So you want to be an author. Fantastic! As someone who works for a literary agency and a couple publishing houses, have I got the formula for you! Do these five things, and you’re guaranteed publication!
- Be Internet famous.
Pro-tip: It doesn’t matter how good or bad your writing is unless you have platform. How much is enough, you ask? A thousand Facebook friends? A couple hundred followers on Twitter?
*cue maniacal laugh*
Honey, not even close. You’ll be doing all of your own marketing, after all. I don’t want to have to work. Get ten thousand followers each on every social media known to mankind and several thousand hits on your gorgeous website each month, and then maybe we’ll talk. And don’t even speak to me if you don’t have an email list.
- Know famous people.
If Beyoncé, Peyton Manning, or Barak Obama aren’t willing to give you an endorsement, I’m out.
- Have dozens of speaking engagements each year to crowds of hundreds and thousands.
I don’t care that you’re just a normal person whose total speaking experience encompasses school presentations. I don’t care if you assure me you’re willing to go on tour if signed. You need to be on tour now. I don’t have time to bother with getting you an audience.
- Have TV and radio gigs lined up.
If you’re not on the Today Show and K-Love, I’m not interested.
- Know exactly what I want.
The market changes constantly. I need you writing the latest trend, whether it’s vampires, zombies, no vampires, no zombies, Amish, dystopian, now I hate dystopian, don’t give me another Amish, I want a strong female lead, never mind we’re looking for books for boys.
And you better hurry. I might want a vampire Amish dystopian right now, but in two years I will hate all of those things. Get that manuscript done within a week or you’re wasting your time on old news.
Bonus: Even if you have all those things, I still might not take you if you haven’t previously published several successful books.
Then how does anyone become an author, you ask? Not my problem.
Remember: The quality of your writing does not matter. That’s why we have editors to water down your manuscript into something bland and palatable to the mass market. Only the above matters.
Okay, now ignore all of that. I know the market seems daunting. And on my bad days, I despair and start to think all of the above is true. But here are things you do need to know:
- Platform is number one, but if you have outstanding writing, exceptions will be made as long as you’re willing to work hard.
- A lot of the marketing burden does fall to you, but the publishers will help. Your success means their success. They’re going to do everything they can to sell your books.
- You do need to be prepared to be outgoing and aggressive to sell your book. You’ll have to promote yourself and be willing to take risks and ask for spots on radio or at book signings. But there are limitless ways of marketing, and you can find the style that suits you.
- The market does change quickly. But that doesn’t mean you need to crank something out to fit the current craze. Instead, learn to look beyond the fads and write something that will still be worth reading two or three years from now, regardless of market trend.
- You will be rejected, maybe even dozens of times. We’ve probably all heard that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected 12 times. Everybody gasps and exclaims at how many that is. It’s really not. That’s normal. Even with stellar writing, publishers have specific needs to fulfill for their catalogs, and yours might not fit. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer (as Rowling so aptly demonstrates), it just means you need to send out a dozen more submissions to find the right fit.
- New authors are important. Perennial favorites age, retire. Publishers and agents are on the lookout for new talent as well.
So yes, getting published is extremely hard. But it isn’t impossible. The system isn’t out to get you. And at the end of the day, real people are sitting on the other side of that screen. We know what it’s like. I hate every rejection I have to send. But we’re running a business.
Keep trying. Keep submitting. Keep networking.
And we really, truly are rooting for you.