To Market, to Market: Steps toward Publication
You can make your own writing more marketable and thus increase your odds of publication by following three simple suggestions. First, learn about the publication process so that you are informed. Second, do everything within your power to improve your writing so that it is A-plus quality before you submit it anywhere. Third, know your market.
Step One: Learn about the publication process
First, read everything you can find on writing and publishing. Jeff Herman’s book, Writer’s Guide to Book Editors Publishers & Literary Agents is one of the best I’ve read on the subject. On Writing by Stephen King is another. The Internet is a valuable source of information, but make sure the site is credible, like those listed below.
for Children's Authors
The Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
The Children's Book Council
Links for Authors
Preditors and Editors
Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America
Second, network with other writers. Online discussion groups are an excellent place to start. Join the writing forums and read what other writers, editors, agents and publishers say. You can also upload your work and get feedback from writers, editors and agents. Feedback from fellow writers will be a valuable resource to you.
Third, if you aren’t in a writing group, join one. A fresh pair of eyes will see plot flaws or inconsistencies in your writing that you overlooked. More importantly, you will develop confidence from positive feedback. Check for writer’s networks in your state to find a group. Look at Yahoo’s groups, or do a Google search for writing groups. You might even consider starting your own group by advertising in the local newspaper.
Fourth, subscribe to writing magazines. I subscribe to Writer’s Digest and The Writer. It is worth the money. The articles you read there will answer many of your questions.
Fifth, and more costly, go to writing conferences if it is at all within your budget. The connections you make with new writers like yourself will be as valuable as any connections you make with agents and established writers.
Now that you’ve researched writing and publishing, you are ready to make informed decisions about marketing your work.
Step Two: Steps to make writing more marketable
Do not ever send out first draft writing. Editing and rewriting your work will be the number one route to publication. The mistake many new writers make is to send out freshly written work because they are excited about it and assume others will be also. However, there is a vast and recognizable difference between a good first draft and an edited work of art.
Before submitting any writing, I would suggest getting feedback from other writers. Note that I said writers, not friends and family. Only writers, or those in the writing business, can give you the feedback you need about the quality of your writing. Online forums are a great place to start. A writing group or freelance editor is another.
I am currently editing the third draft of my children’s novel. My writing group has read and critiqued it, and they are now on their second read through. This process will make my novel more marketable. The same is true of short stories and articles. I write the first draft and let it sit for a few days. Then I edit it before I submit it anywhere. Whenever possible, I have my writing group critique the story before anyone else sees it.
It takes time to make your work shine! But there is no substitute for rewriting and editing until your writing is the work of art it can be.
Step Three: Know the market
Find the right markets. Sending your work to the right place is as important as the quality of the work itself. Don’t send your work out cold— to agents or magazines that don’t work with your genre. For example, if you have written a children’s novel and send it to an agent who represents historical fiction, you are wasting your time. If you want an agent to represent your work, read books written by clients they’ve represented to make sure you fit their niche. Likewise, if you submit to magazines, for God’s sake read the magazine! If they don’t publish pieces similar to yours there’s no point in submitting your work there.
If you haven’t already done so, buy Writer’s Market— make sure it’s the 2007 edition— or use the Online version. I like http://www.writersmarket.com/ because it is updated frequently. You can search for magazines and agents by subject, pay rate, or location. You’ll find other resources like an encyclopedia of writing terms. There is a vast plethora of information about writing and publishing at this site.
You can perform a Google search for markets that publish your genre. Surf the Web sites and familiarize yourself with the market.
Read submission guidelines! Most magazines have submission guidelines on their Web site, if not order them. It is important to send editors what they want, how they want it. Read the guidelines carefully. Some magazines want E-mail attachments in Word or .RTF, some only accept snail mail documents. I once queried a children’s magazine that wanted Verdana, single spaced Word attachments. If I hadn’t read the guidelines carefully, I would have sent the manuscript in Times New Roman double spaced format. Most fiction magazines want the whole manuscript versus a query letter. A few would rather see queries. Send exactly what the guidelines ask for, nothing more, and nothing less. Warning— be prepared for rejection! A reasonable ratio is 10 rejections for each publication, and that is optimistic.
Get a name. Before you send a submission make sure you know who you’re querying. Otherwise, you’ll find your manuscript at the bottom of the slush pile. If you query a magazine, get the editor’s name who handles submissions in your genre. If you query an agent, make sure you spell his/her name correctly. This example from Jeff Herman shows the importance of sending your work to the correct person:
In the 1940s a Pulitzer Prize-winning young-adult book titled The Yearling was published, made into an excellent movie starring Gregory Peck, and continues to be a good backlist seller. In the 1990’s a writer in Florida, where The Yearling’s story takes place, performed an experiment. He converted the book into a raw double-spaced manuscript and changed the title and author’s name— but the book’s contents were not touched. He then submitted the entire manuscript to about 20 publishers on an unagented/unsolicited basis. The submissions weren’t addressed to any specific editor by name. Eventually this writer received many form rejections, including one from the book’s actual publisher. Several publishers never responded. A small house in Florida did offer to publish the book.
The point is simple. Even a fabulous work will never be published if the writer doesn’t use common sense and intelligence in marketing him or herself.
Write a knock-out query letter. Once you’ve researched the market for your work, write a killer query. Make sure you have a hook that will interest the agent or editor enough to read your work. (Jeff Herman devoted a chapter to writing the perfect query letter). It may help to post your letter to one of the writing sites I listed. Be prepared for negative as well as positive feedback. A strong query letter will help your work see the light of day.
If you have done your homework, learned about the publication process for your genre, have excellent quality work, and know your market, then you are on the track for success.