Back in 1998 I decided I wanted to seriously attempt to get my first book published. It was all written and then typed (I wrote by hand back then.) I was living in a VERY small town in SC at the time. There weren’t any networking possibilities in my immediate area and I already understood that “knowledge is power”. I didn’t dare ask one of my favorite writers like Francis Ray or Donna Hill to pull me into the industry. I knew I had to learn–just like they did–what to do to get my work seen.
Without a lot of internet access–back then I had to go to my local library–I made it my business to find out more about this world I wanted to be a part of. In little small town America, I wrote letters to publishers requesting submissions guidelines. I researched the books I liked and wanted to write and what publishers were interested in them. I discovered who accepted agented and unagented materials (I had no agent at the time). I researched agents and got info on what it took to submit (again via SNAIL MAIL). I plotted out how I was going to get published.
I must stress again. I was living in a town with a population of less than 1,000 and a writing community connected to the New York publishing industry of zero (0).
And guess what? The more I researched, the more I learned things I was completely clueless about. Things I needed to know–and had to be able to do–to get on. Things like a synopsis, a proposal, a query letter, a hook, etc. I enrolled myself in Publishing 101–and I am still taking classes. Hello and Goodnight.
Today, I have four book deals with three publishers in New York, an agent, a publicist, and a career that I still take serious as a heart attack. The book deals may go. The agent may stop returning my calls. My publicist may find something or someone more interesting to promote. But I will never forget what I know and hopefully use it to get back or go even further than I am today.
I try to be humble, because I know there are far bigger fish in the publishing sea than me (Hello Eric, Terry, Kimberla, Tina, Alice, and Walter–just to name a few). I don’t try to be rude or indifferent to unpublished or self-published authors who want help or advice or a little of my time. Those you step on or disrespect on the way up you may meet again on your fall downward.
BUT…(and here is the reason for this soliloquy)…
1) Do not look for a shortcut route into the industry.
- I advise against emailing a total stranger and asking them to read your book: for a quote; to give to their agent or editor; or just to be told what they think of your work. (Also please understand that this idea is not original. Authors get requests like this ALL THE TIME. Seriously.)
- Do the work. Knowledge is power. (Some of those with longevity in the business have knowledge. There’s more to a writing career than just writing)
- This industry is about grinding and hustling. If you don’t have the energy, inclination, wisdom, or heart to learn the industry…then maybe it ain’t for you, Boo. (A little tough love. Please recognize this for what it is.)
2) Do not contact an author under the premise of loving their books and then blind side them with a request on how to get published….especially if your true intention is for that author to miraculously say “I’ll send it to my agent for you”. (Sneaky, sneaky, sneaky!)
- 1st, I know there are true readers that want to write and that’s why I take the time to answer those requests for info. I am sharing the info I had to fight so hard to learn for myself. But that is all I have to offer and I am just being honest.
- Many authors can not read your book. (Personally I have so many deadlines that I don’t have the time to do laundry on the regular so I know I can not sit and read a book from a total stranger. Again just keeping it 100).
- Would you give a job referral for a total stranger (I wouldn’t). Referring a total stranger to an editor or agent is just bad business and illogical. (Of course this does not refer to those you know or are familiar with. Hence the use of “total stranger”.)
- When an author (i.e. Me) does take time to send a page long list of things to do to submit your work (something I looked up for myself 11 years ago) please take the time to Email back a “Thank you” for the advice. Those who don’t? I know that they were hoping for their SUBLIMINAL REQUEST to work. They didn’t want my summary sheet for Publishing 101. They want an easy way in and how dare I waste their time with useless info. **Side-Eye**
Would you cheat on a test or ask someone to write your paper and be proud of the grade even though you know you didn’t learn a dang on thing?
People, please know that I’ve been there. I’ve been coming up with stories since elementary school. I’ve been the reader who feels they can write a book just as good or better. I’ve been the dreamer. So I do understand. I really do.
A lot of folks–not all–but a lot of folks are trying to grab at the great American story of being discovered by an author instead of going through the steps to get there. Trust me it sounds like a great story and its even better for the RARE few that it works for…but it is rare.
I will never forget a woman on Oprah who wrote a book and sent the entire manuscript to a gazillion publishers with no success. Her story might have been just as great as she thought it was, but none of the editors read her manuscript because she had no respect and/or knowledge of their submission guidelines. Simple. Every publishing house has them and they want writers to know them, to respect them, and to use them. What was she lacking outside of her creative spirit? Knowledge. That’s what was stopping her from getting her book read.
Again, I feel its time for a disclaimer. (I do not mind being asked for advice for getting published. A lot of you already know I respond to those requests with lots of info. This post are for those it fits. Period. Those who ask for help but truly don’t want it. In the words of Pastor Lee: If I hit you I didn’t mean to miss you.)
When someone gives you valuable information… accept it and learn from it. USE IT. Don’t discard information given to you and wave your hand dismissively because your attempt at sending a SUBLIMINAL REQUEST didn’t work.
And plus… the request ain’t all that subliminal. Humph.