Where to Begin:
I wish I had a nickel for every letter or email I’ve received from writers who tell me they want to get published, but have no idea where to begin and they want me to tell them how to do it. I’m no expert! I used the hunt-and-peck method myself, because I didn't know who to ask about it. I’m always happy to share what I learned by trial and error, things writers can do to get started.
One of the first things I always suggest to them is to get their work “out there”. Join writer groups and communities in your town and online and post your work … and if you ever hope to be published, use your own name! You want your work AND your name to be recognized. How else will anyone know what you’ve written? The web is full of excellent writing by cutsie pen names like “fluffy kitten” or “Pearl Onion”, but it just isn’t professional. There are many writing communities online, (my favorite, of course, is Authors Den). Most offer critiquing, along with helpful suggestions as to how to make necessary changes. Of course, it’s expected that you also read and critique the work of other writers, in return. I’ve read some of the best writing I've ever seen through writing communities and I’ve also made some wonderful and lasting friendships.
Another step that will get your work and your name noticed: create a website to showcase your work. There are many places online that offer to host free websites. Often they have different looks and designs to pick from and, with a few choices on your part, your site will be up and running in just a few minutes. Once you have a website set up, submit the URL to search engines, link it to a blog you may have, or put the link to it on your page in communities you belong to like Facebook or MySpace. Once again, you want to gain as much visibility (for you and your work) as you can get.
Once you’ve posted your work at writing communities and you have a website, you’re probably getting some excellent feedback from both. Now it’s time to decide if this is enough for you. Are you satisfied, having a nice following, or do you still want to be published so bad that you can taste it? If you answered “yes”, then the next step I suggest is, go to a bookstore either in town or one of the many online bookstores. Buy a copy of the Writer’s Digest that applies to the type of work you do. You’ll find Writer’s Digest books for poetry, fiction and non-fiction, and so on. They even have one for children’s writers and illustrators. All of the Writer's Digest books come out once a year and they'll be like a Bible to you for where and how to send out your work to magazines, periodicals and publishers.
When it comes to submitting your manuscript to publishers, always read their rules for submissions. Each publisher is specific as to how they want to be approached by writers. Some only want agented material, so forget those, unless you want to take the time to try and get an agent. (There are Writers Digest books geared to this, as well). Other publishers will only accept “exclusive” manuscript submissions. This means you send your manuscript only to them and wait for them to either accept or reject your work and it can take anywhere from three to six months to hear back … there are some cases where it takes even longer … and still other cases where you won’t hear from them at all, unless they want to publish your work. You'll also find publishers who require you to submit a query letter and a synopsis first. Then, if it appeals to them, they'll ask you to send the manuscript.
Here’s a little heads up about manuscripts and submissions:
**Never send an original manuscript, only a copy.
**Always make sure it’s spell-checked.
**Always double space.
**Put the word count at the top.
**If the publisher says “no staples” … they mean no staples! Use a clip.
**Unless they tell you not to, always send a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply (SASE).
The competition is fierce. Publishers have three-foot piles of manuscript submissions, sometimes monthly -- I’ve seen the piles. Nothing will get your manuscript trashed faster than sloppiness, spelling errors, and not following their rules. They get so many manuscripts, they can afford to be picky. But don’t worry, most of the information you’ll need is explained somewhere in the Writers Digest. There are also interesting articles and interviews peppered throughout, so you actually gain a lot by buying a copy.
I’ve left one of the most important steps until last. Edit, edit, edit. Read your manuscript out loud. See how it sounds. Edit. Read it out loud to others, get their opinions. Edit it again. Cut out all unnecessary dialogue, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns and obvious fillers. When you’ve edited it, edit it again, and then again. Read it aloud to yourself and others one last time before taking it to the post office.
That’s about it. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a few things worth mentioning, but at least you have a starter's guide. If you have questions, you can always email me and I will be happy to answer them.
Just remember one thing … like me, you may get a pile of rejections before you get that one “yes”, but that’s the most important thing to remember. It only takes one “yes” and you’re published.
I wish you luck!