Strategies for Getting Published
edited: Thursday, September 18, 2003
By Brenda Townsend Hall
Posted: Sunday, September 07, 2003
Become a Fan
Don't sit back and wait for the world to beat a path to your door
Aspiring writers can't be blamed for balking at the apparently insuperable hurdles to becoming a published author. Modern technology has made the actual process of writing much easier than ever before. Perhaps this is why so many believe they can use their word processors to achieve fame and fortune. Unfortunately, the number of traditional publishers is shrinking rapidly as small houses are swallowed up by the big boys. Herein lies a mathematical problem of course: more writers chasing fewer outlets. It's enough to make you want to change your mouse for, well, anything that has fewer odds against success.
But before you throw in the towel take a look at your strategy. Yes, strategy. If you don't believe you need one, then stop reading this now but at the same time forget about becoming a published writer. The truth is that serendipity has very little to do with writing success. You need to plan your path. And if you're saying right now, so, okay what success have you had? Well, I can say with all honesty that my strategy is working very nicely. As I'll explain in the course of this article.
So what's the first step? Simply learn your craft. No matter how much talent you may have, you still need to learn a lot – about writing techniques and about outlets and markets for your work. Nobody need lack access to a creative writing class nowadays. If you can't attend one physically, then sign up for a correspondence course or access one on the Internet. You also need regular feedback on your work from other writers and you can do this by joining a local writers' group or by finding an Internet critique board. Believe me, you will see your style develop and professionalism grow.
When you have knocked a few pieces into shape enter some competitions. Study them carefully. Local events are a good start. I won my first competition by entering an article in the local evening newspaper's competition. I was then able to point to this success when I started sending out my initial pieces for publication. You don't even have to win first prize to claim success. Being a runner-up still puts you ahead of the game.
Now start finding markets. Start small and look for magazines that specialize in what you do. I wrote a story I really wanted to publish but, not having a track record, I didn't expect it to get into a high-profile publication. I did, however, succeed with a well regarded magazine publishing only women's fiction. Okay they paid peanuts, but I had another success for my portfolio.
Next you need to look at ways of proliferating your published material. Never go for any kind of vanity publishing: remember you want to be paid for your work, not pay somebody to publish it, and if it's good enough, you will eventually sell it. But do look at the new opportunities that modern technology affords. Electronic publishing is in its infancy and, although you may not feel the same about seeing your work on screen as you would about holding it in print form, e-publishing can at least raise your profile and that's what you need now as your next step. Having had a couple of print publishers expressing an interest in my first novel, I realized it had something going for it. Ultimately, when it came to the crunch, they turned it down, but I then had it accepted by an electronic publisher and then I won an EPPIE award for it. As I had sold only electronic rights I didn't lose sight of finding a print publisher, as I explain later.
Use your strategic skills in placing articles on the Internet too. Even if you don't receive payment, you can use your work to your advantage. I placed a few articles on a high-profile site that allowed its contributors to post book proposals. The result is that a publisher has expressed in interest in my writing a reference book.
I also run a website that is not only a means of publicising my work but offers various kinds of support for writers too. This is an effective way of putting yourself in the public domain. Do I hear some groans of despair out there? I know not everyone feels at ease with web page design and domain names and the rest of it. It's okay. You can join a writers' online community and set up your web pages without needing any technical knowledge. And the cost is minimal: well here you are at Authors Den, so you know what I mean. It's all part of the strategy because you can start to network. Networking is important. You need to build up a circle of people who can advise you, inform you, read your work and, eventually, commission you.
But, I hear you say, you're hardly a household name, so why do you claim this strategy has worked? No, I'm no J.K. Rowling and probably never will be. But this November I'll be holding my first novel in my hands, in print. Like a number of other British writers I stumbled across a publisher called Publish America. Now this is something of a ground breaker in publishing. It welcomes new authors. It's not the Rolls Royce of publishers, more the bottom-of-the-range, daily runabout model. It won't pay you an advance on royalties, it won't do any developmental editing (but then few traditional publishers do that now) and it will expect you to be active in marketing. But it is not vanity publishing and it will place your books in all the big online bookstores. As far as I'm concerned, this has taken me another step along my chosen route.
Of course I hope my next novel will be taken up my a mainstream publisher so I'm still following my strategy. And it's going to plan. I have just been 'highly commended' in a competition in which I entered an extract from my novel in progress. The next stage is to complete that (no small task), then to query agents and publishers. When I do so, I will have a lot more to tell them about my publishing history than if I hadn't worked out a strategy.