Thursday, February 1, 2007

How do I get published?

My Journey

“How do I get published?” is a very big question. Every author has a different story, but there are certain principles that will help anyone who wants to take the leap into writing and become a published author. The good news is that if you want to do it, you can.

There is hope.

I’m living proof that it can be done. However, it’s going to take some major sacrifices and a level of dedication that few can achieve.

For those who don’t want to suffer that much there is also good news. Anyone can get published by going with the self-publishing route. Pay your money and someone (usually an online company) will put your book together—after you have supplied them the content and the cash. It doesn’t matter how bad the book is or how good the book is. They’ll publish it no matter what. Money talks.

Self-publishing non-fiction is somewhat accepted if you travel and give talks on your area of expertise and have a need to sell material to people in your field of interest, but if you are a fiction writer self-publishing can be the kiss of death.

As in, don’t self-publish if you want anyone to take you seriously. Sure, there are a few famous authors today who did very well with self-publishing, but the chances that you’ll get a legitimate writing career after self-publishing are slim.

My advice: if you want to join the books on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, don’t self-publish. Take the much more difficult route and get your book or story accepted at a legitimate publishing house, magazine, or possibly an ezine.

The route I took was a six-year journey from the time I decided to try and get something published, to actually getting something accepted. I went to writing seminars, writing classes, writing groups, read books about writing, and most importantly—I wrote.

I wrote over 550,000 words in my Iron Dragon Series. I wrote three fat books, but now that book one has undergone some big changes, it seems they’ll be five shorter books, which is fine with me.

Okay, here’s the secret: Once you’re writing is good enough it becomes all about WHO YOU KNOW. If you know editors, authors, agents, and publishers your chances of getting published go up many fold. However, you’re writing better be good enough. You’re not going to get published if the work is not ready. The editor you know will reject it, even if they like you. There’s almost no chance of getting a novel accepted by just mailing it to an agent or publisher. You have to know people.

How do you get to know people in the publishing business? Go to conventions, seminars, book signings, readings, etc. Go to places where writing professionals are going to be. I went to the Gen Con Game fair for many years getting to know and love the writers who went there. Kij Johnson, Jean Rabe, Janet Pack, and Mike Stackpole became my teachers and mentors. They were so great and by attending their seminars I learned what it would take to become a published writer.

The whole time I kept writing my novels. I wrote like a mad fiend for three years until the Iron Dragon Series was finished. It only took half a million words to get close to being good enough. After all that I still wasn’t good enough. I needed to go to more seminars and writing groups. I needed to rewrite my work many times and delete the crap and rewrite whole chapters. I needed to figure out who I was as a writer and grow a lot.

The process I described took years. About Six years. In wasn’t until late 2005 that I got my first offer from an editor. She wanted me to write a short story, but more on that in a moment.

The key event was when I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Minneapolis in 2002. Kij Johnson, my first professional writing teacher encouraged me to attend. Once I was there I was very alone. I knew few people and was quite scared. I saw Janet Pack, a writer I’d met at Gen Con. I went up to her and she took me under her wing. She introduced to an editor and I pitched my novel. He thought it sounded interesting and asked to see a few chapters. Nine months later he rejected it, but we built a relationship that has endured ever since.

I kept going to conventions and got to know many writers, editors and wannabes. We became friends and in the end one of those editors, Jean Rabe, asked me for a story. She had room in the Furry Fantastic anthology because the stories sent to her were shorter than she expected. I had a week to get her a story. If it was good enough, I was in.

I managed to write the story, The Mob, and then had it critiqued on deadline day by my great friend Brad Beaulieu. He ripped it apart, gave me ten pages of single spaced advice, then sent it back. Somehow, I managed to implement his suggested changes and rewrite the story in a few short hours. Brad gives very helpful critiques and without him my work would suffer.

I sent The Mob to Jean and heard back the next morning. She loved it! I was in the anthology. Finally, after all those years of struggle I was going to be published.

Then doors started to open. People read the story and I got the attention of a few editors and agents when I saw them at conventions. Another request came in for a short story and I delivered Almost Brothers for the Fellowship Fantastic anthology to a different editor.

Then, when I least expected it, an email came from the same editor who had rejected The Golden Cord back in 2003. He wanted to chat on the phone about some big news. We spoke a few days later. He dropped the bombshell. He had seen the new version of the novel and liked it a lot. He wanted to publish it. I couldn’t believe it. But I had not stopped believing in the work, though I admit I thought it probably wouldn’t be published until after I’d had some other novels out there.

Six years of struggle happened before I broke into publishing. Now things are rolling along. I just got invited (in January 2007) to be in a new pirate anthology, Blue Kingdoms, edited by Jean Rabe. Relationships matter, that’s why Jean asked me for a story.

Now, some people will be faster than me in getting published, no doubt, but expect a long haul. From novice to expert is a far journey. If you really want to go for it, then go for it. But be warned. It’s not going to be easy. Determination is the name of the game. Keep improving your craft. Take chances. Let people read your stuff and learn from their comments. Put yourself in the places where you can meet the professionals in the business. Get to know them. See if you really want to be writer by learning about what it’s really like.

That was a brief summary of my journey. There are other routes and please read some books on getting published—not on how to write, but on breaking into publishing. There are a bunch of them out there and online. Do a search on Google or Read a current one with all the new information.

You can do it with intelligent striving. Then once you break in, there is a whole new level of stress. Decide if you really want that in your life. There isn’t much money in writing unless you’re one of the 500 authors in America who claim to get all of their income from writing books. With 17,000 titles or more in the average Barnes & Noble, the percentage of writers who make enough money to live is slim. Don’t quit your day job—or in my case—my night job. The average book only makes around $10,000 for the writer.

Writing is about passion. Writers write because they must. If a writer doesn’t write they don’t feel well. There is an itch that isn’t scratched until they write. Does that sound like you?

If those statements do apply to you, think about getting published. Be prepared to suffer for your art. But like anything in life, the things that are the most worthwhile require sacrifice. Email me with questions and I’ll do what I can do to help.

Now go and write something!


Kelly Swails said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Paul! Everything you said is so true--writing, reading, making contacts, writing more ... it's all necessary to become a professional writer. One thing you forgot to mention: nerves of steel. It takes guts to send out stories that get rejected multiple times. It takes guts to walk up and introduce yourself to an agent at a conference. It even takes guts to talk to that wanna-be writer that's sitting next to you at a convention. Having the nerve to say "I'm a writer" is huge.

Persistance pays off. It's not the most talented people that get published--it's the most stubborn.

Paul Genesse said...

Thanks Kelly. I did forget to mention the "gut factor." I've been terrified many times at conferences, but after a while I loosened up and it's easier now. For anyone out there wanting to break it, just keep at it. Kelly is right. Determination is key. I've had my teeth kicked in many times with rejection letters. Every writer goes through it, but you just have to get back up and keep going.