a query letter. I have an extremely detailed article on how to do that on my website. In essence, it comes down to this: seduce the agent. Don't get bogged down in details, don't include that which has no place, and above all, make sure you're grabbing hold of their jugular. A good query should make an agent desperate to read the book before someone else scoops it up.

Send out a batch of these, then start working on your next book. As the rejections come in, have a beer, send out another batch. Then get back to your book.

In truth, this is the heart of the "secret" of getting published: present yourself professionally, demonstrate that you have knowledge of the industry, and then get back to your next book.

For all the talk of self-promotion, of marketing, of the rise of e-books and the importance of networking and the changing face of publishing, one element remains central. There is one element over which you have absolute control. And one thing that has to be your focus above all else.

Your novel.

For a far, far more detailed version of the query process, as well as a lot of other tips I've discovered, check out my website. Or come to Muncie this July and join Sean and I at the Midwest Writers Workshop--we'd love to see you.