Here’s one thing I want to get out of the way for all my readers, here and now: it’s easy to get published…after writing a great story.
Let me repeat that: it’s easy to get published when you have an amazing project. It’s not the agents or the editors or the literary magazines or the critique group or the writing programs keeping you back from publication. It’s all about the strength of your project and nothing more.
I mean no disrespect to all the writers who are struggling and discouraged and beaten down on their search for representation or publication. In fact, I salute you all. It’s not an easy road you’ve chosen but I understand the compulsion to keep slogging down it. What concerns me, though, is the tendency for writers to immerse themselves in the publishing end of things and jump into the search when their time might be better spent really solidifying their craft. Publishing will be here (for the foreseeable future, anyway, *gulp*) while you work on writing a great story. Focus on that and agents and publishers will be waiting for you when you’re ready.
There’s Always a Market for Amazing Stories
Agents want amazing books. Editors are salivating to buy and publish amazing stories. If your writing is brilliant, your idea is unique, your hook a mix of the literary and the commercial, your character alive, your plot compelling — in other words, if your manuscript is like a lot of the published books out on shelves now — you will have no problem landing an agent and selling your work. (Tips for your literary agent search.)
But it really has to be that good. And it takes nothing less.
So, it’s easy to get published once you’ve done the hard work of writing a great story. It’s the getting ready that’s hard and dreary and time-consuming. It’s the getting ready part that makes people quit. But if your goal is publication through a traditional channel (and that’s not the case for every writer, some people write for themselves and that’s perfectly fine) and you pursue it doggedly and relentlessly, you’ll get closer and closer to being ready. When you’ve finally finished writing a great story, the things that seemed hard before — getting an offer of representation literary agent, getting a book deal — will slide into place. Because you’ve done all the hard work and you’ve persevered and it’s finally your time. For some, of course, that time is years and years and years and years in the making. But every day that passes and you sit down at the computer, your writing grows stronger. And you get closer to being ready. If you’re not published yet, that means you’re not quite ready for “prime time.”
It’s All About the Manuscript
I also want to address something a few readers have asked about on the blog. I use this space to highlight pet peeves of mine and common mistakes I saw during my time as a literary agent. Most of the statements I make are rather general. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. I could overlook a second-person rhetorical question query — something I hated as an agent — if the project itself blew me away. A writer in my slush could make every mistake in the book, break every rule, but the manuscript was all that mattered.
And if it’s ready, you bet there will be an agent ready to take it on.
Are you working on writing a great story? My editing services will help you take your project to the next level.
32 Replies to “It’s Easy to Get Published…After Writing a Great Story”
This makes total sense. And it is tough for us writers to be patient with our work and wait until it’s shiny and fine tuned. The society now-a-days is all about immediate demand, the overnight success, so really it’s a matter of retraining your mind.
Really that’s what it all comes down to, having the patience to make your novel perfect before submitting.
If I were to stand outside myself for a moment and look at the publishing industry, I would see that it is a good thing that the books that survive the bumpy road to publication have to be top notch. It would be sad indeed if the quality of the work were not the most important factor in finding an agent and then selling the book.
And then I come crashing into myself again and realize that you’re talking about me. You’re saying, “Stop lurking around publishing blogs, and get writing!” I hear you loud and clear. I’m opening up my WIP right now. Really, I am. 🙂
Christa — Remember, you only hear about overnight successes because they’re so unusual. That’s what makes them news. 🙂 And I really like that in our fast-paced world, books are slow and old-fashioned by nature. Just not when I’m waiting on responses from editors, of course. I’m human, too!
Elan — It’s really hard to separate yourself and your ego from the work that you’re doing but it’s such a crucial skill for every writer to have. That doesn’t make it any easier, though. And while I am saying that you should maybe cut down on your reading of publishing blogs, I am painfully aware that this is a publishing blog… Meh. Paradoxes make life more interesting, no? Now get cracking on that WIP!
Spin City, a bit, but a very positive one and I might just take a ride on the record you’re playing.
Bane — HA! Love it. But you know what? I wanted to emphasize two key points. One, editors and agents need manuscripts. Writers get in the mindset that we’re some elite ivory tower enemy and we’re only out to reject them. No, we need writers. We just need *good* writers. 🙂 Second, it really does all come down to the manuscript. Nothing else matters. When someone has written The One, people will very easily sit up and take notice. The problem is the whole writing The One part, which is astonishingly difficult.
When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive. Same with the right book, the right agent, the right publisher. Additionally, one book that is right in one person’s eyes won’t necessarily be right for the other. It’s about good writing, and having the right people who want that type of good writing see your work.
Actually, Mary, I’ve read a few awful books that have been published, some by reputable companies (not self-published, though I’ve read a few and see why they’re self-published). So your premise doesn’t hold up 100 percent.
Probably 95 percent.
I’m working on my first novel, and while I like learning, I don’t have 20 years to perfect my words. I’ll be dead by then.
I admit I made the mistake early on of writing a story and polishing it a bit and then jumping into the submissions. In the mean time I wouldn’t write anything at all for months waiting for that contract in the mail. I’ve learned my lesson and now try to start and new project once a week or at least write a poem if I don’t write anything else. I spend much more time now refining what I’ve already written and getting unbiased opinions from other children’s book writers. My goal is to get enough well written work together that I can send out one submission per week whether it be a poem for a magazine, a picture book dummy for a publishing house or a historical fiction book for an agent. Sometimes we get so obsessed with publication that we forget the basics; a writer writes.
I know this now, but eight years ago, when I began seriously writing, I didn’t. I agree with you whole-heartedly that it takes practice. Each story I write makes me a better writer. Thanks for the post. It really cheered me up today.
Well, I gotta go . . . it’s time to practice.
I am so impatient that I have, in the past, sent letters out where I have mis-typed my own name. I sent out some appalling stories before I had done any research on children’s book writing. Appalling purely because I hadn’t spent enough time on them, they hadn’t been nurtured into a good state. These days I am good at revising and waiting. Well, not quite good maybe, but definitely better!
Mary, I think impatience is one of the key flaws in many writers. It took me more than a few years to utter that unutterable phrase, “I am a writer” because it sounded so daunting and so certain. But once I had embraced the driving force within me, I then had a tendency to rush. Submitting too early is definitely something I have learned to avoid, even though every fibre in my body is screaming, “HIT THE SEND BUTTON!” I have begun to understand the importance of letting a manuscript simmer. They’re much more tasty and fulfilling that way.
I love the premise from which you write – that publishers and agents WANT brilliant writers and spectacular books. That’s what keeps driving me to keep honing my skills, editing like my life depends on it and writing, writing, writing. In Australia the picture book industry is quite small. Every year only a handful of publishers take on anyone out of their slush piles. However, many of them are still wading through those slush piles in the hopes of finding the next Mem Fox or Bruce Whatley. I’m hoping that might just be me 🙂
Thanks so much for giving me an insider’s view into the industry. I’ve got so much to learn and I appreciate anyone who is willing to share their experiences.
Reading this post was a bit like eating your vegetables as a kid. Or a grownup, for that matter. You know it’s good for you, but it’s hard to swallow. I think when we finish a project, we just want to get it out there. It’s hard not to do. But this is a great warning about putting it out there too soon and losing any real shots. Thanks for the reminder. I’ll be doing some revisions now. 🙂
Siski — Great story about misspelling your own name.
Jessi — But look how nice and strong all those veggies made ya! I will be doing a post especially about patience, so get ready for even more vitamins.
Everyone — As probably one of the world’s most impatient people, I know how hard it is to wait and grow and learn and marinate. I always say that the problem with being patient is that it takes so damn long. But writing is really one area where this is a crucial skill to have… stay tuned!
Thank you so much, this is hopeful. Your blog is wonderful.
Honing the craft. It’s sounds like work because it is–but like my dad taught us, hard work carries great rewards. Even if some of my books never reach publication, I can see a progression, an evolution in my writing since I first put finger to key, since I published with ebook publishers, since my first novel went to print. Hard work? Hell yes. And totally worth it.
Of course, waiting is in someways harder, because, we the authors no longer have control. When we write, we control it all. When we query and (prayerfully) submit partials, we let that control go to the agents and editors. Scary indeed!
Great post and fun comments. Yes – it all boils down to just that. How strong and marketable is your project.
I might also add many wonderful, marketable works go unnoticed because the writers are so afraid of rejection they never send anything out. You’ve got to risk it – send it out. If it doesn’t sell and you’ve done your homework then – Revise, revise and revise again.
What a wonderful post. Great information, Mary.
I’m a little OCD and I keep editing and editing until I get to the stage where I drive myself crazy. Only then will I send it out. I’m still editing manuscripts that have been submitted to publishers and agents. I can’t seem to stop. One manuscript has been with a publisher for six months. I haven’t heard back yet, but I’ve edited it quite a bit since then and I had already Rewritten it many, many times before that.
Now I see that’s not a bad thing.
Well said. I LOVE that it’s just about the writing. There’s nothing that seems more fair and more wonderful in this world than to say it isn’t about the person, but the product. To read a new book and cheer “YES! They got it right!”, to dance around the bedroom in a fabulous funk, to notice the coolness of the drool congealing on my chin as I relive the final scenes inside… it all shouts what the author CREATED.
And there are only a few in my stash that sing like that to me. Have I sent them out yet? No. I will. I’ve had many encouragements to submit and watched friends get agents and publishers, but all I can feel is “I’m not ready yet!” Maybe I’m too perfectionist but when the time is right, I’ll just know. Until then, I’m gonna write. Write and love writing. Take opportunities to learn, finish each project, grow stronger and more assured.
You are so on the money. Thank you.
Brilliant word choice with the use of “slogging”! Gotta admit I’ve slogged a time or two. A solidifier I will hence forth be. Not only do agents want amazing books, as a reader and writer I want nothing less either. Thanks Mary!
This is such a realistic yet positive article – love it. I wasted time sending my book to a few agents before I’d had any feedback at all. Now the beginning has changed hugely and I wish I’d waited. Sometimes fantasy takes over from reality – “it would be so wonderful to be published” – which means you can’t wait to send it out. Plus fantasising is so much easier and enjoyable than editing your work – as you put it, the “hard and dreary and time-consuming” process. So true.
Like Karen, I’ve learned to let my work simmer. I am at the stage where I relish letting it sit. I don’t question that. It HAS to sit. I always find more to tweak after the work simmers.
Time has proven this is the only way.
Great article BTW!
I’ll take that as a pep talk. Thanks Mary! So glad to have discovered your site!
On the sin of impatience. The only one to suffer is the writer him/herself. I had what I thought was an amazing YA book (still do think it coulkd be an amazing YA book) but I was impatient. First, I submitted before it was ready, second I thought I had to get it in while the Beowulf and Grendel rush was on (it’s a modern version) third I didn’t research the publisher .who offered to print it (PublishAmerica: wail, wail, gnashing of teeth) All these conspired to create a self publsihed book that has great potential for a whole series but is tied up with a shyster “publishing” company at a price per copy that you would have to take out a mortgage to afford. DON’T BE IMPATIENT.
I wrote a book last winter. I was ready to self publish but sent it to a publisher after one of their authors I met online suggested that. it’s undergoing their revision suggestions right now. Now i need an agent to negotiate the contract, since i know very little about any of this…so, yeah, it seems easy to get published, but apparently my story must be good…at least I think it is. So, how do you get an agent when you know very little about this business? A case of beginners luck for me….